5 Tips for Inexpensive, Socially Conscious Eating

DenaMay 26, 2010

This is a guest post from my friend, Liz. You can find more of her practical advice & beautiful insights at her Tumblr, If It’s Important.

I’d like to preface this by saying that I’m no expert and I don’t subscribe to any particular movement (which is not to say that there aren’t a lot of great movements out there that advocate for these sorts of things). All that I do, and all that I believe, comes from recognizing in myself the simple need to eat well, to live healthy, and to be conscious of the impact I have on the world around me. I don’t take myself too seriously, but I do believe in the importance of these ideas.

The Process of Eating

I am a big believer in the Process of Eating, meaning that I try as much as I can to avoid scarfing down fast, store- or restaurant-bought meals and instead make my own. Most people I know claim they don’t have time to cook, and that’s why they don’t do it. But, I like the time that it takes. There’s something meditative and calming about chopping vegetables, about stirring things, about binding yourself to timers. I believe in food and eating as a process rather than a single event.

There’s more to it than that. I’m pretty conscientious about what I put in my body, and the problem with a lot of the food you buy in stores and restaurants is that you can never be completely sure where its various parts come from. Though buying ingredients at a grocery store isn’t getting as close to the source as I’d ideally like, it’s as close as I can generally get while living in New York City. Because I cook so much of my own food, I like to think that I don’t frequently expose myself to a lot of preservatives or harmful chemicals and all of that. I think there’s some merit to this idea, because ever since I started making my own food consistently I’ve felt healthier as a person. I have almost no health problems and I generally only get sick once a year, if that. And these days, if I eat fast food of any kind, it makes me feel sick and gross almost immediately and usually for hours afterward.

Practicing Fiscal and Moral Responsibility

This sounds like such a white, upper-middle class thing to do. It is! (For the record, though, I’m not white OR upper-middle class.) But I also think it’s important to note that what I do is actually in the end far more cost-effective than what most of my friends do. For example, I buy fancy, locally grown coffee from Whole Foods that seems… like, unnecessarily expensive. But it takes me +/- 2 weeks to go through a whole bag, which means that I pay less than $1 per cup of coffee. And that’s significantly cheaper than buying Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks every day. And, okay, you could make the argument that I could buy really cheap coffee and save even more money. But the goal of what I do isn’t to NOT spend any money, the goal is to find a balance between spending wisely and being conscious of what I buy – where it comes from, and so on. Buying really cheap coffee means doing so at the expense of potential exploitation of farmers and/or workers, or the environment, or whatever else.

Anyway, same with food. For example, I made a whole pound of pasta the other day with an inventive sauce quickly put together using jarred pasta sauce and ground beef and basil and some other things. I think I’ve gotten five or six meals out of this. I’m not exactly sure of the math, because that’s not my strong point but I THINK it comes down to like… $3 a meal. I’m being generous, too (it’s hard when you think about the fact that some ingredients you use are leftovers from other meals, as the basil was). And again, as much as possible the food I buy is organic or locally grown or free range.

It’s not a perfect system, but I think the point of all of this is just to say that it’s not impossible or even very difficult to eat and live in an inexpensive but socially and environmentally conscious way.

5 Tips for Inexpensive, Socially Conscious Eating

1. Be aware of where the food you currently buy comes from – is it imported from overseas or across the country [think of gas & fuel used to get it to you], or does it come from local farmers?

2. Identify 2 – 3 quick, easy, and healthy recipes for food that stores well. The leftovers can be spread out throughout the week as lunches to take to work or quick dinners on busy nights.

3. Force yourself to take the time to cook at least once a week if you don’t already. It’ll save you money, but you might actually find that it can be really enjoyable.

4. Instead of going out with friends, have everybody chip in to make a meal together on a weekend night. Everyone can give money to split the cost, or people can be responsible for making different parts of the meal, or bringing alcohol. In the end it will be a lot cheaper than going out, and just as fun.

5. Whenever you can, make your own instead of buying it. That goes for coffee and lunches, but also consider cooking instead of buying pre-packaged meals, too.

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