Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Real Food" Eating- on a Budget

There are two words in the dictionary that are polar opposites:  Organic and Frugal.  It seemed entirely foolish to me to spend 3 times as much for "higher quality" food.  Sure, I could taste a difference in much of the produce but to save money I was more than willing to make the sacrifice.  I mean, taste was all  I was sacrificing by buying the "cheap" stuff, right?.......

This question led me on a  full year journey of researching, reading, watching documentaries, and talking with people who stand on extreme ends of the "organic" controversy.  My main goal in the beginning was to simply make an informed decision for myself on where I stood on the topic and why.  Little did I realize then, that eating organic was only the tip of the iceberg and would get pushed down the list of importance for me as more significant realizations and discoveries began to surface.

Along the way, I shared much of what I was learning with my husband and as certain things clicked, we began to make changes.  This wasn't an overnight thing for us and to be honest, I feel like I am only beginning to sort out the puzzle pieces.  To keep this blog post to a minimum,  food author Michael Pollan says it best: "Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants." 

Our goal is primarily to eat "real food", minimize the amount of meat we eat (about 3 meals a week), and substantially increase our daily fruits and vegetables.  "Real Food" tends to have 5 ingredients or less (all of which should be pronounceable and familiar).  Easy way to remember it, real food eventually rots and it is likely the kind of stuff your great grandparents ate.  Most "real food" hangs out along the outer edges of the grocery store which is now where I hang out too. 

"You are what you eat eat's too."   That is our new attitude with meat and animal products.  Not only are most animals on factory farms given preventative antibiotics as a part of their daily diet and growth hormones to increase their size (meat) and milk production, but most are fed corn.  (more on that later)  We want to be able to "shake the hands that feed us" and currently are able to do this with our beef, chicken, eggs, and have switched over to almond milk.

And last but not least, fruits and vegetables.  Turns out we really like the stuff!  Since they have become a significant part of our diet, the whole organic debate that was the instigator of this quest comes into play.  Basically,  most fruits and veggies are sprayed with some type of pesticide, herbicide, or fungicide which I assumed would be safe enough for humans to eat.  Funny though, that 20 ingredients found in pesticides have been found to cause cancer in animals... and atrazine, a commonly used pesticide in the US has been banned for use in all European countries.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that atrazine has a world market worth of $400 million?.... (stats taken from Harvey Blatt's book America's Food)  I could go on and on, but the more you look into it, the more complex and scary it becomes. 

For now, what we have settled on for fruits and veggies is eating organic off the "Dirty Dozen" list.  (the top 10 most contaminated)  Everything else I buy as I always have unless it is easy and comparable in price.  Organic carrots for example, are not on the dirty dozen but it's about twenty cents more at Walmart so we splurge.  We also try to eat locally and in season to get the most nutrients. That means a whole lot of canning and freezing for the winter.  Sounds like another blog entry for another day! 

And now for a few final thoughts on sugars and labeling.  I look at every label of everything I buy.  I use to look at the nutrition facts and calorie counts but no more. The ingredient list is my go to.   I avoid high fructose corn syrup (a highly processed sugar) and if sugar is listed as one of the first 3 ingredients, I check out the sugar amount.  You would be shocked at what has sugar in it that shouldn't.  I have also learned not to trust health claims on packaging.  Quick example:  Kellogs Smart Start Cereal boasts "lightly sweetened" on it's box but if you trust that, you should have just went with a serving of oreo cookies which has the same amount of sugar....   How about "natural"?  It means nothing at all, just sounds good.  Oh, and ever read the slogan "good source of"?.... Is 10% to 19% of your daily requirement really a good source?  Repeat:  I now read the ingredient list of everything I buy.  We also only buy full fat foods.  No more reduced or diet for us.  Turns out when they take the fat out, otherwise known as flavor, they fill it with other sweeteners and fillers to make up for the taste which is harder on your system than if the fat had stayed in the first place.

So there you have it.  A glimpse of what "real food eating"  looks like for us in a nutshell. I do have to say, as much as I know you are thinking "wow, they are really extreme, forget inviting them over for dinner or out to eat ever" that is not the case at all.  We are choosing to eat this way a MAJORITY of the time, NOT ALL the time.  Really, last night we went out to eat with friends and my husband ate a burger covered in peanut butter (don't ask), we drank soda (high fructose corn syrup) and had greasy fries and enjoyed every bite of it! 

Now for the challenge.... how to be frugal and continue to eat this way MOST of the time.  Much more to come.  Thanks for reading. 

Resources I've found helpful in no particular order:
Eating Between the Lines by: Kimberly Lord Stewart
The Safe Food Handbook by: Heli Perrett, PhD
Eat This Not That by: David Zinczenko*
Fork Over Knives Documentary*
Fork Over Knives- How to Companion by: T. Colin campbell and Cabwell B. Esselstyn*
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead Documentary
The Unhealthy Truth by: Rachel Kranz*
In Defense of Food by: Michael Pollen*
100 Days of Real Food Blog*
Perry's Plate Blog*

* Favorites


  1. Very well written Nicki! This is one of the best (simple) explanations of why you're doing what you're doing. I'm eager to hear more about how you're doing this "frugaly" as well as some recipes:) Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks! Good idea to post recipes. I will have to do that. :)

  2. I agree with Katie. We have already discussed your awesome style and the fact that I'd like to go shopping with you. I'd love for some of your frugal-ity (?) to rub off on me. I have been trying to eat Whole, Real, or Clean foods for about a year now, but have not been very great at sticking to the budget with it.

    On another note, I received a cookbook for Christmas last year that I think you my find interesting: Nourishing Traditions. My aunt found it on Amazon. It is quite biased on its views, but very much follows the line of real food, full fat, eat what our ancestors ate thinking.

    Anyway, good for you and Paul for eating well and keep us posted on your frugal finds in this area.

    1. Yes, a budget is tricky with real, clean food eating... I think it is going to be one of those "figure it out" along the way sort of things. I will be sure and post it as I learn it. :)

      Also, thanks for the cookbook tip. I just reserved it at the library and will check it out. Sounds great!