(Originally blogged 1/14/14 on Blogger)
I've decided to ramble a bit on the topic of eating healthful food versus food that claims to be healthy. This is a super important topic that is dear to my heart. Why is it important? Why do I care what you eat? I am going to save that for the end.
First, I am going to use simple bullet lists to explain how to eat healthful food while spending less money than you would on cheap junk. And please believe me when I say I speak from experience. I do all the shopping, cooking, storing of food in my house and we're on a super strict budget. We eat whole, healthful foods. We can't afford to buy garbage. If junk food really were cheaper, believe me I'd buy it. It's yummy and takes less time to prepare and often less work to clean up after and it's easier to eat while writing.
If you don't have time to read the whole thing, here's a summary: If you want to eat well, you have to cook, and bake. And don't buy stuff just because it says it's healthful. It's selling you a lie so it can charge you more. If food is healthful, you can tell by looking at it. It doesn't need to argue the point on its packaging.
1. Bake your own bread. Yes, it is true; whole grain bread costs twice as much as that squishy white stuff in the store. But let's be perfectly clear; bread is not that great for you in any form. Whole wheat bread is just a lesser evil. And that whole grain bread is probably full of mysterious preservatives that aren't that great for you anyway and it comes in a creepy plastic bag that you have to figure out what to do with afterward. So skip it and make your own. Bread is so easy. I promise! And it doesn't take that much time. Most of bread baking is waiting around and you can do other stuff while you're doing that. Five pounds of flour costs as much as one loaf of bread and makes six loaves (give or take, depending on loaf size, the kind of flour you use, etc.). I am going to follow this up with a post dedicated to baking bread. I promise. I bake two loaves a week and I've already baked this week, but I'll post next week for sure. This blog needs more color pictures anyway.
2. Processed meat is not good for you and never will be. If you like hot dogs or salami then what can I say? Eat them. But don't pay extra because it says "healthy", "all natural" or "low fat". Crap is crap. If you're going to eat crap, you might as well eat the cheap crap. If there's a type you really like, spend the money to get the kind you like, but do not spend extra money trying to eat healthy processed meat. It's just a waste. Confession: We like our salami around here, I pick up a stick a few times a year. Just finished off the Yuletide stick. Yum. It's a special treat.
3. It is true that some cuts of meat are less expensive than others. Boneless chicken breasts are more than leg quarters. But if you want real, fresh chicken that hasn't been injected with saline, a whole chicken costs a lot less per pound than chicken parts. Yes, it costs more for the whole thing, but one chicken is worth four or five meals. (for a family of four). Make sure you get your giblets- absolutely necessary for dirty rice and good in stuffing too. You can stuff it with last week's homemade bread ends and make an awesome dinner with some seasonal veggies. Then slice off the breasts and stick them in the fridge for tomorrow's stir fry, eat the legs & etc., scrape off the rest of whatever's left on the bones and chop it up and put it in the freezer to make chicken salad sandwiches or a casserole at a later date and drop the carcass in the crock pot with some veggie bits to make stock which you can also freeze for later. Yes, you can do this with one average sized chicken and a family of four. I have been doing it this way all my life. I'll have to blog on this too. Next time I can afford a chicken. Which brings me to my next point.
4. You don't need that much meat. Meat is expensive but luckily it's not that necessary. Eggs have lots of protein and cost much less. Beans (there's nothing cheaper than dried beans, and crock pots are pretty inexpensive these days too), whole grains, nuts, seeds and dairy products also have protein and of course there's always tofu. When we were vegetarian my mom used to totally sweat Thanksgiving (we brought beans, but this didn't satisfy her). I told her: "Mom look, you have pumpkin pie and pecan pie, both loaded with protein! And there's nuts in the stuffing and the Michigan salad, hummus and cheese all over the appetizer tray. And even if there wasn't; it's just one meal. You do not need to do anything special for us, I promise!" Most people get a lot more protein than they need. I know I do, and I eat less meat than seems to be traditional (I kept a food diary for several days and checked it). If you eat meat once or twice a week, you are doing fine! Save up. Check out the frozen meats after the holidays and buy the biggest bird you can afford. Feast on it and cut up the rest for the freezer. You'll be happy you have cubed, pre-cooked chicken or turkey and frozen stock one night when all hell's breaking loose and you're so hungry you can't think. Soup is good. And remember, there's still some residual meaty goodness in that stock too, plus all kinds of good bone minerals!
5. Whole grains are also super-inexpensive. Some more than others, it's true. I buy oatmeal on a regular basis and the big round cardboard thingy of straight up rolled oats costs less then the instant or the flavored packets and it's better for you. We eat it almost every day for breakfast with some raisins, cinnamon and flax seeds and nuts (if we can afford them). We also buy brown rice and quinoa (mostly because I'm afraid of arsenic). I prepare about one pound per meal and eat each of them about twice a week. And here's another thing about grains, you don't need as many of them as you think either. I know lots of people who never eat grains and do just fine. (But they eat lots of meat, which I can't afford.) Yes, brown rice costs a little more than white rice, but not that much (about 50 cents more if buying in small quantities) and brown rice takes longer to cook (45 minutes vs 20), but you use less! Brown rice makes you feel full faster and helps you feel full longer and if I don't have time to cook brown rice, I cook quinoa instead. Quinoa and brown rice also have protein which you can't say about white rice and this helps offset the fact that I can't afford meat very often.
6. Buy in season. I cannot stress this enough. Someone, in a "healthful food is more expensive than unhealthful food" rant once announced that they had paid $5.99 a pound for grapes. Seriously? Why on Earth would anyone pay $5.99 a pound for grapes? Hey, oranges are $1.99 a pound right now, buy those! (silly). Or buy raisins. Right now in my neck of the woods sweet potatoes are less than $1 a pound and I just discovered that they are amazing cooked with a nice fatty ham. (also less than $1 a pound. Not tops on my list of healthy food, but I can cube it and slice it and put a half a dozen containers of ham in the freezer to add flavor to beans and potatoes and it even had a bone for soup.) They get this great caramelized salty sweet thing going on. So good. And so much better than the candied yam thing. A month ago I got a pound of cranberries for a dollar. That was awesome. And the cookies I made from them were amazing (yea, I'll blog those too, I've already promised out the recipe.) I still have some of the sauce in the freezer. But I'm not going to get to enjoy fresh cranberries again till late next fall. Now I'm waiting for spring for strawberries and asparagus, summer for tomatoes! Mmm. But the rest of the year it's frozen or if I must, canned. It's the way of Nature. She takes care of us if we honor Her cycles.
Why Does it Matter?
Why do I care what you eat?
When you give your hard earned money to charlatans who put words like "healthy" and "natural" and whatever other buzz words they put on their junk to get you to buy it, you are supporting:
- a dishonest industry that markets edible food-like substances to the public in a way that shouldn't even be legal.
- a wasteful industry that uses too much packaging that ends up in our landfills.
the use of mysterious chemicals in and on our food with minimal to no legal requirement to prove its safety or even inform us that it is there.
However, when you put your money into real food, you are supporting local farmers, rather than multi-billion dollar chemical industries whose time would be better spent on alternative fuels than alternative foods. If you can afford to take it a step further and buy organic, (Unfortunately, I can't very often.) you are supporting organic farmers at the expense of "conventional" farming. Bonus. As I said in my last post, I know organic is hard. It's hard for me. I totally get it. But every little bit helps.
Send a message. We don't want that crap, take it back!
Cooking and baking is so much fun and gives you a great opportunity to be creative and express yourself in a way that is so natural and down to Earth and connects us with our ancestors and with each other and other living things. Nothing makes me feel more nourished and grounded then eating a meal made with whole fresh food that I prepared with my own hands in the presence of those I love. Convenience foods are not only void of nutrition (and food) but they strip our meals of their heart, they remove them from the Earth and they make them something foreign and strange. And I think they might be disrespectful to the household Gods and possibly the Gods of the land, too. But I'm not sure. I could meditate on that, but I feel strongly enough without convincing myself further.
And it's personal.
It's just a pet peeve of mine.
A Quick Story
(Just for sharing purposes. Just to show you how much this bugs me. And how completely involuntary it is.)
One day I was having lunch with a co-worker. As I pulled out usual fare, which was probably leftovers and apple, she pulled out a bag from a certain popular coffee chain and took a giant slice of coffee cake from it. This was an impressive coffee cake with cinnamon-sugar marbling throughout and the cinnamony bits all over the top. I must've given her a funny look. Totally involuntary. She said, "What?" and I said, "Cake for lunch, eh?" and she said, "It's okay, it's fat free."
I just said "Right on." and returned to my leftovers.
But this is what I was thinking:
"Seriously? I bet she paid $5 for that slice of fat free cake when I could have made a whole cake for half as much money that had protein from eggs and fiber from whole grains and vitamin A from butter and plenty of fat to help mediate the sugar crash. (And it would have been chocolate because what's the point if it's not chocolate?) It still wouldn't be a proper lunch, but it'd be food."
Am I wrong for judging her lunch? Maybe. But the truth is, this poor girl was lied to. And we as a society have been so cowed into political correctness that I know damn well someone reading this thinks my judging her lunch is worse than the fact that that girl was conned into thinking that it's okay if it's fat free and it's worth the extra money.
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Comments, questions, criticism?