While I would like to be entirely self-sustaining from my garden in terms of fruits and vegetables (and meats and dairy, but that would involve a cow, chickens, more space and probably some sort of ritual slaughter, which I don’t think I have the stomach for!), I am also realistic that my inner-west backyard is probably not going to provide the space and climate for all the fruits and vegetables that I like to eat!
Eating more organically and sustainably – why?
An offshoot of my gardening and interest in a more sustainable life is a focus on trying to eat more seasonally and more organically. My focus on trying to eat more organic fruit and veggies is based on the reduction of ingesting pesticides and chemicals – I’m a city girl through and through, while I like nature, I also love the convenience and bustle of the city, even with its poor air quality and toxic fumes. So, I’m a believer in trying to reduce the cumulative effect of the various ways in which we live in cities by reducing some of the toxins in what I ingest, mostly through food. I don’t think I’ll ever move to the country and have a farm, with cleaner air and paddocks (although I do like that dream sometimes!), so I’m trying to do what I can when I can for my overall health, fertility, and disease prevention – the reality from what I’ve read, heard and seen is that with the increase of population, the methods used to create enough food for the world and to keep up with our desire for instant gratification (ie I want this type of food now!) are often more chemically focused, which may not be the best thing for our bodies, and it may be contributing to the seeming increase in cancers and allergies in the population.
Now, I am not providing lots of links to the tons of scientific research and information out there to support this position, more giving you the background of why I’m trying to live more sustainably for my own health and the health of my family – please feel free to do your own research and come to your own conclusions, and share it with me – and if you come to similar conclusions to me, then hopefully this blog will also help you to in living more organically, sustainably and thriftily!
There are seasons for apples?
Eating more seasonally (while also growing things) has led me to some interesting revelations, ie that apples are not in season at the end of summer, therefore harder to get organically at different times of year! I was aware of stonefruit and berries being a summer thing, as they are around more and much cheaper then, but I think growing up I had never really thought about how much other food that I regularly ate was grown or when, therefore I am enjoying learning more and trying to follow nature a little more (while still being connected to technology and the city!). I enjoy our fortnightly organic fruit and veggie box for this reason, as it shows me what is actually in season and ripe at the time- as my husband also notes, seeing the size and shelf life of organic produce makes you realise how chemically and genetically modified a lot of conventionally grown produce must be to be so big and last so long!! Also, a lot of it tastes better – stronger, richer flavours. However, I am not an obsessive purist, we still eat out a lot, have some junk food on occasion, and if I really feel like a particular vegetable or fruit or recipe, I’ll tend to buy it and use it without worrying too much about where it came from – it’s all about balance, moderation and trying your best most of the time as far as I’m concerned!
You don’t need to buy everything organic – unless you’ve got lots of cash to spare!
If you have the money and the interest you probably could buy everything organically, but I don’t think that’s going to work for our overall budget, therefore I focus my money and efforts on the things that are most chemically treated, ie fruit, veggies and meat, sometimes dairy, and I don’t tend to get all obsessive about other things like oats, nuts, breads, coffee etc. Part of this is because of the cost – unfortunately organic food is still a lot more expensive than its non-organic counterparts, which can be quite annoying – at the end of the day, while my health is important, I also love a good bargain, which can make for a contradiction! Also, I think some people confuse ‘organic’ with ‘healthy’ – it might be less chemically treated, but those ‘organic’ biscuits, that ‘organic’ white bread and too much of the ‘organic’ pizza may still not be the best nutritional choice! I may develop more organic requirements as the years go on, and hopefully things will get less expensive as more people access them, but at the moment, it’s all about fruit, veggies and an attempt at sustainable and less chemical meat, poultry and fish.
Use the peel test
One way to cut down on your costs is not to eat everything organically, but focus on those fruits and veggies that are the most chemically treated – anything with a skin or peel that you remove before eating is usually fairly good, and while it may taste better organically, I have no issue with buying things like watermelon, bananas, oranges, pineapple etc from our local fruit market (and they give us free juice!!) There is also a generally agreed upon (and updated) list of fruit and veggies by the Environment Working Group in the US (http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php) that lists which are most chemically treated – the ‘Dirty Dozen’ (isn’t that a movie?) It is reasonable to use this list for Australian produce, as the Americans use similar farming methods to us. When I looked at it, I realised sadly that most of the fruits that I love and eat regularly are on it – I’m looking at you, apples, berries, stone fruit and spinach!! So, I’ve been trying to buy this stuff organically and in season, but anything else that’s not on there, I am usually happy to still buy at the fruit market instead if we want it and it hasn’t come in our veggie box. I also focus on things I eat constantly (like fruit and spinach and certain veggies) rather than things I have once in a blue moon, to try and reduce the daily cumulative chemical load.
Reduce costs – buy in bulk and in season
Organic fruit can be crazily expensive, and I do resent paying ludicrous prices for things. Even when fruit is in season, like my great love blueberries are now, the comparison price between conventionally grown: 2 punnets for $7 at our fruit guy vs organic: 2 punnets for $12-14 at the organic place, can seem prohibitively expensive!! I am trying to think of it as opportunity costs, as well as examining what I think is reasonable for things – I might pay $12 for a cocktail on a night out without thinking about it, so why am I skimping on fruit that is probably better for me in the long run? I think we’ve been conditioned to think certain foods should cost a certain price, and anything above that is unreasonable, even if we really want it or it’s better for us – and it is certainly true that with the increasingly popularity of organic produce, there are a lot of people profiting without necessarily making it cheaper for the average bear!!
Anyway, a tip I have for making your dollar go further is to combine my love of a bargain with my love of the freezer – buy in bulk when things are cheaper (ie when they’re in season) and freeze them!! That way, I get the benefits for longer for less cash!! Our local organic place has been doing ‘specials’ for the past few months with 3 punnets of blueberries for $15, and 3 punnets of strawberries for $12. So, I buy my 3 punnets of each once a week, bring them home, wash them (cos I’m a bit of a washing fruit and veggies freak, even though I probably don’t have to worry so much about organic stuff, it’s still habit!), leave them to dry (attracting lots of fruit flies, sorry lovely husband!), then I put a punnet of each back in the fridge for eating during the week, and freeze the rest! I’ve been doing this since late December, so now I have a nice full freezer of frozen fruit!
The plan is, when berries go out of season and become even more ridiculously expensive again in a couple of months – I’ll be like the ant and the grasshopper, enjoying the spoils of my labour in autumn and winter!! It will also stop me having to buy imported organic blueberries (I’ve mentioned my addiction, I eat them daily!) at a ridiculous jacked-up price (both in terms of cash and cost to the planet)!! This way I get to combine my love of a bargain with my love of stocking our freezer for the zombie apolocalypse!! The trick I have found with the strawberries is hull (ie take the green bit off) and cut them up before freezing, otherwise you will find it very hard to get the green part off when they’re frozen – I speak from experience!! See below some of my freezer haul!! And according to one of my new favourite sites, Eat By Date.com, fresh frozen fruit will last 6-8 months before going funny if stored properly (hence my sealed container), therefore I should be good to go til the end of August! I also recently rotated my frozen berries to put the older ones on top so I’ll use them first, to ensure maximum freshness! You can then just pop them out and add them directly to cold things like smoothies, or if you want them in warm things like porridge, either defrost overnight in the fridge if you’re organised, or if you’re more like me most mornings, use the microwave for 10-20 seconds before adding them to things!
So, I’ll keep sharing other tips over the coming weeks for stretching your organic (and non-organic!) dollar further – please feel free to leave me your own tips in the comments below!