This post is part of a series, Real Food Economics 101. The series covers the cost of real food and applying the 80/20 rule to managing your time and money in the kitchen in depth. Click here to start at the beginning.
Last week we looked at several ways the real food lifestyle saves you money on several non-food budget categories. In this weeks installment of the Real Food Economics 101 series we’ll consider how to relax and enjoy wherever you are at on the real food journey.
Realizing that we need to change the way we eat is stressful. Realizing that the changes needed look to be very expensive can cause a lot of anxiety! What’s the antidote for this stress? Realizing that a perfect diet isn’t possible and that a mostly good diet can be very affordable!
Worry over an ideal “100% Real Food Diet” gets in the way of progress
Angsting over complete compliance with the whole “Real Food Diet” ideal is a major cause of never getting started in the first place :-). It’s even more anxiety provoking when the source of the angst is the perceived cost of buying 100% real food all the time. It this is you, you are not alone. When I first read Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions I was completely overwhelmed! I read it and put it aside for about a year! I basically agreed with the diet but couldn’t fathom how we’d ever do it. We had just begun homeschooling our youngest and the fear of the expense and all the changes needed was too much at the time. Many foods at the heart of the diet were twice the price I was paying at that time for grocery store fare and I just didn’t know how we could budget for that.
But after giving it a little rest to sink in I picked up Nourishing Traditions again and slowly, slowly started to change our diets to be closer to a real food diet. This was about 8 or 9 years ago. Initially I thought through Sally’s arguments and only did the things that immediately seemed correct to me and were easy to do. I selected things to try that were inexpensive. At this stage we had about a 20/80 real food diet with seriously bad processed food long gone. This was pretty much the case even before we started Nourishing Traditions since I’d known about the worst offenders like soda and hydrogenated fats for quite a while. We just started working our way up from the “Absolutely Avoid” foods in my “Wholesome Ingredients” listings to the good-very good-excellent choices one food at a time, one level at a time. Next thing I started changing our fats and added more grassfed beef since at the time here in Texas it wasn’t a whole lot more expensive than grocery store ground beef. I switched almost all our fats to animal fats. This brought us up to about 40/60 roughly. Around this time I became very concerned about my asthma and decided to take it up a notch. I read many testimonials on the web about raw milk improving asthma symptoms so we added this next. Great decision! (More on this in a future post :-)) Along with this I began making a lot of bone broths and serving soups and stews often. This change brought us up to about 60/40. After this came some the more difficult kitchen routine intensive foods like fermenting and soaking. This brings us to our current mix level of about 80/20 which seems like a pretty comfortable place to be :-).
During all this change our food budget would spike occasionally. Usually this happened while I was trying to locate a less expensive source for a particular food. Sometimes it happened just because we’d added a new more expensive food and in the short run, everyone seemed starved for it! For example, raw milk. When we first started buying it it was a treat in our house on par with ice cream! Everyone seemed to deeply crave the nutrition in it so we worked to have extra on hand for awhile. We still drink a lot of milk, but the demand has dropped a bit and those food dollars can be spent to improve something else. Though we experienced these occasional spikes our overall food budget for each year didn’t go up more than general inflation would indicate it should.
So as you see we didn’t make this change overnight :-). All this took about 3-4 years for us. Some shift everything in a matter of months. I’m sure most are somewhere in between these two extremes. I think if I had made more effort to get in touch with supportive friends in the Weston Price community it could have gone faster. But the pace we changed at was fine for us. You should work at your own pace too.
Does Anyone Really Eat a “100% Real Food Diet”?
Well, yes and no. I think there are a lot of people who eat 100% real food for stretches with compromised breaks in between. And then there are people who get really close, like 95% real food for longer stretches. The most experienced real foodies who are home most of the time can often do this indefinitely. So I think there are quite a few who come pretty close. But I also feel pretty sure that the difficulty of eating 100% real food is enough that few if any succeed in never eating anything that is a compromise. Does it matter? Well, yes and no. Nutrition wise of course the closer we get to 100% the better. But realizing that few reach this goal can be emotionally liberating. Understanding that we’re all together striving to reach this goal is encouraging. Thinking that everyone one but you is already there is not!
Also, it seems to me some of the anxiety about not having a “100% Real Food Diet” is about avoiding the appearance of hypocrisy. We all feel uncomfortable enthusiastically voicing support for real food to friends and family and then later compromising. But knowing that things could be better and telling people about it while you’re working on improvements isn’t hypocrisy. Whatever degree of real food you can or want to do is just fine!
Create Your Own Personal Balance
It’s critical you create your own personal guidelines rather than trying to follow someone else’s. You are the only expert on your own life situation and as the expert you are in the very best position to tell what to do and what not to do. You need to strike your own personal balance and that balance might be far away from 100%, 90/10, 80/20 or even 60/40. Your families income and employment, the dietary disposition of your kids and their age at introduction to real food, how interested/supportive your spouse is, where you live, your families activities and travel, etc. all have a strong influence on the balance you pick. And that’s okay! This is your family and your life. You get to choose.
This will also vary with the seasons of your life. Some periods in life are relatively quiet, others full of many, many things to master and do. Sometimes things are calm and sometimes things are in crisis. The balance you strike will depend on all this too. For example right now most of my personal compromises are about saving time. I’m away from home a good deal working my temp contract so my time to cook is somewhat limited. We’re at about 80/20 and most of the 20% is from meals eaten while out and about. Being looser about my diet while out allows me to continue eating out with friends, family and coworkers something I personally value being able to do. I do pack a lunch most every day, but not every single day. Sometimes a modern granny woman just needs to get out :-). Most of the meals we have at home are pretty simple affairs for the time being.
And it isn’t always forward motion. Sometimes things fall apart for awhile. In the past I’ve made severe compromises to accomodate short term time commitments like a kids play rehearsal schedule and soccer practice schedules. And at times I felt like my kids needed more flexibility especially as they approached adulthood. Also sometimes I’m too worn out or under the weather or just plain don’t feel like it ;-). So I compromise. And it’s okay!
We’re all working out our own way when it comes to real food. We all want to do things perfectly but life gets in the way :-). I’m reminded of the famous John Lennon quote “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. So if the food budget is tight and compromise is necessary it’s best to think about where things will be imperfect cutting the least important things first and leaving the most important intact. But first cut yourself some slack!