Monday, June 23, 2008

Greenify Your Family, Pt. 1

(This is part one of a daily series I am writing on how to have a greener and more frugal home. I will address issues such as food and laundry, offering concrete tools to lower your bills while reducing your carbon footprint. When I am finished, I will give the series a permanent home on my website at )

Did you know that as much fuel is used to transport the average American household's food as to run their vehicles? This means that you theoretically could never drive anywhere and still be using more fuel than most of the world's residents.

Buying food from far away lands doesn't just use a boatload of fuel; it also takes control of your family's diet out of trusted hands. Take, for example, the organic peaches on sale this week at Safeway for 1.99/lb. It sounds like a great deal, and I almost bought some. But then I started thinking... where did those peaches come from? Peach season won't arrive for another month in most areas of the United States. They could be from an early harvest in a warmer locale like California or Georgia, or, more likely, somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. If I can't even guess the country, I can't safely say whether those peaches are truly organic or even as safe as conventional American fruit. I can postulate that they are either way past their prime, or else were picked so early they will have zero taste and even less nutritional value. As good as a juicy peach sounds, I will make do until peach season with the berries and vitamin C rich leafy greens at the farmer's market.

Here are the strategies I use to piece together a budget- and earth-friendly diet:

  1. Buy local, as much as possible. You can find local foods at farmer's markets, farm stands, locally owned grocery stores, even a tomato pot on your porch or a windowsill herb garden. 4-H kids usually sell meat and eggs, or at least know where you can find them. Another source is your local university extension office. I love knowing exactly where my produce comes from and knowing that the people who grow my food make a decent living from their hard work.

  2. When local isn't available, buy organic, fair trade, and humane products. A good example is coffee. Coffee doesn't grow anywhere in my country, perhaps nowhere in my hemisphere. I'm not willing to give up caffeine, nor is my family willing to live with me while I am not under the influence of stimulants. I feel a little less guilty knowing that the Sumatrans who slave away for my daily cup of joe were paid enough to feed their kids.

  3. Buy from salvage stores. When stores have fires or floods, or simply decide to change packaging, and need to get rid of their inventory quick, they sell it to stores like the Grocery Outlet. By law, they can't carry anything bad for your health, so what you are buying at these stores is perfectly good merchandise that would otherwise have been thrown away. The great prices are a pleasant by-product. By shopping here, you are preventing some of the appalling waste that Americans are known for. I find our organic breakfast cereals, canned goods, cheeses, and snacks this way.

  4. Be a Part Time Freegan. Freegans are people who protest the conventional economy by finding most of their food and other products for free. They find ways to live outside of the cash economy that has taken over every aspect of the modern world. I have adapted this philosophy to my own life. Instead of finding food in dumpsters (a classic freegan strategy), I combine coupons and sales to get products for free. Although the things I get this way are not generally organic (or even particularly healthy), they provide the 'treats' and convenience foods that even health-nutty families like mine occasionally enjoy at a price that can't be beat. Not all of my freegan finds are junk food; I regularly get healthy, organic items like Kashi cereals and Fruitabu fruit snacks this way. Not only do I get the joy of profiting from corporate America (instead of the other way around), I save money that can be used toward my fair trade coffee and organic local blueberries. Freeganism helps our bottom line immensely.
Because of my status as both a foodie and a 'localtarian', I have started a blog dedicated entirely to food. Read what I'm eating and why at Budget Eating.