I would like an opportunity to clarify a few things. Since poshing up the blog a bit, and sorting out my photography skills, and what with all this organic food on show, I thought it was about time I reiterated that I do all this on a tight budget. I am not really into going into too much detail about our earnings and circumstances, although you can read a little bit about my background on my about page; but I do want to make it clear that virtually all my recipes are cheap and organic, cheap by supermarket standards and cheaper still if you source your ingredients in bulk as I do.
So can you eat organic, shop ethically and be frugal? I think that the deep consideration that goes into ethical shopping and eating, lends itself to frugality rather well. Mostly, shopping ethically is considered to be expensive and the preserve of the middle-class, but it is possible to refine your shopping, cooking, meal planning, and eating habits to be broadly ethical, mainly organic and more frugal than most, on a relatively tight budget. After all, being frugal by it’s very definition is being ethical.
I am very choosy about where our food comes from. You’ll see Waitrose labels, not because I enjoy the prestige of shopping in Waitrose, but because I know they have a stronger ethical code than many other retailers and a wider range of organic goods. You will notice I use a few high price organic ingredients in large quantities (nuts, seeds, quinoa, specialist flours and pasta etc) but I purchase these in bulk from Suma, an ethical cooperative who normally supply whole food stores… And I use these ingredients instead of buying any convenient processed versions. So I purchase 2.5kg of organic cashew nuts for £30.49, but they make cakes, snack bars and dairy substitutes for months, while also adding protein to stir fries and curries.
Also, the costings you’ll see on each recipe are worked out at supermarket and veg box organic prices (as I know that’s where most readers will be purchasing their groceries), which are higher than my real costings. Usually I would reduce that cost by around 1/3 to more realistically reflect how frugal good quality organic vegetarian food can be, if you are careful and organised about where you shop, what you buy and how you prepare it. Just to compare, 2.5kg of organic cashew nuts from Waitrose would cost £54.85 at current prices, almost double what I pay, and much of what I do would be unsustainable at these prices on our budget.
We also take advantage of seasonality, and buy ingredients when they are at their most plentiful and cheapest. Growing some of our own veg in the back garden keeps costs down in the summer, and preserving makes sure we never have to buy posh jams or chutneys, pickles, jellies or cordials and I always have a gift on hand. I make good use of offers, like we all do, and I mix luxurious ingredients with cheap, often cooking in large batches and creating the week’s lunches as well as dinners in one go… and I make sure there is virtually no waste.
We are a family of 4. We eat well, and around 85-90% organic for no more than £60 a week. I have deliberately overestimated my weekly figure, we buy in bulk every 2-3 months, we have a weekly delivery of organic fruit and veg (which is a huge part of our budget, but also the basis of most of our meals) and we top up our fresh produce at local shops every couple of weeks, so it is difficult to get an accurate figure, but I overestimated all areas so as not to cheat myself! the real figure is more likely to work out as an average of £50-£55 per week with variations during the year.
I talk to so many people who say they could never afford or use an organic veg box every week, or to shop exclusively organic at the supermarket, and who struggle to get by shopping in low cast supermarkets; yet, who often spend much more then me per week on food. People often make assumptions about my income and my outgoings, even my character and my ‘class’, based on my strong ethical leanings, and they are very often way off the mark. It’s really about being prepared to cook from scratch, soak and cook your own organic beans (in a slow cooker), make your own organic bread (with a bread machine), batch cooking your meals and meticulous meal planning. I try to spend every penny wisely, waste nothing and make these inconveniences as convenient as possible… because eating organic is really important to us and we’re committed to it.
It’s taken me a few years to perfect this method of buying food, and organising my ingredients, my kitchen and food planning so we can eat well on this budget, but please don’t think I’m a fraud. I’m not pleading poverty, (although I believe that technically we are living just above the poverty line) I’m not suggesting that you can get by like this for just £20 a week, but I am suggesting that although good quality ethical food is expensive, there are ways of making it sustainable and possible if you are in a low income family.
Rather than wondering why organic ethical food is so expensive, I prefer to remind myself why other food is so cheap.