Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to acknowledge that real food takes time. And then some.
But I’m not inspired to write about stevia anymore (I sort of was when I wrote the idea down on my editorial calendar, but that was a long time ago). Today I want to just write from my heart.
I want to say that I’m proud of you, real food moms (and dads and spouses and grandparents and others). I hear you. I’m there with you. I know it’s not easy.
It’s a Monday Mission because it’s Monday, but it’s something we should all simply keep in mind all the time.
How Much Time do You Have?
I’ve often thought of a post called “Nothing Takes Zero Minutes.”
It’s for all the people who tell others that real food doesn’t take any more time than the Standard American Diet of convenience food and fast food, that cloth diapers won’t be any more difficult than disposables, that we can just “eat a banana – that’s fast.”
I’m here to say that even though I try to make things simpler, even though I often tell you Kitchen Stewards how something won’t take very long – NOTHING takes zero minutes. Homemade yogurt is my easiest real food habit, and it is really fast. It only takes about 20 minutes total, in a few 5-minute stints (unless something goes wrong, of course).
But even that – even those 5 minutes here and there, plus the fact that we then have to do what we call “make yogurts” for lunch, doling it out into containers and adding fruit – even those simple steps most certainly take longer than grabbing a pre-fab cup of sugared yogurt and tossing it into a lunch box, or sending money to school for hot lunch.
Who am I to say if you have the 30 extra minutes per week that homemade yogurt will take? I know I do – but just barely sometimes. And if I’m just keeping my head above water, what of the working single mom of four kids? I can’t even fathom what sort of “extra time” that mom does or doesn’t have.
How Fast is an Apple?
Someone told me on Facebook this week when I was chatting about time in the kitchen: “Real food is fresh food. Grab an apple.”
I know this person wasn’t trying to be confrontational and most likely just offering a helpful word of encouragement, but I decided to deconstruct the idea that an apple is fast.
First, let’s compare work needed to serve compared to, say, a single-serve package of junk food of any sort.
Mom with Apple: Retrieves apple from refrigerator or cold storage, washes apple (possibly using produce wash first, adding another minute to the process), and either hands it to the child or slices it first, especially if said child is a toddler and can’t handle skins very well. After the eating experience, Mom certainly has to wash the sticky hands of the child and dispose of the apple core in a garbage that will be taken out in the next few days (i.e. not the van garbage, Katie says from experience). She might also have a knife, cutting board and plate to wash.
Mom with Junk Food: Retrieves package from cupboard (unless child is already holding it out to her), tears open package, hands to child. After the eating experience, Mom checks for crumbs and throws away the wrapper (but if they’re out and about, she can stuff it in her pocket temporarily).
It wasn’t much longer, but wouldn’t you agree that Mom Number One had to do more work? Now multiply that by a family of 8, or bring a snack to a classroom of 27. Bag of pretzels vs. 27 washed apples. I’ve done the latter, and I can guarantee that it doesn’t take zero minutes.
Next, let’s consider storage.
The processed junk food can sit in storage for months, likely years before it’s needed. Mom Two can purchase her snacks in major bulk, do no prep to them, and have them ready any time.
Mom One, with the apple, either needs refrigerator space, which limits her purchasing power, or a cold garage, which will keep fresh apples around for a few months at best.
Finally, let’s move on to cost. Two bags of cheap pretzels are just that – cheap. Two bucks, on sale. You can feed a snack to an entire class of kids for two lousy dollars.
Out of season, you could spend two dollars on just a handful of apples priced at a dollar per pound (and we’re not even going into organic here). I buy apples at an amazing price, $6/half bushel, or about 25c/pound. I could potentially feed an entire class of children for two dollars, but it would be close.
My conclusion: Sure, I love apples. Yes, we use them often for easy snacks. No, they do not take zero minutes to serve, and no, I cannot serve apples five times a day for meals and snacks – therefore, apples (or other fresh food that doesn’t need to be cut) cannot be the be-all end-all solution to the time that real food takes.
Is Real Food More Expensive?
The last category with the apple brings us to another one of my pet peeves: People who tell others they should have no problem affording real food, when they mean organic, non-GMO, grassfed, free range food.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think you have to spend an arm and a leg to eat healthy food, and I do believe that anyone should be able to afford to eat mostly whole foods on any budget. That just may entail a lot of dry beans, rice, and frozen vegetables, and it cannot expect organics or even non-conventionally raised animal products.
YES, a real food diet, even an organic one, is often less expensive than folks who are impulse buying food, eating out, running to the store for one thing, buying lots of pre-packaged snacks, and not watching their budget.
But NO it is not true that one can shave enough off an already balanced budget to go 100% organic from 0%, even if the family cut all meat and processed foods. I just don’t believe it.
There are too many families in this country with good spending habits, keeping to their food budgets, watching the sales, buying in bulk, making some things from scratch and never eating out – it’s unfair to that entire group of people to say that it’s easy to switch to an organic, farm-raised, local diet.
Again – YES sometimes buying local is less expensive. Fall squash is a great example – it’s incredibly inexpensive in Michigan this time of year and likely five times as much in a grocery store in the winter.
But sometimes buying local is only for those with disposable income. For example, the “no spray” carrots I bought at the market Friday were about $3/pound, whereas I can get organic carrots at Costco for far less than a dollar a pound and baby carrots at Aldi for about that as well. We can go through almost a pound of carrots, raw, in a day, and that doesn’t count carrots that go in soups and such. Three times the price is insane to ask someone on a tight budget to pay, just for local foods.
There’s another group of people the “real (organic) food isn’t expensive” comment is completely unfair to, and that’s the folks who are barely putting any food on the table as it is. There are countless American families who, like Erin wrote about in this heartfelt post, are living with “too much money” to qualify for assistance yet have only about half as much in their food budgets as they would receive in food stamps if they only made slightly less income each month.
You’re reading that right – federal assistance is $147 per person per month, so that’s almost $600 for a family of four people. Many, many families have food budgets hovering around $300 or even up to $400 – but those people truly cannot afford many organic options, even though they are hard-working, smart, and deserve the best.
Finding the Balance
You see, there’s a reason the mission of Kitchen Stewardship is and always has been grounded in balancing the four pillars of stewardship: a family’s nutrition, budget, time and money. It’s not easy to do it all, so I try to help you find the strategies and techniques that will pack the greatest punch in the most areas at once.
That’s why my top 10 steps to Kitchen Stewardship are truly the best tips I have for saving money while switching to totally nourishing foods and eco-friendly habits. It doesn’t get any better than homemade yogurt, homemade chicken stock, using dry beans, and making homemade cleaners. If you really want to enter into the frugal, natural, real food life – you have to start there.
Beyond the basics, things start to get more complicated.
I can teach you how to find nuts for less expensive prices, but I can’t tell you that a pound of nuts is going to cost less than that pound bag of pretzels. I can show you how to make gluten-free baked goods from scratch, but I can’t make GF flours cost less than whole wheat flour or cheap white bread.
I can show you how to cut corners in the kitchen and be as efficient as possible, how to make simpler meals, how to streamline tasks, but real food will always take longer than opening a package. Just look at all the hard work people are doing in their kitchens to feed their families real food!
Don’t tell those ladies that real food should be easy. That undermines and devalues all their efforts, and it’s simply unjust.
Real food is hard work.
Real food takes time – as anything that is worthwhile does!
And when comparing apples to apples – the organic ones always cost more.
I want to shake the hands of (or give hugs to) all those women who feel like they’re spending more time in the kitchen than out. The average American may spend 27 minutes preparing food and 4 minutes cleaning up, and you are most definitely above average.
I want to encourage you:
It’s worth it.
It really is.
I can’t compare my life, my finances, my personality, my abilities, my stress levels, or my schedule to anyone but myself. No one can say blanket statements like “less expensive” or “easier” when we don’t know another person’s capital, what they have left to give at the end of the day.
To those of you whose feet are exhausted from putting up seasonal produce…
To those who extended their abilities today and tried something new from scratch…
To those who prioritize real food in the face of ridicule from family and friends…
To those who stay up late baking so their family has a homemade breakfast…
To those who scrimp and save and cut other areas of the budget to put more toward fresh produce and healthy meats…
And to those who are wondering if they can find enough change in the seats of the car to buy a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread…
I commend you, mamas (and others too!).
You deserve to be applauded.
You deserve a pat on the back (and more).
You who spend far, far longer than 27 minutes in the kitchen – whether you manage to source organics or not, whether you make everything from scratch or just find time for a few important ones, you demonstrate real food heroism.
Wear your capes with joy, good Kitchen Stewards.
I’m proud of you.
Share with other heroes you know: