I peek at Gourmet.com at least a couple times a day to see what’s new over there. I have found some awesome recipes from this site, most recently a delicious Korean sauce that is to die for — 3 Tablespoons gochujang, 5 Tablespoons sugar (though I think I’ll reduce it down to 4 next time), 4 Tablespoons ketchup, 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, and the juice of half a lemon. Whisk till combined. NOM. It’s supposed to be the sauce in a dish similar to the Chinese sweet n’ sour chicken, but I opted for some sauteed breasts instead and used it as a dipping sauce. This is definitely a condiment we will keep on hand from here on out.
But today I noticed an article called The Price is Wrong in their Politics of the Plate segment. The author stipulates that it’s a serious problem that we Americans get our food so cheaply because it’s just not sustainable. And the people who are most in need of cheap food aren’t getting it, the folks that live in urban areas where there is no access to a Safeway or a Piggly-Wiggly. Instead they buy their food at the local convenience store where fresh, cheap food cannot be had.
I’m a watcher at the grocery store, I admit it. I watch what people put into their carts, I watch to see how they come to the decision to buy one brand over the other, I watch to see how much thought they’re putting into their decisions. And I have come to the conclusion that I am a freak. It takes me longer than most people to do my shopping because I compare prices down to the ounce. Usually it’s marked on the label in tiny, tiny print — but every so often one item will be marked in price per ounce while the other item will be marked in price per pound, and then I whip out my trusty cell phone and do a bit of math. I don’t want to buy the smaller container just because it seems cheaper when the larger container costs less per ounce, and has the added bonus of less packaging, which is better for the environment.
Everybody else consults their list, finds the item they need on the shelf, and chucks it into the cart without thinking about what could possibly be cheaper — when I’m mentally hanging onto the Bush’s garbanzo beans until I get to the Mexican aisle to see how cheap the Goya garbanzos are. Last week I saw a dad letting his kids pick out some frosted shredded wheat without noticing that the off-brand is half the price of the Kellogg’s, or that the blueberry muffin flavor has been a mere $2 a box for weeks. And here I am, telling Gracie we were going to get the fruity Cheerios this week instead of the frosted shredded wheat since the Cheerios were $1.75 a box with a 50¢ off coupon.
At the same time, I’d be willing to pay more for food if it meant that it was sustainable. But I think that there’s a lot of profit built in to our food prices. I shop at the commissary, where we pay cost for our food, plus a 5% surcharge that helps fund the running of the commissary system. That’s why our prices fluctuate so wildly at times; a box of Cheerios can run $2 one week and $3.50 the next. I guess we all are used to it, but I can’t see most people standing for such fluctuation with their prices, so I suppose the civilian groceries build that into their prices. But I cannot fathom paying upwards of $4 a box for cereal, for heaven’s sake.
The article over at Gourmet.com mentioned that fifty years ago, we were paying twice as much for food as a percentage of our income. I can believe that. Look at any old cookbook, and you’ll find recipes for putting up veggies and canning fruit and preserving meat. There are tips galore on how to make the best of a sale on a particular cut of meat, and everyone knew what veggies were in season and therefore cheaper. You can usually find a whole section on what to do with leftovers to make them more palatable to both your small fry and your fastidious husband. But nowadays? One of my favorite things to make is a delicious baked chicken — but it’s extremely hard to find a recipe that using up the already-baked chicken in a new recipe. Mention the word “leftovers” to someone, and invariably you’ll hear, “ewww!” as a response. Fortunately I have a husband who’s planning what to do with the leftovers as he’s eating dinner.
I hear that people are going back to farmer’s markets, learning how to can again, making more dinners at home. In this economy (gahhh, how I hate that phrase), it only makes sense. We’ve had too long of disposable everything, including income, and maybe now we’ll quit wasting so much and start using things wisely.