Cheap Food, Expensive Consequences: How To Keep Your Family Healthy And Safe Without Spending A Mint

Reading the news lately is like reading a litany of horror stories. Take this brief excerpt from the Washington Post:

Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical.

Frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics.

Scallops and sardines coated with putrefying bacteria.

Mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides.

These were among the 107 food imports from China that the Food and Drug Administration detained at U.S. ports just last month, agency documents reveal, along with more than 1,000 shipments of tainted Chinese dietary supplements, toxic Chinese cosmetics and counterfeit Chinese medicines.

Regardless of how you feel about the politics, no one of reasonable nature would want to feed such food to their families, particularly their children. When I look at my nineteen month old son, the last thing in the world that I want to put on his snack tray are dried apples treated with a carcinogen. The truly frightening part is that it is impossible to tell which items are tainted and which are not from the packaging alone.

So what can you do as an average person to avoid these items and not have to spend an arm and a leg shopping at an organic grocery? Here are five ways my family and I minimize our usage of prepackaged food items.

We garden ourselves. It’s pretty hard for vegetables and fruits to be contaminated if you grow them yourself. Spend the time and put in a garden patch, and then store the excess that you grow for the winter months. Tomatoes are particularly nice: you only have to grow a few plants to have an abundance of tomatoes and they can be used in so many ways.

We shop at local farmer’s markets. In Iowa, farmer’s markets are all over the place in the spring, summer, and fall. We hit a lot of them and buy local produce with cash, then take them home and wash them vigorously to minimize the pesticides on it. The costs at farmer’s markets for most things isn’t all that high, and you can sometimes find a bargain if you look carefully. Here’s a guide to maximizing your dollar at a farmer’s market.

We can and freeze vegetables and fruits ourselves. Actually, we cannot do this effectively at our current apartment, but we both did this growing up and we both plan on doing such activities when we move in. It doesn’t really take that much work at all to do either one (canning takes a bit more effort, but the food is never frozen) and it allows for food that you’ve grown yourself to be eaten all year long.

We make as much as we can from basic ingredients. Want to make your own pasta? Mix two eggs with a cup of flour, mix it well, let it sit for a half an hour, then push it through a pasta press or roll it out and slice it up. How about your own spaghetti sauce? Get a jar of tomato juice, add dried herbs to it, then boil it down until you’ve got the right consistency. Most basic items are actually quite easy to make, it just takes the courage to get started … in fact, I wrote about how to get started with cooking even if you can barely boil water.

We buy as much local as we can. Our milk comes from a local dairy, our eggs come from a local chicken farmer, and our meat will soon come from a local meat locker. In each case, I can go right to where that material was made and see the process for myself – and I’ve done it, too. It costs a bit more, but not only am I supporting the local economy, I’m also buying stuff that I can visit the source of and meet the people who work to bring it to my dinner table.

All of these activities not only save money (except for the local food buying), but they ensure that my family is eating good, healthy stuff that, for the most part, I know where it came from.

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