I've been simmering with Laurie's comment on my "What we can do" post, below, ever since she posted it. She asked if I had any suggestions for buying local food on a budget. I suppose I didn't answer it right away because I really don't have a good answer for her. But I've been there, done that. We lived in Boston and Paul was in seminary and taking in a part-time salary to cover all our expenses. Zachary was born in Boston and it was difficult to cover everything financially. But I didn't have the awareness yet of all the big corporations taking over that I do now. I was only just starting to think about organics, and like Laurie, I'd look at the organic section in the supermarket and then I'd look at the price tag and I say, not this time. We barely had enough money to cover the basics, not extravagances like organic groceries.
I suppose my not-very-helpful suggestions to someone in a position like that is that I think food is something that I now am willing to pay a higher price for than just about anything else. It's what goes into our bodies every day. Everything else I am willing to go second-hand on--clothes, cars, furniture, and on many of these things you can get better quality second-hand things for less than buying new. But cheap food, which you can't buy second-hand (or at least, you don't want to!) does nothing to help our ailing system. It continues the cycle of poverty. The average farm worker dies at age 49. We want to pay very little for food, which is passed on to the people who grow and harvest it.
We have been in a binge of watching The West Wing on DVD lately (though we just finished the second season and I'm ready for a break!). One one episode, President Bartlett is confronted by dairy farmers, who are upset because he signed a bill that kept milk prices low. He told them that he stood behind his choice, not because he thought they should be poorly paid, but because he felt that all kids should be drinking milk. While I am behind his desire, to feed all the children of the US, I don't believe this is the way to go about it. It again continues the cycle of poverty. The better way to do this would be to level the playing field, at least somewhat. People shouldn't have to choose between buying milk and not having enough money to pay the rent, or buying fruit-flavored sugary drink and having enough.
Paul and I were talking about Walmart this morning. I was telling him about an article in the Utne reader I started to read in a doctor's office, about yeah, you hate Walmart, as any good liberal does, but what if you found out that they're the best big business in environmental issues, in organics, etc.? Paul said he heard about Walmart going into the organics business. Their slogan was something like that everyone should be able to choose organics. How enticing! I have to admit, there is something to that. And yet, it's just business as usual. What can get people in their doors? Promising stuff that we want.
Paul said that the word "organic" has come to mean something to him--not just organically grown, but locally produced by small family farmers. Yet there is a huge industry built around big farm industry going organic. This has an appeal, in that the food is lower cost. But it is at a greater cost to all of us--less diversity, less local business, money being poured into the coffers of big business yet again. Not to speak of the impact of food being grown far away and being trucked to you, hundreds of miles of gas being used up, the pollution from all that going right into our air and drinking water.
So, I suppose the only advice I have for you, Laurie, is to buy locally produced, organic, small family farmed food whenever you can, and in whatever increasing amount you can over the years. Perhaps you could forge relationships with a family farm and barter for food, or work for food. Growing it yourself is another option.
We were talking with one of the women at the Dorothy Day House that I wrote about last month. She is a single woman who lives at the Dorothy Day House, and works as a nurse, but not all year long. She purposely earns only enough so that she can live on her income without paying any taxes. She wants to live in simplicity and also doesn't want to be funding war and other things that aren't in line with her values. We came across this concept in the book Radical Simplicity but I think she was the first person we ever met who is doing this. It's an amazing concept. I think, first of all, it's much easier to do this if you don't have kids. But also it would encourage relationships, and in fact it would be necessary to have relationships, with people who you can trade with. Now, this is actually illegal in the US but I think it's an idea that we've gotten way too far from; the idea of bartering goods and services. I think it would be less work and less money exchanged to operate in this way. Thing is, we're not set up for that anymore. We're set up to go to the major department store and buy cheap stuff rather than to the local craftsperson and trade with them for things we need. But I truly think that's the only way out of this big corporation mess we've gotten ourselves into.
So, here's my less-than-helpful wishful-thinking answer to you, Laurie. Anyone else have any ideas?