Beggars and Choosers

I wrote this post several months ago and never published it.  I am putting it out today because I have decided to delve into both poverty and voluntary simplicity in my blog.  As a newly single mom who is starting back into the world of work, I am feeding my family the best that I can afford.

In my most recent post, I analyzed my success on the Eat Local Challenge with the realization of how often I eat my grandmother’s wonderful cooking.  I commented that even though I know some of the casseroles and other foods contain ingredients that I would not normally choose to buy at the store, I eat them without question and derive great enjoyment from the lovingly prepared foods. 

If I am just going to “cheat” on my diet, why bother to purchase quality food at all?  I once made a similar statement to my husband.  I told him that it didn’t make sense for me to be spending the extra money on expensive, gluten free foods if he was going to eat gluten several times a week anyway.  When it comes to food allergies and medical diets, I still believe in those words.  In fact, for someone who needs to eat gluten free due to a known food allergy or medical problem, even traces of gluten in the diet can have a detrimental effect and set the person back several months in their healing. 

When I speak of my own “cheating”, however, I am talking about self-imposed food rules that are based on values rather than health.  While it is true that eating local, grassfed meat and organic produce will also improve my health, I fortunately do not suffer from health problems that make these foods a necessity rather than a choice.  What I am saying is that I value good food that was raised with care.  I want to eat foods that improve the environment rather than destroy the rainforests and contribute to global warming.  I want to vote with my hard-earned dollars every time I shop.  If I am offered free food that is not completely in line with these values, I will sometimes still choose to eat it. 

As someone who spent the last four years living below the poverty line, I know how hard it is to eat within one’s values on a meager budget.  I’ve relied on the kindness of friends and family.  I’ve used food stamps and WIC vouchers.  I’ve even been to the food pantry.  With the exception of a few nasty things from the food pantry (expired donuts and a tub of partially hydrogenated soybean margarine), whenever I have received these free foods, I’ve made the most of them.  I selected the best possible foods with my WIC vouchers, turning the milk into yogurt and making pasta sauce with the tomato juice.  I used what money we did have to supplement our diet with the all-important organic butter, cod liver oil, and coconut oil.

Yes, most of the free foods have been conventionally raised.  I consumed my share of factory farmed animal products (not easy for this former vegetarian) and non-organic produce.  I still tried my best to keep processed foods to a minimum, preferring to cook my own foods from raw ingredients.  When I picked up the can of beef stew from the food shelf, I decided that it would dishonor both the poor, factory farmed animals and the people who donated the food if I just discarded the can.  I’m still not sure if I made the best choice, but I did not go hungry for that meal.

When I enjoy a meal, I like to take a moment to give thanks for all of the animals and farmers who gave their lives so that I can eat.  The prayer is true for vegetarian meals as well.  Hundreds of mice, moles, voles, insects and other critters must be “controlled” in order for us to have vegetables, grains and beans.  Mono-crops of grains and beans do not occur in nature.  They must be planted, cared for and harvested, usually by tractor.  As I walk through my own garden, I see the little frogs hopping away from me as fast as they can hop.  I know, sadly, that they cannot out-run a tractor.  I know that the mice and frogs who do make it out of the field become prey for hawks and raccoons.  Living takes life, and no matter what I eat, I cannot remove myself from the natural cycles of life.

Still, whenever possible, I choose not to support factory farming.  I know that raising animals in confinement is in conflict with the natural cycles of life and the natural order of things.  I know it is cruel.  Do I turn down my grandmother’s beef stew?  Not anymore.  Do I make choices within my values for my own beef stew?  Absolutely!  One of the reasons that I am so excited to have a steady income is that I now have dollars with which to vote.  Someone asked me if I was going to buy anything special with my first paycheck.  I had to think about it for a few minutes.  I thought that perhaps I could buy myself some symbol or token to mark the occasion.  I considered a piece of jewelry or technological gadget.  I calculated that I could spend about ten percent of my first paycheck on such an item.  Ultimately, however, I realized that those items would not bring the most value to my life.  Instead of running to the Mall or Best Buy, I drove to an organic, pasture based farm (Trautman Family Farm) and purchesed some of the best pasture raised chicken and beef available.  When I served that first roasted chicken to my family, my heart (and my taste buds) wept for joy.  I know it was the right choice for me.  

I chose to further honor the chicken and my own health by turning the bones into a delicious chicken stock, which I will make into soup today.   The stock is amazing!  I’ve made plenty of stock in the last few years with bones from all types of animals.  There really is a difference between pasture raised and factory animals.  The difference shows up in the stock.

Home - Made Chicken Stock

One of the best things about my job is that I have some of the best ingredients at my disposal.  I get to cook real food that is in line with my values most of the time.  It is definitely a balancing act to make the deli profitable while still providing the highest quality food that is organic and local whenever possible.  I also have to balance the various dietary needs and choices of my customers.  I sometimes make things in the deli that I wouldn’t choose to purchase, for various reasons.  Other times I make some of my favorite foods and find that nobody else buys them.  I know I will learn a good balance.

As long as I stay at this job, my own food dilemmas will be greatly relieved.  I still have choices between food that I buy and food that I can get for free.  Much of the food that I can get for free now includes expired items from Basics and organic produce that has a few blemishes.  How wonderful to make use of these “unwanted” foods!  I rejoice that I don’t have to worry so much about these free opportunities.  Many of the options are free of GMO’s and grown and raised in the best possible ways.  It is true that there are still plenty of processed foods in the natural food industry.  I am learning that I no longer have to take everything that is offered.  In fact, I notice that some of the more processed items stay on the employee free shelf for quite a while before someone mercifully discards them.  In the beginning, I was so excited about all the free food that I admit I overdid it a little.  For example, I munched a few gluten free crackers without even checking the ingredients.  I paid for my choice the next day with stomach distress similar to the difficulties I experienced in college.  It turns out that one of the main ingredients in the crackers was soy flour, which is difficult to digest for even the strongest of people.  Needless to say, I’m learning to be more of a chooser now that I have the freedom of being able to pay for much of my food.  The free shelf still has several boxes of the gluten free crackers, so I am not the only one.

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