• Posted by Califia Suntree on July 10th, 2014, 11:01 AM

    A few weeks ago, Lindy West wrote this hilarious story for Gawker about attempting to feed herself for three days from Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest “detoxifying” cookbook It’s All Good. In order to do so, West spent $300 on groceries–again, for three days of meals. She ate well–millet falafel and quinoa salad were the highlights–but the story reenforced what is to me a frustrating, and inaccurate, perception that in order to be “all good” à la Gwyneth, you have to shell out a C-note a day on raw cacao powder and Manuka honey. (GOOP, GP’s website, sells things like $240 bath towels and $175 napkins.) And if you can’t? Well, bring on the frozen pizza and fruit punch.

    As someone who is into healthy eating, but not on a GOOP budget, this message drives me crazy. It’s true that spending in our country is lopsided–we spend too much of our budgets on health care and housing and not enough on food. (A century ago, we spent nearly a quarter of our income on groceries, now it’s just over 6%–about half as much as the Netherlands, the healthiest country on earth.) This reduction in spending on food is presented as a “good thing,” but in fact it reflects the cheapening of our diets and we are seeing the rampant health effects of that cheapening. We eat truckloads of corn syrup, subsidized corn and wheat, and mass-produced animal products, whose deflated price reflects just how poorly raised those animals were.

    All of this brings to mind that old chestnut, “If you think wellness is expensive, try illness.” Irritating to hear when you’re on a tight budget, but these words are true. Thrift means thinking in the long-term, and eating a “cheap” diet now only to suffer from expensive illnesses later (requiring, say, cholesterol or blood-pressure medications, or, as the alarming global stats reflect, diabetes treatment) is not thrifty. Fortunately, you can eat both well and affordably, without morale-crushing trips to Whole Paycheck.

    Here are a few ways that I’ve learned to eat a healthy-foodie’s diet on a junk-food budget. You probably have strategies of your own–post them in the comments! 

    Bulk Bins. On every trip to Fred Meyer (my local supermarket chain here in Portland), I watch folks glide by the bulk bins and head for the packaged-food aisles, where they overpay for everything from grains, to spices, nuts, and cereal. Bulk bins got their start in hippified health food stores, so everyone thinks they’re more expensive–they’re not. By eschewing packaging, you can save anywhere from 20% to 89% on commonly purchased items. It’s astoundingly cheaper. (I recently paid $1.50 for a baggie of spices that would have been $8 in a jar.) If your supermarket doesn’t have bulk bins, a) ask them to get them and b) seek them out. Even at health food stores, you will pay less for basic bulk items than you will for those same items packaged at the supermarket. Thanks to bulk, I can afford cashews.

    Shop seasonally. Everyone’s tired of this one already, but produce (and fish) really need to be purchased in season if you are on a budget. Local cherries are under $2 a pound right now, and at Christmastime, I got local Dungeness crabs for under $8 per pound. (Local is also key to price–fewer travel miles typically means lower price.) This means I eat bananas and papaya all winter. There are worse problems to have.

    Shop frozen. You know what’s always in season? Frozen stuff. It has a bad rap, but frozen produce is picked and processed at its peak ripeness, which means peak flavor and nutritient content. Of course, that degrades over time, so don’t hang onto that bag of peas for 6 months. Also, frozen veggies are blanched before freezing, so quick cooking is best–NO boiling! I like to make pasta dishes and stir-fries with frozen veggies, quick flash in the pan is all they need. (And if you are a smoothie fan, frozen berries are the way to go.) Also excellent to buy frozen: seafood. Again, bad rap, but I was confirmed in this belief recently by author Paul Greenberg (of the brand-new book American Catch), who in an interview stated that seafood is almost always flash-frozen, so buying frozen wild fish typically offers best quality, especially out of season. I find great deals on frozen wild shrimp, and of course salmon. Greenberg says we should eat more mackerel, and that’s another one I often see frozen at an affordable price.

    Shop around. Since I’m on a budget, but am also particular, I can’t just sweep through the supermarket and get everything I need. But I’ve scoped it out so I know that the only place to buy cheese, olive oil, and free-range chicken is Trader Joe’s. Whole Foods offers the best price on organic meats and that one fancy yogurt I occasionally allow myself, so I go there once a month. When it’s canning season, I hit the farmers’ market and ask around for “seconds.” The supermarket offers most of the rest. Note that all supermarkets aren’t the same–prices and product vary dramatically, so check around and find your favorite. Don’t forget Asian, Latin and Middle Eastern markets, if you have access–I get handmade kimchi for about $2 per pound, and you will find amazing deals on sauces, spices, teas, and breads.

    Be opportunistic. I’m not a picky eater–as long as it’s delicious and well-prepared! So if I see organic pork chops on deep sale, I snap them up, wrap them up, and freeze. Jarred artichokes at bargain-basement price? Sure. If you stumble across something yummy looking on sale or for cheap, buy it–if it’s an unfamiliar ingredient, the internet offers recipes for anything and everything. If you end up not liking roasted parsnips after all, well, it won’t have cost you much. (You will like roasted parsnips!)

    Don’t panic about organic. In an ideal world, all meat, dairy and produce would be organic. It would be better for the people eating and growing the food, better for our waterways and our soil, for climate change–better all around. But, there’s no getting around the fact that organic foods are often prohibitively expensive for most shoppers. There are a few ways to navigate this issue. First, the super helpful Dirty Dozen list from the Environmental Working Group. This annual list includes the 12 products that are most pesticide-laden (such as spinach, strawberries, and tomatoes) and the 15 that showed the least residue (kiwi, cantaloupe, avocado). Get the PDF and keep it in your shopping bag or on the fridge. Also, again, frozen is your friend: organic frozen is typically more affordable than fresh. Finally, prioritize: I will only buy organic animal products, so I cut back in other areas (and eat fewer animal products, which is healthier anyway). If you must have those gorgeous, aromatic organic strawberries, skip the other treats you might throw in your cart.

    Grow your own herbs. Those little pots of herbs are about $2 and provide lovely fresh sprigs of mint, basil, chives and tarragon all summer long. Fill a windowsill or stick ’em in the dirt outside your kitchen. Freeze some for winter use.

    Finally, Bring Your Lunch! My forthcoming cookbook is all about how to shop, cook and strategize in order to have delicious and healthy lunches to bring to work. Brown bagging is a huge potential source of savings, not to mention the best way to make sure you are eating well throughout the week. That $12 salad will cost you about $3 to make at home, and my book will show you how to make sure it tastes fabulous (and doesn’t turn to slime).

    Eating well is within everyone‘s reach–don’t let Gwyneth make you think otherwise.


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