Friday, July 25, 2008

Doing More With Less - Food

The boat teaches many lessons in conservation. This is part of an ongoing series of posts about how we boaters do more with considerably less. The tips are valid for land based life as well, though, so hopefully folks can use some of these ideas.

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Trolling for Fishing Boats
Trolling for Fishing Boats
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The second largest item in our budget is food. I have friends who get upset with me that food is not the single largest chunk of our disposable income. Those friends should try owning a boat. People who eat and eat well spend money on food today rather than on medicine, doctors, and hospitals in the future. Averaged over a life time, this is not only a very reasonable economic trade off, there is also the side benefit of a considerably better quality of life.

Our family eating motto is cribbed from Michael Pollan, whose wonderful book on the food industry opened my eyes wide to the need to change my buying patterns as a gateway to changing my eating patterns. So in our family, we aim to: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” We shop the periphery of the grocery store, avoiding runs down the “aisles of processed death” as much as possible. The girls make something of a game of this. They stand at the end of an aisle, peer down to find the tomato paste, dried beans, or peanut butter, then race through and back to safety as quickly as possible as if all the minions of industrial food processing hell were biting at their ankles. I do not think this is precisely what Michael had in mind. On the other hand, it makes shopping go fairly rapidly.

Cruising life adds a challenging dimension to eating well while at the same time it makes it almost impossible to do otherwise. Food is obscenely expensive everywhere we go now. We’re provisioning mostly at small coastal towns and tourists stops where everything is shipped in -- literally by barge, boat, or store owner truck. In addition to the pain everyone is now feeling due to fuel costs flowing into our food costs, we’ve got that added spice of remoteness to give grocery store owners the geographically granted right to shaft the customer. We literally can not afford to eat anything.

So we are learning how to eat a lot less of everything. The somewhat ironic result is that we are also lowering our carbon bite-print by a substantial margin since meat and dairy are almost expunged from our diet. This is okay. The fact that we are now almost completely dry, however, is a hardship with which Dr C and I struggle daily.

The end result of all these traumatic trips to the grocery is that I have some tips on how to reduce your food budget while improving your eating habits:

Buy Local Orowheat is $4.39/loaf up here. Local bakeries drop the price to $.99. Rinse and repeat for locally grown in-season produce, domestic beer and wine, and local dairies. Buy domestic brands of cereals, canned goods, frozen foods. Your familiar brands aren’t necessarily tastier anyway.

Bake Bread I bake costs roughly $.55/loaf including the cost of fuel -- still cheaper and available even three weeks after I’ve left the last store. Muffins, scones, biscuits, dinner rolls, and desserts are so much cheaper that the comparison is ludicrous.

Reduce the Animal Foods I went vegetarian in college, because I couldn’t afford the meat. Several decades later, and it appears I’m back where I started. We save our meat money for cured meats such as italian sausage, ham, and bacon which we use in small quantities to flavor soups and bean stews. We use the small grater on cheeses and sprinkle them on foods rather than dumping big stringy clumps or digging into thick sliced wedges. When we bake, we often substitute powdered milk and eggs which cost less, last longer, and weigh less.

Go Fishing Jaime catches it, Dr C cleans it, I cook it. The ocean is a great source of protein. If we were on land, I’d extend this to growing it yourself*. If you can catch or grow it without sinking a fortune into supplies, you can probably reduce your budget while improving quality.

Drink Less As much as it pains me to admit it, you can cut your alcohol budget in half by drinking one glass of wine an evening instead of two. You can cut it further if you skip drinking some nights.

You Catch It, You Clean It
You Catch It, You Clean It
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Eat Less This idea is so profound it deserves a moment of silent reflection. If you eat less food, you spend less on food. Most folk in the modern world eat far more than needed for health and survival. This fact is reflected in the gradual, collective expansion of our butts as well as the general slide into obesity of every major, industrialized nation. The Grand Solution is for the country to eat less. Applied to an individual family, however, we are often confounded by the abundance around us.

Not so when you are cruising north of Nanaimo. Not only is there no abundance, there is no Taco Bell. At five bucks a bag, it’s easy to tell the kids they are not going to get chips and salsa between meals. When you face two to three weeks between provisioning stops, you account for every pound of fruit, every jar of jam, every package of crackers. There is a schedule to eat these foods and woe betide any crew member diving into Mom’s store of apple sauce before the appointed hour. The only things the crew are allowed in unlimited quantity are sun tea and leftovers.

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I am not advocating starving yourself. In fact, if you are a typical American, you need to spend more money on food, not less. What I do recommend is that you read Palen’s book, start shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store, and start making food a priority in your life. When you worry more about where the next meal is coming from, you take considerably better care to ensure that you get the highest quality at the lowest price into the familial tummy.

* Shout out to Rod, a friend from high school, who has actually taken the square foot gardening thing to a level which deserves respect, a longer look, and envy. I want his citrus. I did this square foot thing, BTW, in Philadelphia nearly 15 years ago with considerably less professionalism but pretty good results. His garden shows just how much you can get out of a really small space.


Shangrilewis said...

Have you thought about seeing if a Co-op might deliver at your stops?

Azure delivers in a few spots in Seattle and I was trying to convince the school to let us have a drop off there. It made sense...we have those 2 fridges and all and that big parking lot...

On a side note...the Greenwood Seafair parade had Ronald as one of the leads. I tried without fail to get Gibran to go and do something to him. We booed him to our best ability.

Anonymous said...

One further tip to add under your Reduce the Animal Foods heading. You touched on it a bit, but something I've learned from African and some Asian cooking is to treat meat as a side dish, or even as a condiment. Americans tend to have it at the center of the meal, "what's for dinner?"
"Steak", or ham or chicken, etc.
It's something I'm trying at home for the sake of my family's health and pocketbook.