So you’ve decided to embrace social and environmental sustainability by eating only food that has been grown, raised, and sourced ethically and sustainably.
This is fantastic news! Animals in farms, oceans, and forests, labourers forming the chains that supply you with your fresh meat, produce, grains, and nuts, inhabitants of regions across the world that are most vulnerable to and most adversely affected by large-scale agriculture and climate change: they all have you to thank for helping protect their homes and lives.
Now, as you walk through the supermarket aisles, afloat in your nirvana of big ideas, face beaming with the unmistakable joy found when one does good deeds with no expectation of reward, you carefully study the labels on your preferred fare.
And just like that, the glorious concerto in your mind staggers into a halt—it seems the lifestyle choice you’ve talked yourself into requires you to spend up to triple the amount of your previous grocery and food supply allocation.
The real cost of conscious consumption
‘What have I gotten myself into???’ you ask yourself. Maybe you’ve miscalculated. Maybe, you’ve just never really crunched the numbers that would figure as you made this switch, thinking you would clear any hurdles as they came along. The point, however, is that now that you’re aware of how your food choices impact the people and world around you, there’s no turning back.
It’s the noble souls like you, breathless and giddy and determined to nudge ripples forward into waves of change, here and now, who plant the seeds from which a mainstream compassionate lifestyle will take root and flourish to great heights. Others are counting on you to light the way for them!
We’re not going to pretend that organic, local, and sustainable food and produce won’t cost you significantly more than their counterparts. Instead, we ask you to consider that the industries and market have made it so that what is unsustainable and unethical and ridden with conflict is what costs the least at the expense of the wellbeing of animals, of the earth, and of millions of other people—and that it’s been this way for so long that we’ve gotten so used to these retail prices.
Consider, too, that what you’re buying into as you embark on this journey is a shift in quality of life: one where you’re not only gaining and maintaining better physical and psychological health, you’re also helping the people who make your food have the same quality of life as you do, while conserving marine and forest wildlife and protecting what’s left of the atmosphere, and, in turn, doing your part in mitigating the effects of climate change. Isn’t that exciting and exhilarating? Doesn’t that make so much sense?
Doing what you can with where you are and what you have
African American athlete and civil rights activist Arthur Ashe wrote: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” This is exactly how the greatest revolutions in history were planned and set to action. By balancing the strength of your principles and the reality of your life situation in practice, you can spark a revolution of your own, right from your dinner plate!
See, while eating ethically and sustainably tends to cost more on average, it shouldn’t have to devour your entire paycheque. There is a pragmatic approach to this lifestyle that lets you maximise your budget; all you need to do is show up and get to work. Below are six simple rules that allow you to eat a primarily ethical diet, without breaking the bank.
1. Shop your local farmers’ markets.
Eschew the big supermarkets, whose certified organic, non-gmo, antibiotic-free, and pesticide-free product lines are incredibly expensive, dubious, and mediocre at best, and favour your community-supported agriculture and local farms by buying their produce.
All sides win when you go local and organic because not only are you purchasing food that is fresh, high quality, and great-tasting, you’re also consuming food that has not travelled too far from its origin, making for a smaller carbon footprint altogether.
What’s more, buying fresh and direct from your local farmers empowers their sustainable agricultural and business practices, and because mark-ups from transportation, storage, commercial consignment, and other such capitalist trappings are eliminated, you get your goods for much less than what the organic selections of larger stores offer.
2. Let the seasons guide you.
Eating organic food sourced from within your community teaches you which crops currently grow in abundance at any given time of the year, and as a rule, farmers are always willing to sell bigger volumes of fruit and vegetables that are in season for cheaper.
3. Make the bounty last.
While natives of the northern hemisphere are perfectly eating local and seasonal from spring through fall, once winter hits and the sun goes into hiding, the produce goes missing as well.
Fortunately, we live in a time where machines and tools let us preserve our bounty easily. You can freeze, can, pickle, or dry literally any kind of crop from berries and broccoli to homemade salsa and rhubarb pie, and stay well-fed even through the leaner months.
4. Grow your own produce.
Dig up some beds in your backyard and cultivate some tomatoes, lettuce and leafy greens, cucumbers, green beans, courgettes, and beetroot. Don’t have a yard? You can give life to some nicely potted onions, ginger, mushrooms, lemons, mandarin oranges, salad greens, and essential herbs within your home.
Limited indoor space? Try a windowsill or kitchen counter army of sprouts and microgreens. Growing your own produce takes up some amount of time, energy, and money, but the rewards upon harvest save you tons of these very same resources in the long run.
5. Get smart and creative with your meat.
Local, grass-fed, and ethically produced poultry and meats still carve a large carbon footprint and are by nature the priciest items in your sustainable diet, and this is one of the many reasons turning to plants as an alternative protein source is highly recommended.
However, for the few times a week you’re treating yourself to meat, you can request for butcher’s cuts like the silverside and faux hanger on beef, or the secreto and ham and bacon ends for pork. Chicken and other fowl, are cheapest bought whole, so ask your butcher to cut the bird up for you to freeze some pieces for future use.
Adopt crafty ways of extending your meat, such as dicing up a steak for use in tacos or casseroles, having it ground to top over pizza or to mix with some vegetables into a burger, or having it shaved for use in sandwiches, salads, and mains.
6. Bulk up.
Shop the bulk bins at your local grocers for some grains, seeds, nuts, flours, pulses, pastas, dried foods, and even vegetables that have longer shelf lives like potatoes and onions. Even whole animals cut up into pieces are cheaper overall; bag up and freeze them in choice portions, defrosting only as needed.
Remember, however, that if you’re purchasing your wholesale foods, you need to have a plan for storing and using them.
Bonus tip: Teach yourself how to cook so you can eat as little restaurant and processed foods as possible! Like growing your own food, living on an organic, local, seasonal, and sustainable menu that’s home-cooked and that contains minimal additives takes some time and energy to do, but it generates great savings, steers you away from empty calories and harmful chemicals, and keeps your environmental impact at an absolute minimum.
We can only really hope that, like you, the generations who stand to inherit the earth are prepared to do so as individuals committed to the continual thriving of this planet and all its precious treasures. Until then, good luck, and happy shopping, gardening, cooking, and eating ethically!