I think our year of treading lightly is maturing. We seem to be spending more time thinking about how to engage, support and enthuse others than doing things ourselves. Not that I’ve run out of ideas yet. I’ve just started drawing (yet another) master plan for the garden. This time round, and this is a long term plan, it’s going to include a new chicken coop using a deep litter method, a section of food forest on the north side of the garden, aquaponics and a horizontal pipe array growing greens. I’m also hoping (in the very long distance) to get involved with some beekeeping, but I think maybe waiting until the kids are a bit older is a good move.
But as I said we seem to have been spending a lot of time trying to engage others. I’m rapt to say that I’ve discovered some others doing great stuff including another local family who are trying to spend 2013 eating locally, sustainably and in a way that links them to the producers (http://ourfoodroots.wordpress.com). It’s all very exciting but I keep coming back to what needs to change, or what is stopping change in the majority of people. One of the things that keeps coming up is the idea that it costs more to buy local, buy organic and to buy healthy. I have this feeling that actually it’s less about money and more about time and a shift in mindset, but since money seems to be the common denominator lets start there. So I’m going to do some little tests. I’m starting small and the as with many big plans I’m going to start with breakfast. One of the biggest things that has changed in our shopping patterns is that we simply don’t go to the massive supermarket chains with their endless aisles of brightly coloured boxes. But most people do. Our breakfast diet consists of oats for porridge or oats for muesli (which we make ourselves). So I put together a quick table of what these cost compared to common breakfast cereals.
|Be Natural 5 Wholegrain||$6.01||565||$1.06|
|Homebrand rice puffs||$2.15||400||$0.54|
|Coco Pops (1kg holiday pack)||$9.13||1000||$0.91|
|Uncle Toby’s Oats||$6.75||1000||$0.68|
|Uncle Toby’s Quick Oats||$3.75||500||$0.75|
Prices from woolworth online
A couple of things jumped out at me by just doing this really quick comparison. Firstly there seems to be a direct inverse correlation between cost and nutritional benefit (with the heavily sugared cereals costing up to 3 times our oats), it would appear that you need to pay more to develop bad eating habits. This doesn’t make any sense and would suggest to me a victory of marketing over choice.
The second thing that I found interesting was that none of the packs are the same size. I’d be okay if I thought this was accidental but I simply don’t. Honestly, who produces boxes with 565 grams of content in it unless it’s deliberately trying to ensure that you can’t compare things. Whilst I haven’t done it I’m also willing to bet that the boxes are different dimensions so that even comparing the size of the boxes is deceptive.
Now I’ll admit that our muesli comes in at approx $1.20/100g so is on the expensive side but it is packed with locally produced (and delicious) nuts and fruit and doesn’t look like the barren sea of oats that you sometimes find in commercial muesli. But in terms of the argument that you can’t eat locally on a budget, would appear in this case (breakfast) to be busted. Add this to the fact that we buy organic oats from as local a producer as we can find so there is minimal food miles. We buy it in bulk and into the sack that we first bought them in which is then decanted into a large ceramic jar (bought from the opp shop with my Mum) so there is no waste. There is no marketing or other costs included and we can buy as much or as little as we want so price comparison is easy.
Add to this that the Victorian Institute of Sport states that “oats are a wholegrain and therefore packed with vitamins and minerals. Rich in low GI (Glycaemic Index) carbohydrate, oats provide lasting energy and keep you satisfied for longer. They are also a good source of fibre, important for digestive health. Plus they contain a type of soluble fibre called beta glucan which is beneficial for controlling cholesterol levels and heart health.
Now I’m sure this isn’t going to always be the case with respect to all foods and meals; but at least in this one not having the money for a healthy breakfast simply is not an excuse!
Every Easter, we go away with a group of friends to a camp in Victoria’s north. Each year, the grocery shopping list is divided up and we get the breakfast cereal to buy. The list is based on the previous year’s purchases. EVERY year, without fail, the cereal packets are smaller than the year before, so the size we are asked to buy no longer exists. I rather think the odd box weights you have observed is more about inflation by stealth. The companies reduce sizes by different amounts at different times but don’t increase price and people mostly don’t notice. I have observed something similar with tinned tuna. I recently bought a 425 gram can and when I removed the lid, all I could see was liquid. Curious to see how much of what I had paid for was actually fish, I emptied the contents into a sieve. There was 269 grams. The tin reads 425 grams net, but the net part refers to the tin, not the liquid the fish is packed with. So the canning company has found a way to sell me water for $6.50 a kg. I will be interested to repeat this experiment in another year. If I can even still buy a 425 gram tin, I wonder how much of it will be fish? As always, your post is well written and thought provoking. I haven’t been inside one of the large major supermarkets for years. We shop mostly in the local high street, where the shop keepers who serve me own the business, know my name, who the members of my family are, remember what’s going on in my life and stop and chat with me when they see me in the street. It’s so much more rewarding a shopping experience, I think because we evolved to live on that sort of scale. Traditionally we would know and interact with say around 150 people – every one of which had a known role to play in the community. I hope we can get back to that and stop destroying our local commercial infrastructure so that we can save 10 cents on a box of sugar coated breakfast pap!
“sugar coated breakfast pap”, that’s gold!
I think inflation and cost cutting are definitely a big driver in this. I think more broadly it’s also about taking away our capacity to receive accurate feedback. If you went to your local store where there was a connection between producer and seller and bought packaging free you would be instantly aware when costs went up or the product changed. As you’ve pointed out you would also have a relationships with that vendor and so you would ask them what was going on. This provides you with feedback to monitor your purchases and also provides the vendor with feedback so that they can then ask the people making the product what’s going on. If real costs of production go up then maybe you accept it, maybe you buy less or maybe you do without.
The problem is that you never know. The chances of you realising with new boxes, new marketing and new ‘down, down’ red spot specials that the overall cost has even changed is minimal and even if you do, who is there to listen to you and who is going to care? Add to this that you’re probably going to pay with card anyway so you’ll never even consider the amount it costs individually and you have no awareness of what you’ve just bought.
I think feedback and the ability to accurately assess what you are consuming is a big thing that needs to change if we are to become more than mindless consumers!