Is Sustainable Food Affordable?

| 3/26/2009 12:33:42 PM

Tags: sustainable food, affordable food,

sustainable food challengeOne thing that I've been reading a lot about lately is how trying to eat sustainably is just not affordable for most people and it's only the rich that can afford to shop at the high-end organic supermarkets like Whole Foods. The classic stereotype is the yuppie green-wannabe spending hundreds of dollars a week buying imported organic produce or trendy specialty natural products. On the opposite end of the stereotype are the organic beans and rice, bulk food buying hippies.

But is there something in between? Can a sustainable lifestyle, preferably chock-full of locally and sustainably grown produce, meats, dairy and other products that are affordable, be achieved by the average American? I am convinced that it can be.

How does one define affordability? Well, one way of going about it is to use the federal government's food assistance program's guidelines. For example, they assume that a family of four should be able to eat reasonably well on a food budget of $588 a month. This also assumes that, most likely, conventionally grown foods are being purchased and not "expensive" locally or sustainably grown food.

I've challenged the readers of my blog, for the month of April, to see if it's possible. Can they find sustainably grown food (organic, local or both) in their area and keep it at or under the federal guidelines? If you are interested in joining us, the full guidelines are available on the post for the Sustainable Food Budget Challenge. I'd like to show that it can be done without breaking the bank.

kim _7
5/7/2009 10:35:51 AM

What this all boils down to, is how committed are you to saving money, living healthier and supporting our local farmers? If you are committed, you'll find a way to make it work. If not, you'll find every excuse as to why it will fail. I don't know about any of you, but since I cut out processed foods, and went "back to the basics" I overall feel much better. All the convenience food are literally killing us in every aspect of everyday life. If you want "convenience" foods, make your own and can them for later use. Freeze them, vacuum seal them. There's a gazillion recipes. Learn how to can, freeze, or vacuum seal. For every argument as to why something can't work, you can find a way it CAN work. I don't have a yard to grow, so grow in pots. Fresh vegetables are too expensive at the store, so grow your own. Grow only what you like and will eat anything else you might eat only occasionally, buy at your local farm market. Listen, if you want to make a change, you'll find a way. So stop the excuses and just do it! In the end, you'll be glad you did. Sorry, that's just my opinion. Kim

5/4/2009 6:08:49 PM

And not everyone likes sprouts. I'm not a big fan myself. And please don't say 'beggars can't be choosy' Godbless, Anwar sorry about the double post earlier

5/4/2009 6:07:08 PM

I think it would be impossible to feed a family of four organically and naturally. Natural and organic food just costs too much (maybe if just through minimally flavored rice and beans and very limited animal products, this might be possible). Some people consider buying in bulk, but that requires a more costly one time purchase, or saving up (and not eating) in order to buy the bulk. To me it is a shame that one has to pay more for more natural foods, which to me should be our God given right. BUUUT, someone on this forum said earlier that it is better to have one's own garden and produce one's own food. What is the problem? Self-sufficient people don't make money for others and don't spend as much money and that "hurts" the economy. Our society has gone in the wrong direction. But it's all to fill someone's pocket. Unfortunately many low income families (especially in cities, but also in some rural communities) don't want to grow their own, don't know how to grow their own and have a mindset that only benefits those who would exploit them. And they only wish to be in a position to exploit someone else, given the chance. Godbless, Anwar

4/7/2009 7:26:53 AM

If you could factor in the health costs of eating low-nutrition food that has been contaminated by pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and growth hormones, etc., local and organic becomes a bargain, not to mention the costs of pollution, soil erosion and other consequences of conventional, centralized farming.

richard schwab
3/30/2009 3:47:08 PM

I've said it before and I'll say it again, "Sprouts are the cheapest, healthiest food you'll ever find." They're super easy to grow too. You can grow them in the winter, inside without soil, or sunlight, and reap a crop every 5 days! I am not trying to sell you anything. Only pointing out what I have discovered. They taste as good as any lettuce, but healthier and cheaper.

3/29/2009 10:15:50 AM

This is a debate I have had for years with my own husband, and any number of people who believe the chemical paradigm is superior. I am not a scientist. But I know in my heart that returning to ancient practices of farming is the only solution. I believe we are short-sighted in our farming practices and must understand that the soil is alive and we must understand the ecology of soil and feed the soil properly in order for it to sustain us in return. Check out Biochar, see the recent study showing a resulting drop of green-house gasses on farmland after 3 yrs. of biochar additions. Check out the history of "Terra Preta" and see if you don't also have epiphany. And for all of us insulated Americans checkout the "Sustainable Cuba" video on YouTube, it's fascinating to see such a contained example of peak oil played out and the necessary response of the entire community. I am glad that People like us who think and care about these things are not on the lunatic fringe anymore, but I realize this is only because of terrible crisis. America is thick-headed in it's denial and arrogance and on some level I admit that I am quite pleased in a smug "I told you so" kind of a way, that many are pulling their heads I mean finally waking up. - rather rudely though, eh ?

3/28/2009 4:14:00 PM

of course sustainable food is affordable! but of course you need to know where and when to shop. my husband and i go to the local co-op to buy the items we cannot produce here in our garden. and thats not much mainly tree fruits like oranges & bananas , milk, eggs etc. but the majority comes from our small ( less than 200 sq ft) garden. every harvest time we end up with more than enough to feed ourselves, his parents, my parents and their neighbors about 12 people in all. with still more than enough to preserve to carry us over through the winter. occasionaly we end up with a good harvest of blackberries that we will utilise for jams and pie fillings. last year we harvested 5 gallons of black berries from our yard and the creek across the highway from us. all of that having been said, the key to sustainable food is if you grow your own, choose the right plants for your zone. work the soil well and add what it needs long before you plant. if you have to shop for your food, check the prices sometimes the more expensive variety isn't always the best in terms of flavor or nutritive value. just for the two of us we come in way below the usda guideline budgetwise. our largest dietary expenditures are meat and dairy goods, pasta. total monthly budget $59 and we eat like kings!

3/27/2009 8:12:55 PM

Raised a refugee in this country at the age of eleven I can surely recall very well the Art of Sustainabilty. Art. I think that putting a creative effort in being green and staying home and prepairing meals for three to four days at a time, you can cut down on the driving which also cuts down on the gas consumption, which also cuts down on the noise stress and crowd stress, and focus more in the garden. Being so busy is a way natural to tend to neglect our own enviroment at our place of residence. Look no one saw this coming. Challenge is sometimes the ultimate TEST. One thing That works for me really well is stay focus and positive. Negative has never giving me anything I desire nor any relief from Lack. Simple is better. Is all good... Keep smiling.

brenda barnes, president, home grown food network,
3/27/2009 7:48:33 PM

I have never tried to buy organic food for a family of four. Now I have a family of only two plus a dog and a cat, which doesn't count as a family of four, so I can't do your challenge. However, I know from my husband and myself cooking for the two of us and preparing raw food, it costs far less than $588 a month to produce organic food in our own garden sufficient to feed eight or ten people, not just four. We have lots of guests over and take food to other people's houses for potlucks and parties, plus give away food to our neighbors and poorer people we know. This is on an urban lot of less than 1800 square feet with 1200 of that taken up by buildings and much of the rest needed to walk on. This is also with both of us doing many types of work, mostly unpaid, that take far more time than full-time jobs, so we spend about an hour a day each average on all the gardening tasks. This is also using overripe supermarket food as our "seeds" and recycled materials we find in alleys and thrown away here and there, for our raised beds and containers. We use soaker hoses below the surface, so that requires next to no water, even here in the Mojave Desert. Since we've been doing this, only less than two years, we have been healthier and more energetic, besides spending much less on food, than ever before in our lives. Before we grew our own, when we bought all that organic produce, we had to be very efficient to buy it several times a week at farmers' markets in different parts of town in order to stay within the USDA's budget. Now we buy only meat, which we eat very little of, eggs, dairy products, and bread when we don't have time to bake our own, other than dog and cat food, which are not allowed in the USDA's budget. We spend far less than $250 per month on our food purchases, all of which are organic and bought at farmers' markets, health food stores, and Bristol Farms, which is even more expensive (

george works
3/27/2009 8:53:00 AM

I recommend that you read "Enriching the Earth" by Vaclav Smil, MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-19449-X. Smil is a (or the) leading expert in fertilizers and plant nutrients. He argues persuasively that the world population has now passed the point where natural processes can fix sufficient nitrogen to feed everyone. This is a somewhat technical book with many references, but seems quite authoritative. The manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is energy-intensive and consumes large quantities of fossil fuel, mainly natural gas. That said, some areas with superior farmland and lower population densities, including the US, might be able to afford sustainability. Other areas, such as China, can not. China is presently the world's largest user of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

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