Computers and modern transportation have made this world of ours seem a lot smaller. It makes luxuries that many of us might afford seem commonplace. I can order shea butter made from nuts handpicked by African locals, wool from the “Highlands of Peru”, and water bottled all the way in Fiji and have them shipped to me here in the midwest. But do I need them… especially when I can get a comparable item from somewhere closer to home?
It’s a mixed blessing. Modernization and change can be good thing, but I wonder, “At what cost?”. Not just the cost to my pocket book, but the cost to our surroundings – the local industries and businesses, job rates, fuel prices, and the impact on the environment.
Just like I have doubts about processed foods, I have some issues with purchasing food online. Some of these “must have” herbs, oils, seasonings, and out of season vegetables can hardly be better for the environment with all their fossil fuels and packing than all the pesticides and fertilizer a conventionally grown product may have. I have some concerns with purchasing food from places like Amazon, for example, simply because the items are organic, or they fall under the latest diet fad, or are the latest craze in grains. How can it be any better than picking up packaged processed organic convenience foods at your local grocery store?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that these goods are available to those that would otherwise have no access to local organic products or allergen-free foods. I love that my sister, with her gluten- and lactose-intolerances, can easily find alternatives for her diet. But for a majority of us it shouldn’t be an issue. One of my biggest fears is that globalization (in the sense of marketing and shipping) of the organic industry will hinder the local food movements. When we choose to order food and goods online, I feel like we’re cheating our neighboring farmers even the chance to decide if they want to go organic, or sell at the market or even direct to stores.
With all that said, I admit I’m no saint. I have my coffee and teas; I’ve ordered bags of flour and even Meyer lemons; nuts and avocados from the States and Mexican mangoes frequent my kitchen when they’re in season. I keep balsamic vinegar. And wine… I have not given up my wine (hic!). Let’s not even talk about Peppadews. It’s been said many times before, “Moderation is key”. If you want to splurge on something, choose wisely and limit your purchases and usage. For example, I try to choose Californian olive oil instead of those imported from Italy, Argentina, and Tunisia. I also purchase in bulk any items that need to be shipped – like flour. But I do purchase a majority of my vegetables and fruits from local farmers – and I buy lots at a time to can, freeze, and store*. Doing so is an investment in future meal. Yes, it requires some time and very minimal equipment, but it sure is an improvement in value and taste. I also try to forage when I can, and I’m not shy about asking family and friends if I can pick extras from their gardens and trees. Those Peppadews I love so much? I limit the amount I purchase and keep them as a special treat: a luxury.
Set your own limits. What is acceptable to you? Would you be willing to spend a couple of Saturdays at the end of summer to put up the products of a good harvest? Can you fit an hour a week into your plans to go to the farm stand or market instead of the grocery store? Is it really okay to purchase organic garlic from Argentina, when you can wait until fall and pick it up locally? Can you get by with eating foods grown strictly in your own country? Would you be willing to eat seasonally and regionally instead of buying out of season fruits and vegetables from California? What ingredients would you be willing to give up, grow yourself, or purchase locally instead of having them imported? Would you be willing to be an activist and get the ball rolling on a local farmers market?
I think it’s phenomenal that so many more small businesses are cropping up and offering organic goods where they weren’t previously available. I love that there are so many alternatives available for people that have food challenges, like allergies and intolerances. I also think it’s important to stay educated and keep questioning how we can make things better for our families, the environment, and our local businesses. Food quality is very important to me, and I frequently find myself researching what I can do to improve it while reducing my footprint. My time and pocket book is also important to me, and I always have to work on consolidating my projects and errands. So while I may purchase a few key items online, you won’t find me getting box-loads of organic meals delivered to my door. Instead you’ll find me bringing box-loads of organic veggies home from the market to put up for those long, cold winter days and searching for ways to advocate local resources.
(*A note on purchasing and preparing foods in bulk: It’s amazing how much cabinet space is left when you get rid of all those factory processed and packaged foods. Cans and jars of goods stack easily and don’t have as much empty space thanks to settling. Freezer space is nice if you have it, I’m currently storing a lot in my parents’ deep freeze since ours is long gone. I keep 20 pounds worth of flour in air-tight storage bins and have kept long-storing items like winter squash under my bed.
It may be intimidating to spend the little extra cash up front, but the investment of a little money and time up front will save you money and time later down the road. Less grocery shopping, means more time and more money in your pocket. Start small and add more projects as you feel more comfortable and can afford to add more to your project list. Share projects with someone else to save money and time, find canning jars and storage containers at garage sales or look for end of season sales. Over time you will notice a difference in the amount of money you spend on food, but it may take a while depending on how much you actually prepare and store.)
- Jennifer is also at Unearthing this Life, is on Twitter, and has written for Rhythm of the Home.
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