Food Snobbery on a Budget...

this post also appears at "Cooking Green with Lia Jean"

Hi, my name is Lia Jean Green bean-eating-machine Mack, and I'm a food snob.

I blame my parents for having us live in Italy for three years while I was growing up. Every Friday morning, the town we lived in held an open air market - mercato - where you could purchase anything and everything fresh.

Fresh fish from the sea, fresh artichokes picked that morning, homemade pastas that took two seconds to cook...and eat ;) Oh, and let's not forget the cheese wagon. Every Wednesday at the same exact time, a man pulling a cart of cheese wheeled down our street singing, "formaggio... mozzarelli... provelone..."

Now that's a real cheese wagon :)

So I got mega used to eating whole fresh foods...and fell in LOVE! There is no beating the taste of a ripe red tomato mixed with fresh basil, straight from the garden. I think that's why everything tastes so much better in Italy. Everything is fresh and local. So what if I couldn't drink the water or that the heat and electricity went off daily at 3pm because someone had to go home for siesta. I was in food heaven!!!

And then we moved back to the States - God love America - where there is a grocery store open daily on almost every corner. Only thing, most of the food available here comes in a box. Or a plastic bag. Or worse! And it's not fresh. It's not even local!

Oh, the horror!!!

Well, fast forward to 2010. I'm married to super conservation man and together we are raising two amazing little greenies. I've been a stay at home mom for six years and have not one thing in my life to complain about. Nothing, that is, except my food budget. It's tight. Living on one income in a very expensive part of the country and being able to buy good whole food that is fresh, organic, and local is difficult to say the least. But it's doable. And for a while there I was doing pretty good.

For the last two years, however, I've been feeling the pinch. Food prices continue to rise, utilities are still going up, and summer is coming, which can only mean one more thing will be getting more expensive. Gas. Just in time for everyone to want to get out and have fun after being frozen all winter. So nice of them...

Yet, I still want to be able to feed my family well, but wanting to buy and eat only organic, local, fresh foods can be quite costly. I know of one local mom who spent over 15K last year in food alone because they ONLY eat local, organic, fresh meats, cheeses, fruit, vegs, ect.... That's a lot of money.

Of course I could easily manage to buy all sorts of shit food (pardon my language) with my food budget. I could feed my family from the box and dollar menu and have money left over! But I'm a food snob, remember? I cannot eat that stuff. Ingredients I can't pronounce? Food that doesn't even look or taste anything like food? Packaged, frozen, processed, freeze dried disgustingness???

Oh no. Not me, baby. Not after eating REAL food. It's just not possible.

Plus, I don't want my kids eating shit - crap - either. We are what we eat. When we eat crap, we feel like crap and therefore act like crap. And I'm not interested in taking care of kids who act up all the time and get sick all the time because they are being fed crappy food.


So, having very little wiggle room in the budget, but wanting only the best (what mom doesn't?), I've learned how to get most everything we need (aka: I want) on the budget we have. It's fun being a food snob. You just have to find a way to do it when you don't have endless amounts of the green stuff lying around. Below are some of the things I do to get what I want, thus enabling me to eat really yummy good for me food all the time

I don't do all my shopping in one place.
Some things at my main grocery store are too expensive, yet elsewhere they aren't. Took me a while to scout out all the good deals, but now I know that by going to three separate stores on a rotation, I can come home with a lot more of what I want for less $.

I garden.
I grow tomatoes and herbs and carrots and potatoes and all sorts of yumminess :) By doing so, I control what goes in and on my food. The kids have their own garden plots too, and we spend a good deal of time with our beloved Mother Earth to keep it going. After the cost of seeds, what we reap is free. FREE! Best price ever :)

I go to Farmer's Markets.
And stock up. What I find for good deals, I buy bunches of and freeze what we're not eating that week. Frozen blueberries, frozen green beans, frozen anything. Tastes great when picked and stored at peek season. Nothing better than pulling out veggies in the dead of winter that you bought fresh and know where they came from. Tastes great.

I buy in bulk.
When I can, I save up and buy staples in bulk. Flour, sugar, pasta, rice... This year I'm buying 1/4th of a bison and a neighbor of ours who likes to hunt is getting us a deer. Who knows how long this supply of meat will last, especially since we only eat meat two to three times a week. (Meat is pricey) This, of course, will happen after I find an inexpensive deep freezer on Craigslist (anyone have one they don't want?)

I do without.
Yes, you heard it. We don't buy pop (soda). The kids drink juice once a day and that's it. Instead we drink water, H2O, aqua fresca...you get the picture. Same thing with junk food. Since we don't eat it, we don't buy it, thus we save big bucks. And if it's not on sale and it's not in the budget, oh well. Better luck next time, right?

I stretch it.
I can make five meals out of one chicken. And that doesn't include the amount of chicken stock I make and use from the bones. So I might spend a little more buying an organic chicken - or A LOT more buying an organic local chicken - but I'll make that dollar stretch as much as possible. With a little ingenuity, you can think of ways to make anything stretch more than one meal.

Of course, all of this takes time, energy, and knowledge, something that most of us are hard pressed to find. But it CAN be done if you put in the work. The biggest benefit from all of this? You won't have to compromise. I don't. Just know that there will be times when you can't get the big ticket items, but that's fine. You don't have to have exactly what you want ALL the time, do you? My goal is to have good for us food only, and don't concern myself with specifics.

Everyone can be a food snob on a budget. All you have to do is learn to go with the flow, enjoy what's in season, and make the most of what you've got.

:)