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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Local Cooking vs Frugal Cooking: Can the Twain Meet?

Miss Em is lucky enough to be in a college program that involves an occasional invitation to a catered meal at a faculty home. These have themes and, being a hungry girl with an interest in food, she recently chose one on eating with locally sourced products. (UGH--I can't believe I just used the word "sourced"--so pretentious.)

The food, as expected, was great: catfish po-boys, marinated cabbage, and other items I can't remember.

While she was there, Miss Em got into a conversation with a proponent of local eating. She mentioned that she came from a frugal family that liked to cook and eat. The expert opined that cheap food was part of the problem: the Dollar Burger masks its true costs, which include health and environmental costs, in the way that the food is raised, produced, processed, transported, and so on.

Meanwhile, in a frugal and environmental move, I took a New York Times Magazine from the free bin at the library. The magazine, from the depths of the financial crisis, had an article about a New York City family that TRIED to eat local and organic foods from the Farmer's Market. In that quest, they purchased a chicken that cost $35.00! The article also mentioned that their toddler-son chugged through a half-gallon of farm milk ($14.00/gallon!) a day. I'm not even going to get into the question of whether anyone should be drinking that much milk (I say no). Anyway, the family had to give up these pure foods in the face of financial woes.

I think the University locavore was conflating CHEAP food and FRUGAL food. CHEAP food is not good in large quantities: hot pockets, pizza bites, and the like, in addition to fast food items.

FRUGAL food can include local food. I can buy local seafood, greens, and citrus. I do, all the time. Perhaps I SHOULD buy local dairy items, but I have a cheap attack on these.

At the same time, I would faint if my dear spouse purchased a $35.00 chicken. Or if my children consumed $7.00 worth of milk per diem, each.

If it's true though that local food really is better for you (aside from being better tasting) and if the prices mentioned in the New York Times article are on the level, then there may be a food and nutrition gap between richest and poorest much like the widening income gap that has been in the news so much of late.

AND NOW FOR the $64,000 question: would you spend $35.00 on a chicken?


hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I actually spent $30 for a local free range large roasting chicken....I got 3 dinners, a chicken salad lunch for 2, several sandwiches and the carcass was boiled for chicken stock and the remaining meat was pulled off the bones for the soup.
I freeze the stock and make it when someone has a cold or the flu.

I think that's not bad I fooling myself?

Frugal Scholar said...

@hostess--Read the article if you have a chance! The chicken was 5 lb and didn't have a good texture. They ended up throwing out the leftovers. UGH. Tragic story. YOU should write about your chicken.

Anonymous said...

We've spent a large sum on a local free range chicken (not $35, but more than $20) and had a similar experience to hostess. It tasted very good too.

SewingLibrarian said...

No, but I do buy organic ground beef because it tastes so much better. When my local grocery puts it on sale, I stock up. And I pay a premium for our Thanksgiving turkey to get a fresh one.

I am the working poor. said...

I could see myself paying that much for a chicken if it were unusual and quite pleasant and I was looking for a chicken for a pet.

Oh, you were only referring to dead chickens? I try to stay closer to 79 cents a pound for those. That's three or four dollars per bird.

see you there! said...

No, I wouldn't pay that much for a chicken but on the other hand I don't like the idea of eating the ones from the supermarket that are filled with hormones and who know what else. We are slowly but surely heading towards being vegetarians.


Frugal Scholar said...

@n/m--I guess if you get so many meals out of it, it is more than worth it.

@sewing--I've always meant to try organic beef, and perhaps I will. It is hard to find here--I only buy beef a few times a year.

@iam--You get the prize for funniest comment. I burst out laughing and read it to my husband. You have excellent timing! Thanks.

@darla--We eat mostly bean-based dishes now also. I eat the occasional chicken, but they ARE scary.