Weekly Woot & Grumble: Poetry & Produce

Woot

In today’s woot, I want to share an excerpt from a poem that artistically encapsulates the counter-culture approach to life Mr. Frugalwoods and I employ. Mr. Frugalwoods describes the poet, Wendell Berry, as the poet laureate of the back to the land movement. While I won’t say that we agree with everything Berry espouses, the opening two stanzas of this poem ring alarmingly true for me:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Source: Copyright (c)1991, 1996 by Context Institute

This is but a mere excerpt and the poem can be read in its entirety here.

In my opinion, there is no doubt that the life we live, and the financial independence we aspire to, is not in line with societal expectations. We are bad consumers, bad cogs in the machine, and we don’t stimulate the economy. Our money is, for the most part, not in circulation (unless you count the stock market, in which case we’re heavily circulated).

From one of our hikes up Beecher Ridge in Shenandoah National Park

From one of our hikes up Beecher Ridge in Shenandoah National Park

By extension, our lives deviate from the norm. I’ve discussed this previously, primarily in my Frugality Is Not Mainstream post, but I’m continually reminded of just how much of a frugal weirdo I am. I find this odd, because I don’t think that what Mr. FW and I want is all that inconsistent with the mainstream.

We want happiness, peace, contentedness, deep family relationships, freedom to allocate our time as we choose, and an absence of fear about money. I think most people see accumulating great wealth as the means to these very same ends. Conversely, we think that money doesn’t have to be an object if you don’t need very much of it. And, your life can be whatever you want as long as your vision values relationships, experiences, and the simple life as opposed to material opiates. I don’t like saying material goods, because they’re usually not. What do you think?

Grumble

I am in a turtleneck and I am mad about it.

I am in a turtleneck and I am mad about it.

Since I just did an overdose on the ol’ Frugalwoods philosophy, let me reel it on back with this week’s grumble. Five words for ya: produce is too freaking expensive!

You all know I’m on a constant crusade to lower our grocery bills and I think we’ve just about hit rock bottom. We’ve optimized, systemized, eliminated food waste, but still! The vast majority of our food costs: PRODUCE. We prioritize fruits and vegetables in our diet and we try to eat as healthfully as possible; but, it’s endlessly frustrating that it eats up so much of our budget!

Don’t even get me started on organics. I am MAD as a greyhound in a turtleneck (pictured above) when I compare conventional to organic produce prices and I break into a cold sweat trying to decide which to buy every. single. week… it’s exhausting to be me.

Here’s how I usually break it down–what do you think?

  • Conventional: bananas, avocados, lemons, limes, green pepper, broccoli, shallots,  jalapeños, sugar snap peas
  • Organic: salad greens, apples, carrots, cilantro
Our typical weekly grocery haul.

Our typical weekly grocery haul.

My theory here is that stuff with a skin is protected from chemicals and so I feel OK about the conventional (although in looking at this list I realize the broccoli and green pepper should be moved to the organic category–egads!). I waffle and sometimes my resolve fails and I buy conventional for everything, but then I have this sinking suspicion all week that I’m poisoning self & Mr. FW. Plus, we’re trying to get pregnant right now so I have the added guilt of inflicting non-organic, inferior veg on our yet-to-be-conceived baby.

We can’t grow our own yet (no space, concrete jungle), we’re on the waiting list for the community garden, and the local CSA is even MORE expensive. Roar.

Should I get over myself and just pay for the organic? Do you divide your produce up like I do? What’s a frugal gal to do? HALP!

HALP

 

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42 Responses

  1. Alicia says:

    I second the expensive produce thing. We try to stick to the “dirty dozen” for organic vs conventional, but sometimes I slip up… and sometimes our store has very poor organic foods, so conventional it is.

    PS, I made guacamole last night. I only bought one avocado though, because they’re $1.50 here rather than your sweet deal of $0.25 in the damaged bin.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      What is this “dirty dozen” of which you speak? Oh yeah, I wish they had those .25 cent scratch-and-dent avocados every week! Mr. FW was ready to buy the whole bin. I limited him to six.

      • Alicia says:

        Basically exactly what you mentioned. Things where you eat the skin (aka apples, tomatoes, etc) versus those with a peeling/shell (such as bananas and avocados). Google “dirty dozen and clean 15” for the full list

        • Tarynkay says:

          Almost- but some things are on the “clean fifteen” list because they just don’t take much chemical input to grow easily. For example, sweet potatoes are fine conventionally, bc they are easily grown with little interference. In contrast, white potatoes and apples are on the dirty dozen list because they take loads of fertilizers and pesticides to produce huge quantities.
          Bananas are on the clean fifteen list because even though they take vast amounts of very harmful chemicals to grow, we discard the peel and the part we eat is untainted.
          Most of our grocery bill is also produce. And with a 2 1/2 year old to feed, I am not trying to cut back on our fruits and vegetables. My strategy is to buy more of the clean fifteen list conventional and to buy the dirty dozen list organic only when the price is low enough. So we eat WAY more sweet potatoes than white potatoes, for instance.
          We have tried CSAs in the past, but it is never enough food. We are always done with the box in a few days and then (already having used up the grocery budget on the CSA) just have to go to the store to buy more produce anyhow.

  2. Will says:

    I don’t buy much organic. So far, I’ve never read any conclusive research to say organic is healthier. I’m not saying it isn’t, I just haven’t read it is.

  3. Jessie says:

    The CSA might be expensive, but then you get the added benefit of knowing you are supporting local farmers, which I would guess is in line with your values. 🙂

    Our CSA is 600 for a full share for a 25 week season, but we split the share with another family (the full share is a LOT of produce, even for a vegetarian household), so it’s really only 300/25 = $12 a week, which isn’t bad! Of course we still have to buy some produce (bananas, year round apples), but it’s a fun challenge to work with what you get each week. Supporting local food systems is worth a little extra money in my book!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a great point and you’re right that we do try to support local whenever possible. I should look into our CSA prices again–I think if we could split with someone that’d be ideal. Even for us quasi-vegans we’re not able to consume a whole share–not even close! A friend gave us their share one week and I felt awful because we could not eat it all before it went bad.

  4. Ryan says:

    I don’t buy any organic at the grocery store. I really doubt it’s any healthier, but it’s probably more ecologically kind. We get most of our veggies from the farmers market, which I suppose could be organic, but who knows. What I do like about the farmers market is that I pay the farmer himself. I know him, and the money goes right into his pocket. There’s no middle man, and no complex transportation system bringing the food to me from parts unknown.

    Sometimes it’s cheaper than the grocery, sometimes not, but I enjoy supporting a model I like, local people, etc. At some point, you have to just forget about produce prices. It’s pricey no matter where you get it from.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I dearly miss the wonderful farmer’s market we had when we lived in Washington, DC. Our options here are sadly not so great. You make a wise point about the transport and carbon footprint of grocery store produce. Thanks for weighing in!

  5. I am a big believer in not paying for things that marketing dollars would have me believe I should buy and that includes a number of organic items. I know that chemicals are bad; however, they also protect us from other things that can get us sick. There was just a massive recall of organic fruit due to listeria. Organic foods can cost 50 – 100% more so you really have to take a hard look on the importance and necessity of organic.

  6. E.M. says:

    Love the poem, and very much agree with your philosophy. Frugal Hound loves the pouty face, doesn’t she? I second Alicia’s mention of the dirty dozen list (your theory is pretty spot on). I know that my cousin made a switch to eating healthier and consuming less grains when she was pregnant, not sure about beforehand. I think I read something about the subject on Mark’s Daily Apple, but can’t find the exact post. Oh, and I also love tortilla chips, so I can’t judge.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Frugal Hound is the queen of the pouty face. It’s her main look. Fortunately, our diet is already consistent with what’s recommended for pregnancy, so we shouldn’t have to make changes (other than elimination of wine! tragedy!). Tortilla chips are amaze and they go sooooo well with Mr. FW’s homemade guacamole. We tried dipping sugar snap peas in the guac instead and, uh, let me tell you that did not taste great. P.S. glad you liked the poem :)!

  7. theresa says:

    wow, that’s a powerful poem!

    i’m always torn regarding organic produce as well, but i think it’s important (i have 2 little ones). see if there’s a “Bountiful Baskets” in your state/area. it’s kind of like a co-op, more like a buying club…but there’s no weekly obligation, and there’s an “organic basket” option, reasonably priced.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks for the tip! I haven’t heard of Bountiful Baskets before, so I will definitely check it out! Glad you liked the poem too 🙂

  8. Autumn says:

    I love our CSA. It’s a little bit more expensive, but I think it’s worth it. It takes a lot of the decision making away from me. During the CSA off season I try to buy organic for anything without a peel, but there isn’t always an organic option or the price is just too ridiculous. Trader Joe’s is usually pretty reasonable for organic produce, but I always walk out of there with 12 varieties of hummus, so it kind of defeats the purpose.

    And I always thought wine was what got people pregnant in the first place……

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Been saying that about wine myself ;)! I’m going to have to re-open my CSA research–sounds like it’s a great situation for lots of folks. We like Trader Joe’s too, but recently a Korean grocery opened in our neighborhood and their produce is fantastic. I do love that Trader Joe’s spicy hummus and Mr. FW made a pretty good facsimile the other night from scratch–yum!

  9. Anything with a skin that we eat we buy organic- and the veggies we grow at home (peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) are organic. But you’re absolutely right. I’ll stand there for 2 minutes trying to determine if I want to pay an extra $1.50 for a head of broccoli. It’s madness. And I loved that poem, btw. Thanks for providing the link!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Glad I’m not the only one with game-time produce decision-making problems :). I’m so pleased you enjoyed the poem–I think a lot of Berry’s work speaks to the frugality/simplicity mindset.

  10. Mrs. PoP says:

    We don’t have any strict rules on buying produce organic or conventional, playing it by ear depending on how the produce seems and what we will be using it for. As for the pregnancy worries, lots of women get pregnant while eating absolute crap, virtually malnourished by diets consisting largely of fast food. So I think in the long run, you’re probably more likely to do damage by stressing and worrying too much than you are by eating the occasionally head of conventional broccoli.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Oh no! Now I will have to stress out over being too stressed :). That’s exactly what Mr. FW tells me, and I know you’re both right, but, it’s so much easier to just buy organic broccoli, right :)?!? Thanks so much for stopping by!

  11. I don’t know enough about you guys and your goals, how you handle your finances, careers, etc. to make a full judgement on this, but I don’t think you guys are all that different than everyone else in the fact that I think everyone wants to have deep family relationships and a somewhat “simple” life, whether they admit that publicly or not. I don’t think most people necessarily feel the only way to reach their financial goals is through “great wealth.” I think most people would be happy with enough for a simple retirement.

    Anyway hope you have a great weekend!

  12. Nick says:

    You get what you pay for. Rodgers university did a study on organics versus conventional food. http://www.dailystrength.org/health_blogs/georgianna-donadio/article/rutgers-university-study-organic-versus-non-organically-grown-produce

    Here’s more research.

    http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/organic-food-has-real-nutritional-benefits.html

    Unfortunately it is more expensive to buy organic but that is because you are paying the true cost of food.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thanks for sharing these studies! Too true regarding the cost. Thanks so much for stopping by–happy to have you!

  13. Eileen says:

    I was just coming in to recommend a CAS, but I see everyone else has gotten there first. Ours is $25 per week. I wish we could split with someone and get that $12 deal — sounds amazing! The amount of produce really is overwhelming for 2 people, so pickling and preserving and eating salads or other greens with every meal are all becoming mainstays. And we still can’t necessarily get through it! Anyone want a 5-lb head of escarole?

    Otherwise, the farmer’s market can be a serious bargain if you go near the end of the day and/or find a damaged produce bin. I wrote a post about food budgeting at the farmer’s market awhile ago; maybe that would also be helpful.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I agree–sounds like sharing a CSA would be ideal for us. I’ll have to poll our friends and see if anyone’s interested. I LOVE the damaged fruit bin! Found my .25 cent avocados there last week! Thanks for sharing your post, I’ll have to check it out.

  14. cheapRN says:

    Love the Weekly Woot and Grumble! Please tell me that Frugal Hound is not in a turtleneck now?! Whew, it’s hot out! Here is a link to the “Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/health/the-dirty-dozen-and-clean-15-of-produce/616/
    if you’re looking to maximize your organic dollars. Another option is to buy locally and talk to the farmers. For instance, an article ran in our newspaper about all the pesticides used in growing blueberries but a very local u-pick farm sent out an e-mail to it’s customers saying they only use what’s necessary, less than half of what the article said–granted, it’s still some but not as much. Love the poem you quoted, too.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you for that link–gotta love PBS. I must’ve read about the concept at some point and retained a modicum of the info. I’ll refresh my memory now! And, Frugal Hound is not in a turtleneck, although she is beside herself because I’m washing all of her bedding today :).

  15. Organic produce has lots of pesticides too, just “organic” ones. Some of the organic approved pesticides are more broadly toxic than non-organic (read: more dangerous to humans and/or pollinators).

    Organic does use more sustainable fertility practices, which is great.

    Organic uses tilling to control weeds, which on a large scale cause erosion, not so great.

    Kind of a mixed bag, to be honest. Unless you know the farmer or can grow it yourself, I don’t care what it’s labeled as. All corporate monoculture sucks, just in different ways.

  16. Mr. 1500 says:

    Wow, really powerful stuff in your Woot. Poem is awesome. It reminded me of this which I read earlier in the week: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2014/08/is-work-slavery-taleb-thinks-so/

    Regarding vegetables, sometimes I think I’m the only one in the world who thinks this, but I trust the science behind GMO crops. They have been researched all of the world for years and years and have been deemed OK. There is so much misinformation spouted by the misinformed. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need GMOs. However, without some major change*, a whole lot more people would starve if we all went to organic crops overnight.

    There is also a risk in organic crops because they are much more likely to be fertilized with manure, which leads to E. Coli outbreaks.

    With that said, everything is a compromise. Ingesting Glyphosate (Roundup) in any quantity cannot be a good thing.

    *I think it would be pretty awesome if people used much of their lawns for gardens. Grass is fun to run around on, but a stupid use of space and water otherwise.

    • The Guru says:

      I’m also open-minded about GMOs, and agree about misinformation. For starters, AFAIK the only food crops in which genetic modification is widely used are corn and soybeans. What really annoys me- as a person who is employed in the horticulture industry- is what seems to be a widely held belief that traditional F1 hybrids= GMO. .I suppose both hybridization and genetic manipulation are both “genetic modification- in the same sense that a Stanley Steamer and a Bugatti Veyron are both automobiles. Probably NONE of the food crops we enjoy today would exist had our ancestors not relentlessly cross-pollinated to improve taste, yield, disease resistance,etc. I suspect that whether gene splicing is good or bad ought to be judged on a case-by-case basis. In any case, folks really need to get all the facts before passing judgement.

    • G42 says:

      Agreed… humans have been cross breeding and hybridizing for an incredibly long time. We should be mindful of what the potential issues are, but not reflexively ban things.
      The ‘clean 15/dirty dozen’ that other folks mentioned is a good starting point for picking things that have less chemical load and less environmental impact… but the data currently indicates that consuming more fruit & veg, conventional or not, is better for us than restricting our fruit & veg consumption due to financial limitations because of organic prices.
      BTW, one of the main drivers of organic pricing is that framers/growers have to switch to all organic for 3 years (last time I checked) BEFORE being able to get independently certified as organic and therefor charge the higher prices due to the higher input costs… so whilst the land is ‘in transition’, the growers are incurring higher costs yet can’t claim the organic label that allows them to charge more…
      Some growers are now advertising that they are ‘in transition’ – trying to get folks to see what they are doing… (cranberries in the NW, for one).
      And the data do not currently support that organic is more ‘nutritious’ – it’s just probably better for the environment and reduces our ingestion of potentially dubious chemicals.
      Your current pattern of eating mostly from scratch, and heavily vegetarian is in line with a lot of current research regarding what is overall probably best for ourselves and our planet…also the fact that you work to avoid food waste.

  17. We started a garden this year in an effort to cut our grocery bill down. It’s done okay so far, but I think we’ll plant fewer items next year. So far we’re getting lots of cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, and pumpkins. The broccoli, cilantro, kale, and strawberries are all dead.

  18. William says:

    Hi there, Mrs. FW. You mentioned a lack of space/being in a concrete jungle as barriers to growing things yourself. Do you have even a small amount of space near a south facing window? Herbs can be very pricey, and it doesn’t take much space, time, or money to grow them yourself. I’m fortunate to have enough outdoor space for herbs and veggies, but I do bring my herbs (and my lemon tree!) inside during the lovely northeast winters. It seems downright luxurious to have free, fresh herbs in January.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      That’s a great system! We’re actually spoiled for herbs–our friend has a garden that she generously gives us herbs from, so we’re not buying those too often. We have done small scale herbs before and we certainly could again–thanks for the idea!

  19. BC says:

    Just like your free yoga trade, I know local farms that do a CSA for labor trade. Before I had my own space for a garden, I went by the farm once every few weeks (whenever I wanted, just called them the day before) and 4 hours of help got me a standard CSA box from them. It was fantastic; I got organic produce, some time working outside in the fresh air, saw and understood what their “organic” practices were first hand, and learned a ton about growing things that I have applied to my own garden. Also, when you are “around” you often end up taking home some extra plant starts or ugly duckling produce that can’t go to market. Once you experience it, you understand why the local organic produce costs what it does. Farming is HARD work, but worth the investment in your family’s health and enjoyment. That’s why our food budget isn’t cheaper than it is for two people who rarely eat out (about $300/month); I chose quality over getting the best deal when it comes to my family’s well being and what we put in our bodies.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      What a great system! I confess I haven’t looked into farm volunteering before, but that sounds ideal. I’m going to start researching now. And, I think $300/month for two people is fantastic! We’re usually about in that range as well. Thanks so much for this idea, I really appreciate it.

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