It is midway through the month, and I have run out of eggs and potatoes. We have three hens, but at this time of year, they don’t lay every day, and sometimes I need more than three eggs in one day. We have food enough to get through, unless I want to bake a cake or cookies. Potatoes are a staple here in the River Valley. They are grown on all sides of us. So why are they so expensive?
I am out of white flour, which means I am using whole wheat flour from the big supply I bought last year. If I want finer flour, I sift the whole wheat and dump the millings left in the sifter into a bowl for the next batch of bread. I am waiting for flour to be marked down, but it is still $10 for 10 kilos – about 22 pounds – on sale. Apparently potatoes and flour will not drop below 22-25 cents a pound this year. If I had a bigger capacity hand-mill, or one with a finer blade, I would grind my own wheat. I may have to resort to it by next year, as I can buy unprocessed wheat fairly cheaply. At present, it is a nuisance and a lot of handwork to turn it into flour. The good mill is $500 shipped, but when we can grow our own corn and oats for feed, it will be worth it.
I am looking through the supermarket sales fliers today. I will have to make a trip to Grand Falls sometime this week, swinging by my landlady’s house to return their flue brushes and pick up the cedar firewood she got for me in Plaster Rock; there will be packages at the post office to pick up. I will drop into one of the markets for the essentials we need, but the non-essentials – which many people depend on because they don’t know how to cook from scratch, or they think they don’t have time – are much too high in price. Most of our meals are vegetarian, or rely on broths made from the leftovers or bones, so we do not count on having meat every day. I buy potatoes, onions, carrots, apples and turnips 10-20 pounds at a time, and sometimes 50 pounds at once of potatoes, if they are deeply discounted. Apples were available as “deer” apples this year locally, mostly windfalls and cosmetically blemished fruit. We ate the good ones and the goats and chickens the rest. Some got made into applesauce. I will use at least 100 kilos of flour in a year, as I don’t buy bread or baked goods; I buy flour in quantity when I can. We have canned and frozen vegetables from the garden, as well.
I always make sure I have several pounds of beans and lentils in the house, stored in glass jars. It is cheap protein, and if we have a shortage of gas money or a surplus of bad weather, we know we have food. I supplement them with barley and brown rice. I used to be able to get amaranth and quinoa cheaply, but not here.
Here are the latest prices on food locally: Bread is running $3-$4 a pound; beef is at least $4/lb for ground chuck. Bacon is never selling for less than$3/lb for the generic house brand. If soft drinks are on the menu, a 2 litre bottle will be at least $1.25. That seems to be a lot for water, sugar, flavouring and a label. As for snack foods, chips are $2.50 for a quarter pound bag, snack crackers are $2 for about the same weight. Sweetened breakfast cereals are about $4/lb.
The grim fact is that prepared foods are a terrible waste of money, low in nutrition and high in fat, sugar, additives and cost.
I think the best thing to do is to cook and bake at home; I know how hard it is to get started. It also means it is time to cut back on sugars and refined fats. I don’t think I need to say much about those non-food substances, additives and preservatives.
My husband had to learn to eat properly. For years he had lived with microwave meals, take-out fast food, salty and sugary snacks, pop or beer every evening in front of the tv, and refined carbohydrates in commercial white bread and cereals. Despite a calorie-intense athletic schedule, he was fifty pounds overweight. He had lost all his youthful stamina. When he started eating a low-fat, high fibre, protein-moderate diet with me, he dropped the excess fat his body was carrying and gained back his stamina. (His later stroke was the result of a blood clot from a deep bruise, not high blood pressure or cholesterol plaques. I try not to think very often of how bad it would have been if his health was poor.)
The grocery store or farmer’s market doesn’t have to be the enemy. (Oh, yes, I know the temptations of a farmer’s market well – everything from fat-dripping barbecued sausages to butter-laden French pastry.) Think of it as a sly old grandmother who has set aside the best food for her favourite – you – and this granny isn’t the chocolate chip cookie kind, but the garden fresh salad kind. Poke into the obscure corners of that supermarket and you’ll find the locally grown seasonal produce, the high fibre grains, the lower fat cuts of meat, the beans and rice and whole grains that bring out your creative side.