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DIY organic home economics

A common argument against some of the things I advocated in “Crunchy Cons” is that it’s too expensive to eat in an organic or otherwise non-processed, non-industrial way. While it is undeniably more expensive to adopt certain practices — for example, eating meat that has been grass-fed, or at least raised in a non-factory way, is going to cost you significantly more — it is, as a general matter, far less expensive overall than many people think.

For me, breakfast is super cheap; I eat steel cut oatmeal that I buy in bulk at the co-op. A hearty, delicious breakfast costs just pennies. On Wednesdays and Fridays, days that I avoid meat, as is the Orthodox Christian fasting practice, I typically eat highly spiced beans. Again, they’re delicious, and super-cheap — and would be even cheaper if I ate rice (I try to avoid carbs), and stretched them out. To be sure, we allocate a higher percentage of our income for food than most Americans do, because the quality of our food is a priority for us. Nevertheless, I am often amazed by the unrealism of people who think eating off the industrial-food grid is out-of-sight expensive. If the costly produce section at Whole Foods is all you know about this kind of thing, your expectations will be very skewed.

Susan Gregory Thomas is a New York City writer and mom who found herself in dire financial straits after a divorce and the economic crash. “I’m not interested in being hip or a hippie. Nor does my happiness particularly hinge on artisanal cheese,” she writes. Yet not wanting to succumb to the inevitability of eating and feeding crap to her kids, she got creative, seeking to provide healthy, unprocessed meals for herself and her kids on $10 per day or less. In an op-ed piece today, she explains how she did it. Excerpt:

I literally could afford beans, the dried kind, which I’d thought were for school art projects or teaching elementary math. And I didn’t know how to cook.

Luckily, my late father had hammered into me that grit was more important than talent. So, when I couldn’t afford fancy food — never mind paraben-free shampoo — for my babies, I figured, if peasants in 11th-century Sicily did all this, how hard could it be?

I researched how to raise hens from chicks so we could get our omega-3-filled eggs. I learned to stretch a single piece of cheap meat into nearly a week’s worth of dinners. I made my own cleaning products. Not because I liked it. Because it was cheap.

She goes on to talk in detail about how she pulled it off. Today, they’re living this way on $100 per week. She writes:

It is a lot of work. You have to be organized and able to improvise on your feet. But, frankly, it’s awesome. Before we embarked on this Waldenesque life, the only thing I had ever used my hands for was picking up a book or typing on my keyboard; today, my family and I are living our own scrappy take on President Obama’s promise of “Yes, we can!”

Even if things turn around financially, I don’t think I could stomach going to Whole Foods (except maybe for olive oil) because my biggest revelation in terms of self-sufficiency is this: It is no big deal. You can tell yourself anything is too difficult, or you can just do it. And you do not need to reconstruct your worldview or take issue with others.

You just need to be hungry.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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