Food, frightening food

By Mir
January 22, 2008

The older I get, the more attention I pay to what I put into my mouth and how it makes my body feel.

Unfortunately, many of those observations end up along the lines of “When I eat this chocolate, it makes me SO HAPPY!” and then “Wait, why don’t these jeans fit anymore??”

(I didn’t say I was making the right choices, necessarily, just that I am thinking about it more often. Like, now I feel pretty safe saying: Hi! I am a big fat sugar addict!)

For example: I have been religiously (outspokenly, even) buying organic milk for the kids for years. You know, because I didn’t want Chickadee to have boobs in the second grade. And because I didn’t want Monkey to end up… well, whatever happens to boys when they have all those hormones. You know. Maybe THEY get boobs, too! I don’t know. I was trying to avoid it, whatever it was.

And then during the “does he have more food allergies?” phase we did various diet restrictions with Monkey, including cutting out various dyes, and while we were doing that I realized that HOLY HELL, there are a lot of artificial things in just about everything. And I sort of vowed to keep the “unnatural” foods to a minimum for the kids, but I continued eating things I probably wouldn’t feed to them.

That makes me a hypocrite who can’t fit into her jeans, by the way.

Ever so sloooooowly, I have been adjusting our diet. My once pop-tart addicted son who wept and wailed when I informed him that I would no longer purchase pop-tarts now happily eats his organic cereal or whole-grain bread in the morning with nary a whimper. More vegetables are making their way into our meals. I switched over to organic eggs, and I am making an effort to buy wild fish rather than farmed. All of that. I am TRYING, is my point.

So a few days ago when I read this I realized that all of my justifications about how we can’t afford to buy organic meat and it’s probably not a big deal were, well, stupid. Ali has written before about how much money Americans spend on groceries and how it’s an ever-dwindling proportion of our earnings, and I realized that I’m operating on the wrong paradigm.

Really, WHAT is more important than the food I feed to my family?

Armed with my new resolve, I made Otto go grocery shopping with me, yesterday. My problem, oftentimes, is that I will head to Publix and come home with NO MEAT because I see the organic prices and FLIP OUT and I buy everything else but tell myself I’ll buy that stuff “another time.” And then Otto asks what’s for dinner and I say, “Ummm… well, I bought four boxes of cereal…?”

(Please do not come tell me how meat is murder and if I really cared, we’d all go vegetarian. I’m trying to adhere to the principles of using meat sparingly in our meals, and we eat a lot of fish, but if I declared us a meat-free household both of the family members in possession of a Y chromosome would starve to death. I’m just sayin’.)

Otto came with me and patiently endured my long soliloquies at the meat case over whether or not this was a reasonable amount of money to spend on a dead animal. And also my prolonged consideration over various produce and what’s in season and what’s not, and he never once screamed “JUST GRAB A DAMN BAG OF SALAD, WOMAN!” even though I’m sure he wanted to.

And all of this is to say that I am very proud of myself for actually purchasing enough food to feed us for an entire week, and most of it is natural or organic or otherwise not quite as deadly as it might be. And I’m even prouder of having gotten up this morning and assembled a stew which is now simmering away in the crockpot; and I am going to focus on the fact that we can eat dinner tonight with a clear conscience, knowing that we’re eating food that’s relatively good for us and natural, rather than focusing on the fact that the tiny slab of meat in there cost $9.


  1. RuthWells

    This is a tough issue for me, too — as a skinflint, er, extremely thrifty person, the prices for organic everything send my head through the roof. But I keep reminding myself what I heard Michael Pollan say in a lecture at the Philadelphia Free Library: we prioritize our cable TV and our high-speed internet and so many other “essentials” that we cannot live without — surely we can make the leap to prioritizing our food in the same way, and pay more for the good stuff. (And don’t call him “surely.”)

  2. liz

    Hey! I did almost the exact same thing yesterday, only my companion was a three-year-old who didn’t care about where the chicken came from. He wanted to know where the chocolate was and how much he could have. It was a loonnnggg trip to the grocery store, what between making sure I’m not buying pesticides and sneaking Oreos back out of the cart. Also, said three-year-old insisted on greeting everyone he passed with a chirpy “Hey!” and made me do the same. We did come home and bake your fun and exciting beer and swiss cheese bread, with organic whole wheat flour. It was great! It went with our organic, vegetarian vegetable soup last night. I feel so wholesome. I need some Godiva and Doritos now.

  3. Sabrina

    I really need to start buying more organic…happily though I have found organic toaster pastries that my daughter loves…they actually contain real fruit and are delicious–so tell Monkey there is hope for his beloved pop-tart! They are made by Nature’s path and available on Amazon (although I buy them at Costco)! Thank for the food for thought (pun intended)

  4. Megan

    See, that’s where being flat broke is sometimes easier. I don’t even feel badly about prioritizing because – internet? Nope, only get that at work [shut up about what that means I’m doing right this moment “at work], cable? Nope. So organic anything? Solidarity sister, I’m all over that (with some reservations depending on research etc) but my poor kids will continue to eat dirt cheap I’m afraid. However, the Male Child has no boobage, the females did not sprout early and I’ll tell you right now that one Girly Child would be surreptitiously guzzling the hormone-laden stuff right this minute if she thought it would help things along. Of course the fact that we simply can’t afford it doesn’t do anything for the guilt, but I’ll just bury that deep along with the other mental scars I’m so carefully cultivating!

  5. tammy

    Organic raisin bran has unpleasantly aromatic side effects.

    I’m just sayin’. Some things are probably better left full of preservatives and chemicals in the name of not peeling the paint off the walls.

  6. Amy


    Kroger has some lovely organic meats that are frozen. I can’t remember the brand name right off, but they have steak, pork chops, chicken, and hamburgers. Everything but the hamburgers is 2 to the pack – with 4 for the hamburgers. It’s in a green box – that I remember. Over in Atlanta of course there’s the Whole Paycheck and Fresh Market, which seem to be a tad more reasonable on the organic meat prices than traditional grocery stores. Also, you should check out a farm co-op out where you are, if I remember correctly there are a couple in the area.

    Happy Eating,


  7. D

    Gee, and I felt good about buying a whole rotisserie chicken yesterday and giving my son an anatomy lesson – and explaining the difference between dark [worked] and white [non-worked] meat. I’ve yet to see organic rotisserie chickens at the “holistic granola eating formerly hippie now yuppie” store [as my husband calls it] – though maybe I should check. Maybe the wishbone’ll be intact??? [the chain store ones keep being split, alas!]

  8. Christina

    You’re tackling a topic close to my heart! My general rule is to buy organic where possible and not to buy things that I couldn’t make (given the time and equipment) on my own. (So, in other words, chemical-filled Oreos and Pringles are out).

    My fiance rolled his eyes and tolerated the obsessive buying of organic dairy products. That is, until he realized it just wasn’t about the cows eating organic grain, but that it meant there were no hormones or antibiotics being injected into the cows producing our food.

    The Oreo and Pringle thing took some adjustment, but now he loves him some homemade soup (not nearly as hard as it seems!) and previously unheard of things like organic oat cakes with some organic hummus (topped with sun-dried tomatoes for an extra special treat). And thank the FSM for Green and Black’s chocolate!!

    Anyway, here are a site and an article that might interest you:
    – A site that has exhaustive information about seasonal food for the UK and at least some information for the US
    – An article about why there is no excuse that there is anything other than free range chicken in supermarkets

    Keep on keepin’ on!

  9. arduous

    Thanks for the link to that post. I have been trying to eat more organic, but the more I read, the more I realize that skimping on the non-organic meat is a thriftiness that will likely bite me in the back later in life. So I might as well spend the money now.

    That said, I sympathize with Megan and others who simply cannot afford organic food. Groceries ARE an ever dwindling percent of our earnings, but I think that’s largely because housing is an ever growing percent of our earnings. It’s ridiculous but for many people in vast swathes of the country reasonably priced housing just isn’t available.

  10. Em

    If meat is murder than wouldn’t eating fish be too? Fishicide? Not that I am judging. I would probably eat my dog if I thought he were tasty (and if I had a dog).

    I am also a food hypocrit when it comes to my kids. I have the best of intentions, of course. I don’t want them to be picky like me. So I make them a super healthy meal then hit the drive thru after they are asleep. My idea of superhealthy, though, doesn’t even consider where the fish was raised (I think mine grew up on the mean streets of Harlem) or what the chicken might have been fed. I’m just aiming for natural ingredients prepared in a healthy way. I think you are in advanced mothering. I’m just in mothering 101. Something to aim for though….

  11. Flea

    Oooo … I like the idea of looking for organic meat in the frozen section. Frozen meat is cheaper as a rule. But we’re, sadly, not organic. Yet. We’re putting in a mammoth garden this spring, so I’ll be sending everyone bushels of tomatoes and zucchini this summer. Watch your in boxes!

  12. Vicki

    Why not look into buying a portion of a cow (or pig)? I’m so-so on the organic stuff myself, but I have militant friends who gather together and purchase free-range animals, have them butchered, and then divvy up the meat. It would require an extra freezer to keep the meat–and a larger lump-sum initial outlay–but I believe there’s considerable cost-savings in the end since you cut out the middlemen (ie, grocery retailers). I don’t know who you’d contact if you’re interested, but I know it can be done.

  13. Burgh Baby's Mom

    I too am a food hypocrite. My daughter, bless her heart, actually prefers the healthy stuff so I like to encourage her. But last night when we were walking through the grocery store and she handed me a half-chewed gumdrop so she could pry open the carton of strawberries? I really wondered whose child she really is. Which is worse, do you think, eating candy or unwashed strawberries? I can’t decide.

  14. heels

    I tend toward organic, though mostly I just look at the labels and make sure the things I buy are 1)Hormone-free, 2)Partially-hydrogenated oil free, and 3)High-fructose corn syrup free, which, taken all together, sadly/happily eliminates a lot of crap/good-tasting food from our diet. Organic foods have a higher rate of meeting my demands ingredient-wise, so I buy them for that.

  15. dad

    I’m going to hoard my stash of Twinkies when we come to Georgia so don’t ask; and never forget, not everything that is good for the soul is necessarily good for your butt.

    How about organic Fruit Loops? Another million dollar idea!

  16. saucygrrl

    Meat is murder! Murrrrrderrrrrr! Oh wait, you said NOT to do that. Right, my bad.

    You know, I was going to ask you about how to get ye ole grocery bill down over at WantNot, especially those of us who shop the organic variety and the complete LACK of coupons and all that. Um. Wrong forum?

    Might I suggest: elastic waistband jeans? Ok, yes, I know. I overstepped didn’t I? hehehe…

  17. MomCat

    Organic is sooo last year! Now the big thing is buying Local. So, in addition to the product being natural and hormone-free, it should come from a farm or ranch that is less than 150 miles from your hometown..smaller carbon footprint…blah blah blah.

    I worry about it all, too, but I admit, sometimes I crave horrible, chemical-laden things like Oreos. Must be in my jeans. Oh, look! There it is!! ; )

  18. Heather

    Meat is murder…tasty, tasty, murder :P You’re extra funny today, I think!

  19. crockpot lady

    hey! you’re using your crockpot!

  20. Carla Hinkle

    I shop a lot at Trader Joe’s, which (sadly) I see is not near you yet. Soon, hopefully. (I would think your college town would be great for it.) They have lots and lots of organic/natural/non-icky stuff, including frozen meat/chicken. I joined a CSA for a local organic farm which is a great, relatively inexpensive way to get organic fruit/vegetables.

    I also buy organic ground beef at Costco. But I feel sort of bad when I buy *anything* from Costco (big box store, over consumption, forcing down prices, things made in China, blah blah blah). Though they did just get rid of plastic bags, which hardly any regular stores have, so that made me feel better. Hard to say how this one evens out …

    Good luck with all this. I usually keep a stash of some kind of trans-fat laden goodies hidden away from the kids for when it just gets too crazy.

  21. Lucinda

    I was diagnosed with MANY food allergies last spring. Now I read everything so I don’t end up rilly, rilly, sick. And yes, it’s shocking when you really start reading those labels. I would totally be a food hypocrite if I could but God with his sense of humor and all….My kids and husband each much better now that I am forced to carefully examine what we buy.

    I have a friend who is a vegetarian and I’m starting to understand why because when I go to the store, all I see is all the hormones and crap that’s in the meat. I am finding it harder and harder to buy anything but organic because it grosses me out otherwise. Such a switch from a year ago!

    Our grocery bill is a lot more now. But I think you are right about how we need to really put in perspective where our priorities are.

  22. Lori

    I am also a hypocrite who can’t fit into her jeans. Hi!

  23. Jamie AZ

    I was going to add what Heather said – “tasty, tasty murder”! :)

    We’re trying to do better, not necessarily organic for lots of things, but healthier foods. Sometimes I just can’t get dh to stop feeding the kids less-healthy things – I think he didn’t have some things as a kid and wants to give them to his kids. I just try to make sure some veggies or fruit are thrown in with the corn dogs.

  24. All Adither

    I try to buy organic too. Unfortunately, we have a ton of food allergies around here, so I often capitulate to the Skittles and Oreos, because, though they are made of crap, they are not made of nuts, milk or eggs. So, I say, when it comes to candy–bring on the chemicals and dyes.

  25. Beachgal

    Can’t afford organic stuff here, but my solution to the meat issue is venison. My husband is a hunter, and our freezer is constantly stocked with venison. Very healthy, virtually fat free. So yummy when I mix it with a box of hamburger helper, hahahah. My child is pickier than me when it comes to eating. I worry he’ll never eat a vegetable without a fight.

  26. Sarah H

    Have you ever read Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”? I read it last week and it’s really got me thinking about a lot of stuff- like organic food, eating locally, etc. It’s a hard change to make, for most of us- especially the money part. And changing how you cook, maybe, if you use a lot of prepackaged stuff. Anyway, it’s GREAT book and I highly recommend it.

  27. pam

    OMFG!!! Re: the article, WTF??? Number 3 has me in a dither… How dare our illustrious president say the company cannot tell us the results of their,private, testing for Mad Cow Disease????? GOD SAVE US, PLEASE, FROM THE NEXT 12 MONTHS!!!!!!

  28. Katie

    I haven’t made the jump yet to organic meat. We already drink hormone-free milk and I’m doing my best to get rids of trans fat and high fructose corn syrup (which OMG is in freaking everything, makes me so mad!). Although Ill admit I’m a huge hypocrite too, I made the kids give up their beloved Cookie Crisp (cookies for breakfast in the first place?) but I still drink my HFCS loaded Mountain Dew every day.

  29. Half-Past Kissin' Time

    I’m still on the fence about this. I have a friend who eats everything organic and is a freak about holistic medicine (“Drink this coloidal silver this, take this herbal that.”) However, her family members seem to get sick at twice the rate that mine do. So…I don’t feel guilty, but I guess we’ll have to see who lives longer. For now, I’m willing to be the guinea pig.

    On a side note, I have empathy for poor people. They certainly don’t have the means to buy all healthy food. It would be nice if organic food was an option for anyone.

  30. Karen

    I applaud you for trying not to be the hypocrite. I may not hold the same convictions as someone else, but I can respect theirs if they believe in them. You’re making the effort for the entire family and that’s what the kids will follow.

  31. Jill

    Can I just say that I love you? Again! This post makes me feel all good about going over my grocery budget. (“See! There was a reason! Americans spend too little money on food!”) Um, never mind that there was no organic meat in my shopping bags this week, though… Except some pretty cheap hamburger from Trader Joes. And there was some expensive non-organic animal flesh in those bags. So, I guess I shouldn’t feel all that good except that somehow I still do. It’s the magic of Mir. But I also feel inspired to do better, too.

  32. Shalee

    Ummm – what Megan said, but without the guilt. We’ve no cable, we don’t go out to eat that often, we make most of our meals from scratch. I think I can live being non-organic if it means that we can have hot water and electricity. Quite happily, I might add.

    And yes, my jeans are fitting a bit snugly these days. But at least I can afford a new pair if I choose not to get off my butt and do something about it soon… very soon.

  33. Karen

    Just a sugestion – but can you join an oganic meat CSA? I certainly do not do this, but when I was growing up – before it was “fashionable” – my parents got all of our pork, poultry and a most beef through these sources. From my understanding it is economical.

  34. Mara

    Ditto Vickie who suggested buying a 1/2 or 1/4 of a pig or cow– it really cuts the cost per pound down. I’ve considered doing this but we don’t have room for a chest freezer yet. Also ditto Sarah H’s suggestion for the Kingsolver book, if you haven’t read it already. It’s interesting.

  35. Tootsie Farklepants

    I gave birth to the blandest taste buds. Fortunately for our food budget, my kids will only eat chicken, tacos, and chicken. Yes, meal preparation is a real snoozer in our house, but quite easy to shop for.

  36. MaryP

    My neighbour has a t-shirt that reads: “All God’s critters got a place at the table… Right beside the mashed potatoes.”

    It even makes my vegetarian daughter laugh.

  37. becky

    I went through this, too. When all of the grocery unions were striking, I shopped only at Henry’s, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. Our grocery bill was a LOT higher, but the food tasted better and I honestly think we felt better, too. I still buy organic milk and eggs, but have been lax on the meat due to the choices in our local grocery store. Now, with the little one, I need to be more conscious about putting good things into my body. For his sake, if nothing else.

  38. becky

    I forgot to mention that I’m a member of that “other” PETA:


  39. Little Bird

    I think that you’ll find that organic meat tastes better anyway. I used to work in a Whole Foods, and I still love their meat department. I use the fact that with organic beef one does not have to worry about mad cow disease as one of my arguements for paying so much for the stuff.
    And I like Becky’s version of PETA. Can I join??

  40. Donna

    AAAAHH! The luxury of living in the country. I know where my (raw) milk comes from. I know where my eggs come from. And I have a good idea of where my meat comes from (possibly not organic, but it’s local). Vegetables? Our garden (for the most part).
    I, too, have gone on the ‘No more preservatives in my house’ rampage. However, it’s not easy. For the most part, I don’t do frozen or boxed dinners. Of course, I enjoy cooking so this helps. But, if you’re truly trying to avoid chemicals -all chemicals, it could drive you crazy. Shampoo? Think of all that’s in it. And you put it on your scalp. Where the thinist layer of skin is. Detergent? Deoderant? Toothepaste? Feminine Napkins? Hell, even bottled water. (How do you think it’s been purified?) A person could go crazy.
    All these chemicals are always going to be out there, so I say, you can’t obliviate all chemicals from your life if you want your body to not react to it. (Kinda like how antibodies work)
    (That’s so I can have my chocolate and Pepsi.)

  41. chris

    Ah yes, and all of this is why we bought a 1/2 cow and a pig this year. Not just organic, but locally raised which is important to me. Because clearly I am obsessive.

    I try to buy most veggies organic, but fail miserably.

  42. Chuck

    You know, I just had some fast food for dinner, and it tasted totally blech! You’d think that if you were eating something that unhealthy, they’d at least make it so it was addictively tasty. Oh well. Maybe next time I’ll try eating healthy and be surprised how good it tastes.

  43. Christy

    I started buying organic meat at Super Target right after Thanksgiving for the same reasons as you. I almost didn’t because of the astronomic prices. :) Now I buy Laura’s Lean Beef and you can get coupons for $1.50 off on Target’s website occasionally.

    I can’t get over how much better it tastes!

  44. Brigitte

    And I thought I was doing well with using the trans-fat-free shortening substitute from our local “nature granola” store in my pie crusts. My husband freaked the one time I paid for wild fish, I had to lie about the cost and sneak some of my own money towards it. He just has no idea of the price of eating healthy (or trying to, anyway)!

    And about the cloning . . ummm, why? Isn’t cheaper to make more chickens, etc. the old-fashioned way?

  45. Aimee

    Like Carla, I do almost all of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. I’m a compulsive label reader, and I *hate* the thought that the government is blocking manufacturers and producers from giving us information. I buy almost nothing that’s processed, which is a huge part of the battle.

    And mmmm… stew!

  46. Zuska

    I’m in the middle of “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and I just know I’ll be reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” in the near future as well…so I’m right there with you. I’m really opening my eyes to the whole agriculture industry, and it is frightening. You’d think a vegetarian would have more of a clue, perhaps, but I’m here to tell you otherwise!

    Anyway, I was also going to suggest joining a CSA for either meat, veggies or both. I’m joining one for veggies here in NY, and I’m also vowing to hit more Farmer’s markets come springtime.

    I’m also making more home-made bread, but for some reason my family thinks my bread is a “snack” bread, and I’m fighting them to use it for sandwiches. And they want me to perfect my ciabatta, not sandwich bread. I live with wacky people…

  47. Melissa

    We made the switch to organic milk and meat a couple of years ago, and now the “regular” meat (i.e., non-organic) tastes like cotton to me — both the mouthfeel and the taste are off. And I bought unhomogenized milk the other day (with lots of cream on top – yum!) and ended up guzzling an entire half-gallon all by myself. In one day. Whole milk. Let’s just say it was an Event.

  48. Heidi

    Yessir, the farmed fish is scary, in my opinion. One great source of salmon I’ve found is wild, ocean-caught Trident salmon burgers. They are an excellent source of protein and aren’t stuffed with fillers. If you buy them at Costco, they run about a buck apiece (package of 12).

  49. Scottsdale Girl

    Um Chili Cheese Fritos? ORganic right? Yes?

    Ok your silence tells me YES.


  50. carson

    I homeschool so I don’t have to buy organic. And yes, I teach logic.

    This is one of those things on which I will admit you are probably right and I am wrong.

    So, my daughter will be with the rest of the gang getting boobies at next week, but she’ll be horribly unsocialized at the same time. It all equals out, right?

  51. mar

    I’m sure you know about this already, but if you go to they will send you a coupon book 3 or 4 times a year filled with coupons for organic brands – dairy/milk, cereals, snack bars, even meats sometimes.

    Also, Organic Valley coupons for milk, etc. here –

    It’s not much, but I figure every little bit helps!

  52. Heather Cook

    Have you ever shopped at a local farmer’s market?? We have some great ones around us and we can often by a HALF OF A COW that was kindly raised by a cute little farm kid who knew that even as that little calf hit the ground that he was grooming him to be someone’s meal…

  53. ImpostorMom

    You guys should check out Locally Grown as well. They have meat, veggies, even baked goods and eggs. Not only is it organic but all local.

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