Sustainable or frugal?

Living on roughly half of our previous income, even though we are not by any stretch of the imagination impoverished, still presents some challenges. In the months previous to retiring, I analyzed our spending each month down to the penny, to ensure that we would continue to have a decent quality of life.  For us, quality of life includes being true to our belief in buying local, ethical, and sustainable food whenever possible.

But such food is not inexpensive.  I can buy a dozen factory-farmed eggs for just about half what I pay for eggs from traceable, ethically housed, local free-run chickens.  California greens, even with their drought , are still currently cheaper than the ones from the organic farm up the road.  Food is our biggest single monthly expense, and were I to further change my buying habits, I probably could reduce it by about thirty percent.

I’m not going to, though.  The value of buying the food we do goes well beyond satisfying our own tastes.  A much larger percentage of the money I spend goes directly to the local economy, into the pockets of my neighbours, than if I bought the equivalent products at grocery store.  Animal welfare is improved.  Farming remains viable, which means land remaining productive, and supporting, in the field margins and fence-lines, a healthier bird and wildlife population than would exist if the same land became a housing development.  I can ask the producers of my eggs and meat what they feed their animals, which matters not just in terms of general health for both the animals and us, but because of BD’s allergies.

I am fortunate to be able to afford to buy food like this.  I am fortunate to live in a place that supports, within a ten-mile radius, five seasonal farmers’ markets and one year-round, and innumerable farm stands.  Local food maps are published yearly.  Later today I will go out to buy sweet corn and tomatoes for tonight’s dinner from a farm stand up the road, which sits among the fields where the corn and tomatoes grow.

Frugality has a different meaning for us, when it comes to food.  It means ensuring food is not wasted – broth is made from chicken bones, older fruits and vegetables go into baking (I’ll write about my ‘garbage loaf’ at another time), portion sizes of meats are small.  Vegetarian meals make up half our dinners.  We buy almost nothing prepared; we have the luxury of time, and the skills, to cook from scratch (for which I perpetually thank my parents, who, living through both the depression and the rationing of WWII in Britain, were both frugal and creative with food).

And that sweet corn, tonight, lightly steamed and brushed with olive oil, then sprinkled with salt and pepper, will taste like the essence of earth, water, and summer sunshine in every bite.

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