24 November 2008

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts:

In today's issue of the New Yorker, James Surowiecki writes about the highly unstable global food market and agricultural system in his article, The Perils of Efficiency. While food commodity prices have come down in the past few months due to the global recession, food insecurity is still a major threat in developing countries. Our global dependency on a mono-crop agriculture that is market driven and deregulated by government agencies has left populations vulnerable to these changes in the market, as well as in the weather. One bad drought or a spike in the market can send entire regions into a food crisis. Food shortages in many of these places translate into acute malnutrition - affecting children under 5 the most. We see the effects of these crises every year in vulnerable places like Niger, Somalia, Ethiopia, and in Haiti.

The good news is that the UN World Food Program recently issued an article stating that they are adopting a strategy to treat malnutrition with "ready-to -use foods" like Plumpy Nut in place of the commidified soy/corn blends that used to be standard food aid. This strategy is similar to one that Doctors Without Borders has been advocating for and spoke to members of the food aid community at their recent nutrition symposium at Columbia University.

Back here at home, the New York Times published a story today on the cost of eating an organic Thanksgiving dinner. Tara Parker Pope estimates that eating an organic meal could cost families $100 more than if they eat non-organic. She uses this list of sample foods and compares the two prices of foods bought at a regular grocery store and at a Whole Foods:
  • Turkey (20 pounds) $99.80 vs. $23.80
  • Vanilla ice cream (3 quarts) $21.87 vs. $15.98
  • Yams (5 lbs.) $9.95 vs. $3.95
  • Broccoli (2 lbs.) $5.98 vs. $3.98
  • Heavy whipping cream (2 pints) $5.58 vs. $4.00
  • 2 cans of pumpkin filling $5.00 vs. $3.19
  • 1 bag cranberries $4.99 vs. $2.49
Pope offers some strategies on prioritizing which foods should be organic and which don't have to be. I have a better idea. Why not try to bypass the supermarkets altogether and go directly to the farmers? A 20 lb. pasture-raised Turkey at a game farm in upstate New York goes for about $60. Make sure you make some gravy with the pan drippings, and save the organs and the carcass for soup. You will never have to buy canned chicken broth again if you boil your bird leftovers and freeze the broth. I also like to skim the fat off the top and use that as a cooking fat. It's a grandma thing and of course isn't for everyone (although Grandma and Grandpa lived to their mid-90s so I'm convinced that schmaltz was the key to their good health).

Skip the ice cream and just go for the heavy cream that comes from local grass-fed cows (about $3.00 a pint) and sweeten it with some local honey (unless you keep kosher, skip the cream altogether). Grass-fed dairy is high in vitamins A, D, and especially the essential fatty acid, CLA, a powerful anti-oxidant. You can use that freshly whipped cream to top your home baked pumpkin pie that you made with real pumpkin filling. Forget the "organic" cans. A large pumpkin will cost you about $2.00 and is enough for 2 pies. Cranberries bought loose are cheaper than those in the bag and most other vegetables are cheaper at the farmers market than they are at Whole Foods.

And if they aren't, is the extra cost worth it? Yes!!! You can save money in other ways, but why cut costs with your health? Seth Pollins at Foodvibe makes a case for it here. I would also add that buying local is probably the single most productive way we as individuals can support a more sustainable agricultural system.

Here are some better ways to save your cash this Thanksgiving:
  • Cut back on paper products and use cloth napkins and real plates and glasses instead.
  • Skip the soda this year and buy flavoured seltzer instead (a real tradition in my family). You can usually find liter bottles at 3 for a $1.00. They taste great, are more hydrating than soda, and who needs all that sugar and aspartame anyway??
  • Make homemade egg nog. Mark has a great recipe. I hope he'll be posting it soon (nudge, nudge)!
  • Cut back on a dish or two. There's always too much food anyway and you don't want it to be wasted. Stick to 3 or 4 really good wholesome, home-made side dishes that knock everyone's socks off (my favorite: roasted brussel sprouts and chestnuts)!
Does anyone have other healthy, money-saving ideas they would like to share?

Wishing everyone a joyous, healthy, and sustainable Thanksgiving!!


Tammie said...

*smiles sweetly*

Jen said...

I love your idea of saving the turkey for broth! The chicken at our local supermarket was $1.19 a pound. I bought 80 lbs and canned it in my pressure cooker. Now I have about 40+ pint bottles of canned chicken ready at any time for chicken salad, casseroles...

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Stephanie said...

Jen, you frugal woman, you. Now that's smart recession thinking!

I hope you and your family have a lovely holiday too!

Stephanie said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Tammie!

Jacey said...

Great ideas ! I am at lunch and checking out all my net things. I can't think of a great idea to add at this moment. If I think of something, I'll come back.

We always have too much food since my Mom, two brothers, two sisters and me all bring in food.(plus a couple of nieces) We do use real plates & utensils though. We are not much on paper or plastics for that sort of thing ever. It's always fun though !!

Hope ya'll have a wonderful holiday celebration.


Stephanie said...

El!! I hope you have a wonderful, nutritious, and joyous holiday with your family!! And please feel free to share any good recipes.

Anonymous said...

We do this with every bird or four-footed creature we consume; boiling the bones (calcium) and detritus for broth and consomme. It's healthy and tasty.

With our family of ten mouths to feed, we keep our grocery bill below $300 a month.

And we eat well!

Also, even cheaper than buying from the farmer - bagging a wild one yourself...

Stephanie said...

I think this is from Van...

You impress me, Van, with your hunting and gathering skills. If I wasn't in a city, I might try this myself. But for now, I'll depend on farmers to do the work for me. I tried a "wild turkey" a few months ago and really enjoyed it. If I could have found one large enough for my family I would have gone that route, but they are much smaller.

I hope you all had a wonderful meal and a joyous day! We're all still recovering today. Mark's son is here and still fast asleep, as Mark and I are having our morning coffee and reflecting on the wonderful day we had yesterday with our family.

Steve said...

Using the turkey carcass for soup? Oh hell yeah! Now you're talking my language. I even blogged about it once. It's called "Thanksliving" and posted somewhere on our site.

This year, my wife made the entire meal. But that's OK, because I only really get excited about making the soup afterwards anyway.

The plates aren't even cleared before I'm shtupping the cracass into a crock pot. Add water, carrots, onion, garlic, parsley, dill, parsnip, and a turnip (yes, I had these things all on hand), turn the pot "on" and in 10 hours you have soup to die for.

Stephanie said...

Steve, I just read your Thanksliving post and it is extremely precious. I have a great appreciation for food traditions, especially those that incorporate practical frugality. I grew up with a similar food tradition - one that was born from a kosher way of dealing with economic insecurity and good health by avoiding treif, chazerai, and turning everything into soup. It then morphed into a similar neurotic approach to "healthy eating" due to my mother's cancer. We stopped eating red meat and were no longer aloud to eat anything white (flour, sugar, rice, etc...).

She was considered a "health food nut" in the 70s. We also belonged to a health food co-op (in Long Island). I remember all those vile tasting carob snacks and whole wheat bread that went down like a macrobiotic brick. My other used to send us to school with sardine sandwiches on buttered rye bread with a thermos of goat's milk. Do you think we got made fun of much?

But that food was also sacred and it breaks my heart to this day to remember how much love my mother put into our food (and how I would have killed someone for their PB & J on Wonder bread). Once she got sick, she purchased one of those industrial cider press juicers, and all of a sudden all of our meals turned to liquid. Ha! It all became very traumatic after that...

Nevertheless, after much rebelling with junk food during my early adulthood, my refrigerator now resembles my mother's: apples in the crisper, washed greens in a spinner, some leftover pressure cooked chicken legs in tupperware, a bowl of soaking almonds, some hard cheese and half an avocado in the cold cut drawer, goat's milk, kefir, and about three liters of seltzer. I even still use condiments that she used - Dr. Bronners, Bragg apple cider vinegar, umeboshi plum vinegar, and gomasio. All the things I resented as a teen, I now cherish.

I put parsnips in my soup too (I thought it was our family secret).

Thank you for sharing this, Steve!

Debs said...

I enjoyed this post. I'm not surprised you had a better idea than Tara Parker-Pope! The whole false dichotomy of organic = Whole Foods vs. conventional = standard supermarket is pretty frustrating.

Food Is Love/Seattle Local Food

Stephanie said...

Thanks, Debs. Did you see John Tierney's equally frustrating piece about the American paradox, or the "health halo," in Monday's Times? In case you haven't, his argument is that putting health-promoting labels on food is deceiving to the public and causes people to eat more. I agree with this, but instead of criticizing the marketing of processed foods in general, he poses the question, "Did New York’s pioneering ban on trans fats do more harm than good?" I don't think good public health measures which eliminate harmful processed foods should be tossed aside as just another confusing promotion. He uses the testimony of a Frenchman to illustrate how Americans are too obsessed with nutrition, but he fails to mention that most of Europe is also banning trans fats (they are already completely banned in Denmark).

There seems to be a lot of resistance out there to both public and individual strategies which promote good health and a sustainable environment.

Debs said...

Ironically, I actually avoided those pieces. John Tierney and Tara Parker-Pope routinely piss me off, so I tend not to bother anymore if I don't feel like getting frustrated.

It's true, the resistance to useful strategies -- especially ones that fly in the face of conventional wisdom -- is mind-boggling.

Food Is Love/Seattle Local Food

Seth said...

I have to agree with Debs: Tara Parker Pope routinely pisses me off too. I've never read a national writer who seems to have such little knowledge of the nuances of the very topic she writes about. She's typical, boring.

Nothing at all like your blogs, Stephanie.

I like how you synthesize a lot of information, then offer your own spin.

I used my carcass for stock--I'm still eating the resultant butternut squash soup (I used leftover, uncooked squash pieces) which I froze.

My favorite money-saving tip: Stay out of the doctor's office; spend extra money on food.

Besides that, I like rice, which, sadly is getting more and more expensive.

Stephanie said...

Mmmm... butternut squash soup...