Has anyone else noticed their grocery bill going up in the last few months? I sure have. If I typically spent $80-110/week six months ago, now I'm hitting $100-130. Yes, I know the rest of the country has been suffering from drought, and it's not like fuel costs have gotten any lower, but something has got to be done! An average increase of $25/week = an extra $1300/year, for Pete's sake.
Is it possible to keep everyone fed and the home running on less money, while still trying to eat healthy and not poison us or the environment? I'm thinking YES, and I'll be passing my findings on to you, with the "Organic Tightwad" label. Not that everything will be organic--I'm just using that as a catch-all for general goodness. Much like the food industry likes to throw around "all-natural" and "wholesome," except that I'm not trying to fool you or make money off you. But I digress.
Figuring out how to make easy, homemade artisan bread was one step in cutting costs. (Read about it here, here and here.) And I'm thrilled to report that another reader has gotten hooked herself and is now whipping up those tasty, easy, cost-cutting loaves. As I mentioned, if you don't wash out the dough container between batches, the cookbook says it gives you a jump on a sourdough tang. Lovely for artisan bread, but not ideal for my next project: homemade sandwich bread. My nine-year-old was less than thrilled with a sourdough-haunted PBJ, but I'm starting to balk at the $4-5 charge per loaf of decent whole wheat sandwich bread. I pay a little more because I don't want soybean oil or high fructose corn syrup or even lots of sugar. In Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day the authors include a recipe for "Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread" (sorry, no link), perfect, they say, for the school lunch box. That's next up on my experimental agenda, and I'll report back. Reducing the weekly grocery bill by $4.50/week = $234. There's a cost associated with baking your own bread, of course, but I'd put it at under $0.50/loaf.
Another step in cost-cutting comes with a fringe benefit of do-less-harm to the environment: I'm talking about whipping up my own home cleaners. Skipping the chlorine bleach, the Drain-O, the glass cleaner--even the laundry detergent! In addition to the other very helpful, handy books I listed earlier, I read this one this past week:
Recommended, and I've got the full review below and on Goodreads. One of the first things I tried was Korst's advice for clogged drains. My kids' sink was a notorious slow drainer, thanks to ten years of hair and--I kid you not--the boy barfing in it some years ago. First I fished around with the Zip-It drain cleaning gizmo given me at the Market by the City of Bellevue in their Green Cleaning Kit.
Then I dumped 1/2 cup of baking soda in the sink and tried to shove it down the drain. I followed this with 1/2 cup white vinegar, mixing and stuffing till I got the fizzy mess to go down (mostly). After 15 minutes, I poured down 2 qts of hot, hot water from the teakettle. At first nothing happened. Then I saw the tiny swirl of a whirlpool. And voila! The dang thing drained! And continues to drain beautifully! No plumber, no harsh chemicals. I'm a believer.
All the books recommended replacing toxic chlorine bleach, and I've done two loads of whites now with 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide as the bleach. Works just fine. I also squirted hydrogen peroxide on the nasty grout in the bathroom and admired its bleaching effects. While this substitute costs about the same as bleach, at least you're not poisoning the water supply.
That's it for this week, except for the promised full book review! Have a cheap, green week!
This quick read dovetailed nicely with other books I've been reading about running a more natural, non-harmful household. I admire Korst and her husband for their utter devotion to producing as little trash as possible and knew immediately I was never going to have a zero-waste home. Tooth powder instead of toothpaste? Handkerchiefs over Kleenex (she hasn't seen the amount of snot my family can produce!)? Finding a place to buy liquids in bulk, so I wouldn't have to use container after container?
However, I did find the book realistic about just trying to encourage every household to kick it up a notch. She offered Easy, Moderate and Advanced changes, so anyone can make a difference. Use less. Avoid packaging. Avoid plastics.
According to Korst, "the average American produces three pounds of landfill-bound garbage each day." This amounted to 250 million pounds of trash in 2010, all dumped in lined pits in the ground, 82% of which leach crud into our groundwater. Not only that, but there's so much in there, piled so fast, that the Garbage Project discovered even biodegradable things weren't biodegrading. They found recognizable food that was 20 years old, as well as newsprint about the moon landing! Yikes.
And trash that doesn't end up in the ground too often ends up in our oceans, where it floats around in a mass 2x the size of Texas and kills 100,000 marine mammals annually.
Fortunately my city has excellent recycling and yard waste programs, so we're not a super-trashy family, but I was inspired to make some changes based on Johnson's book:
1. I bought reusable mesh produce bags. Plastic produce bags, like all plastic, come at a heavy environmental price, and those suckers never degrade or go away. And plastic, unlike glass or metal, can never be recycled into what it was--it always goes down the scale of products until it's tiny microplastics--great for absorbing pollutants and killing sea creatures.
2. I put empty plastic storage containers in the car to use in place of take-out containers or doggie bags, or even for bulk-buying of small or powdery goods. (Whole Foods will pre-weigh your container.)
3. I'm going to try making my own sour cream and yogurt--the two main grocery store purchases that fill my house with plastic containers. Besides gallon milk jugs, that is, but I'm not getting a dairy cow. Korst also includes a recipe for homemade ricotta!
4. I'm making homemade cleaners from vinegar, baking soda, and other environmentally harmless ingredients. Check back on my UrbanFarmJunkie blog for my forays into grout cleaner, bleach, and homemade laundry detergent.
5. Under the TMI header, Korst makes suggestions for feminine products, and I've ordered mine.
And, 6. If I must have it, and there's a choice between recyclable packaging and non (think clamshell containers), I'll choose the brand in the recyclable packaging.
For those families still with young children, Korst has a whole discussion of diapers which I--thank God--could skip over.
An easy read that could change your household habits! Recommend.