Red daikon radish from my CSA box

Red daikon radish from my CSA box

I am obsessed with food. Not in an unhealthy way (at least I don’t think so). I am obsessed with where my food is grown. How it’s grown. What is in it. What is not in it. How fresh it is. How much it costs. Lately, that last detail has been driving me absolutely crazy.

I returned home today, having gone to two grocery stores to scout out deals. One, a local food cooperative. The other, a chain. I tried to get everything on my list at the highest quality and for the lowest price. Going to the chain store first, I gambled that it would have the lowest prices on most of my items. Not the case, as I found out moments later while scooping up the rest of my items at the co-op. Indeed, with the exception of a rotisserie chicken, EVERYTHING was either the same price or cheaper at the co-op.

I was surprised. I usually shop almost exclusively at the co-op (supplemented also by staples from Costco) because it has the largest variety of locally grown, organic and specialty food in my community. But lately I have left the store staring aghast at my receipt. I thought it must be because of where I was choosing to shop. Hence, my experiment today, which proved the grass is not always greener on the other side.

I used to not worry so much about food prices. Back when my husband and I both worked and the economy wasn’t in the toilet. But the current situation has gotten me questioning my values: Should I sacrifice the quality of my food to save money? Or should I pay the high prices and scrimp on other things?

So far, I’ve been choosing the latter. We don’t eat out very much. We rarely have “date nights.” We even more rarely purchase new clothes, toys and books and just don’t do impulse buys. We conserve energy in our house, sometimes to the extent that I am actually wearing a coat and hat indoors. We try and bike as much as possible to save money on gas and, fortunately, live in a town where we can do so. We also have the luck to live in a place where we have direct access to farmers and can purchase food year-round straight from the source either at farmers markets or through community-supported agriculture programs, which is the route we have been going. Indeed, our CSA is, to me, the best deal: it provides us with the freshest organic food (high marks for quality, health and environment), helps us support small locally based farmers (high marks for community and conscience), and gives us produce that is significantly cheaper than comparable fruits and veggies sold in the store (high marks for my budget).

I realize we are lucky to even have the luxury of these considerations. For some, for many, these are not options at all. But after my trip to the chain store today, I wonder if we sometimes make assumptions about cost that aren’t necessarily true. And true cost encompasses not just the price rung up at the cashier’s stand, but also the cost to our health, community and environment. Is something really cheaper if it causes us health problems down the line, contributes to the destruction of our local or national economy, and ravishes the environment?

This economy is forcing me to define my priorities, to realize exactly where I stand. And I realize that good food is, for me, something for which I am willing to sacrifice a lot. I pray that we will continue to be able to do so.