Money, Ethics, and Local-Sustainable Food – The Continuing Saga

I wrote about “keeping at it” for the Pagan Blog Project. Which is just dandy.
But I also want to write about it from the perspective of radical home-making and general Ethical-DIYitude.
We are, as I believe I’ve mentioned, working with a much smaller budget than we were when we first got this shiny two-bedroom apartment. We are at the point (the point I’ve lived at for most of my adult life, granted, so it’s not exactly an unknown situation) where about 2/3 – 3/4 of our combined monthly income is going towards the rent alone[1].
This is, to some extent, freaking me the fuck out. In spite of, or possibly because of, the scarcity I’ve been used to. CJ, over on Apron Stringz, offers these as some of the essential qualities of an urban homesteader, a frugal-ethical-DIY-er. Ten Noble Virtues, if you want to go that route:

I offer up this small list: thrift, efficiency, organization, creativity, generousness, flexibility, courage, perseverance, wonder, and the ability to take pleasure in simple things.

I have most of those in spades (if I do say so myself). But generosity? Scarcity-brain – which I get when I start worrying about whether or not we can have groceries on top of a place to live – is the flat-out opposite of Generosity. The terror of not having enough makes me stingy in a lot of ways – ways with-which The Grinch would be very familiar – body and soul. It makes my heart shrivel. I get resentful. I get furious about “too much useless stuff” making it hard to keep our not-so-shiny apartment even slightly clean and tidy, let alone Organized[2]. I want to throw big, screaming tantrums about the importance of Bringing Your Lunch or the need to keep the counter clean and the dishes washed so that the house doesn’t devolve into overwhelming squalor.
It’s in this headspace – the headspace of “not ever enough” that – for wise or foolish reasons – I often abandon some of my Ethical Eating habits (or attempts at habits) in favour of cramming as much food into my shopping cart (or fridge/freezer) as possible.
Look. My lovely wife says that I have an incredible gift for flavour-combining. And I’d say that she’s right (although part of that is also having studied my ass off, reading cookbooks to find out what the hell goes well with cabbage, for example, before using those suggestions as a jumping off point for my own adventures). However, I’d also say that we eat the following at least once, sometimes more than once, every week:
Mild Italian Sausage (pre-cooked, or at least par-boiled, and sliced into rounds)
Tinned or fresh tomatoes
Sliced button mushrooms
Short Pasta (occasionally this is subbed out for basmati rice, but it’s rare)
Some kind of Greens
Combine the above in a frying pan and mix until well incorporated. Done.
This is what we eat.
Yes, this is part of why I think we’d do just find getting half a pig for our freezer once a year. We already eat pork quite frequently, so it wouldn’t be much of a big change for us, diet-wise.
However, I would really, really like to be able to add something else to my list of go-to foods, if only so that this really excellent combination of foods continues to be appealing for everyone I feed it to. (Stay tuned, I guess, for a post on how to make the same six ingredients appetizing in a variety of different ways for the duration of the time that they’re in season).
Keeping at it.
Yes, there is a point to all this rambling, but it’s gonna be a while before we get there! 😀
Listen. I went to the grocery store on Saturday, intent on stocking up on Everything in the hopes of only having to do one Big Shop and then not needing to step foot in a grocery store (foraging is another story) for anything other than a gallon or two of milk, for the entire rest of the month.
Of course, this didn’t quite work. We wound up doing a second Big Shop the very next day, to collect two months worth of flour and (hopefully) an entire canning season’s worth of sugar (8kg… which may or may not actually be enough, even if I do a lot more vinegar canning this year than last), plus yeast for the bread and a couple of other odds and sods.
I bought coffee. Not the fancy, organic-and-fair-trade locally roasted stuff I was so proud to have in my kitchen, but the in-store brand with (most likely) questionable origins.
I bought sausages (see above recipe). Not the Traditionally Raised or Just the Good Stuff sausages that I have been trying to stay in the habit of buying, but the two-for-one specials that most likely involve CAFO pigs and worse-than-usual preservatives. Because twenty sausages (individual sausages, not packages, just to be clear) for $15 will feed us for twice as long as the more ethical stuff will at the same price[3].
It bugs me a lot that I’m guided more by money than by morals in this particular situation (though it also bugs me that I’m being kind of self-righteous and/or otherwise douche-baggy about what is really a privilege of doing good). Watching myself pass up the $1.99 tins of organic kidney beans in favour of the $0.89 larger tins of not-so-organic kidney beans; watching myself put back the Traditionally Raised pork sausages in favour of the much cheaper but also less ethically treated pork sausages because they were 3/5 the price and had more sausages per package; knowing that I am still a long way away from returning to my short-lived organic-cane-sugar and local-milk-in-glass-bottles days… This is not Keeping At It.
A friend of mine was once in a situation where she routinely had to decide which bills where the ones that got paid this month versus which ones were not even going to make minimum payment. I’ve been there myself: paying just enough of the hydro bill to keep the heat on for another month, so that I could try to make a noticeable (ahahaha *sob*) dent in my credit card bill, then using my credit card to buy groceries in order to keep the rent cheque from bouncing.
It’s a crappy, crappy situation to be in.
What I’m doing now – opting for way cheaper but also less happy-for-my-conscience groceries – isn’t anything like that.
But it does feel a bit like that in that I’m shifting one set of priorities (local, ethical, organic) to another (home-made, home-preserved, foraged, gleaned) which overlaps with the first while not entirely covering all the bases that I want covered. Through gleaning, foraging, and using up last year’s preserves, I’m getting a small but significant percentage of our food local-and-in-season and raised about as ethically as one can hope for… without also having to eat into our significantly-slimmer-than-usual grocery budget.
I feel like I’m doing stop-gaps; running around patching up one end of things while the other two thirds of The Plan sink slowly from where I’ve propped them up, and then running to prop them up again, each in turn. All while pedaling frantically, if you will.
And, yeah, I could cook (buy, eat) less meat and more beans-and-grains. And, to a point, I do this – mostly for the benefit of my lovely wife who spent a lot of years being vegetarian and, later, vegan – but I don’t want to do it all the time. In fact, I don’t want to do it most of the time. And, yeah, I can turn to Starhawk or Michael Pollan or even North West Edible Life (those last two links, while wonderful, don’t have much to do with eating animals, but do have a lot to do with the need to enjoy the home-making part of Radical Home-Maker) to justify why that is beyond the bit where animals taste good, and my body thrives when I eat them.
My lovely wife says that she likes my gleaning, foraging, making-stuff-from-scratch ways, and that I shouldn’t nag myself about how I should be making our home-made bread from all-organic flour which should be at least part whole-wheat-pastry in its makeup, or how I should be canning my preserves with organic cane sugar and buying all of our coffee from the fair trade place down the road.
None the less, I do whinge about it, even as I keep at it – Tonight, it’s foraged grape leaves combined with Product-of-Canada cooking onions and garlic, chervil from the window boxes, Ontario mushrooms, and the above-mentioned sausages that essentially prompted this post, wrapped up in a pie-shell made from home-made bread dough (like a giant calzone or a savoury galette or something). Tomorrow, it might be non-organic kidney beans stewed with suntech[4] hothouse tomatoes, and more Ontario mushrooms, slopped over home-made corn bread (made with not-even-slightly-organic corn meal, believe me). It’s not perfect. It’s far from perfect. But it far from nothing, too.
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1]NOTE: “Rent” in this case, thank all the gods, includes the utilities. It also includes a storage locker that we are going to be stuck hanging onto for yet another While Longer as (a) our primary mode of transportation is (as of July) a bartered motor bike which will need winter storage and, (b) we need a place to keep all of my wife’s carpentry tools and some of her cobbler-related equipment And charity-work donations.
[2] It’s funny – and probably a direct result of my first marriage falling apart – that, when I get into Scarcity Mode, I want to purge stuff rather than hoard it.
[3] Which is not to say that I don’t stock up as much as possible on the ethical stuff when it goes on the cheap.
[4] Suntech, to explain, is a greenhouse farm in the Ottawa Valley. They do tomatoes of various types and little, tiny Lebanese cucumbers and they do them Very Early. It’s totally cheating to use their stuff, if we’re talking Seasonal here, but I do it anyway. I like to see my farmers doing well and, frankly, I like me some fresh tomatoes when I can get them, too.

2 responses to “Money, Ethics, and Local-Sustainable Food – The Continuing Saga

  1. This is the inside of my head for much of my day. I feel you, sister. “At the end of this tunnel of guilt and shame/ there must be a light of some kind.”

    • It’s eating at me a lot right now. No garden means that I’m stuck with foraging if I want free (or close to it) food, and there’s a limit to how much of that I can do without pissing off the nieghbours. Even if they do grow rhubarb/cherries/grapes/service-berries/chives/etc in their front yards, right by the property line.

      (Guerilla gardening notwithstanding, most of my attempts have either keeled over and died due to Everything, or else they’ve been dug up by weeders or possibly squirrels. Someone else is, by the looks of things, managing to grow corn up the street in a trafic-calming island, so good, but it would be nice if my veggies were coming up).

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