Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Choices That Make Habits

My alpaca-owning, conference-attending friend is what Malcolm Gladwell would call a Connector.   For her, the conference was a series of conversations with interesting people.  She missed a few things over the course of the weekend, because what she focuses on is talking to people.  I'm not that way, but benefitted anyway, because near the end of the conference she caught up/met some people who live fairly near to me.  What I learned from them will likely change the course of my next year (and future years).

Let me step back a moment.  At the end of the year last year, I wrote that I wanted to change how I eat to include more local, sustainably raised foods.  I mostly meant meat, eggs and dairy.  Right around that time I asked my butcher if their meat is local meat.  He said, "No.  Our meat is good meat.  The only meat you find around here are old dairy cows, and who wants to eat that?"  Like an idiot, I sortof believed him and let it drop.

I'd also written about my difficulties finding raw milk to make cheese.  I finally found a place an hour south of me and made some great, great cheese.  I still haven't found goat milk.

Eggs, I thought would be the least part of the story.  There is an Agway on my commute, where I can buy eggs for $2.75 a dozen.  That, plus my plan to get a few chickens this year should take care of the egg situation.

What's really happening though, is I'm doing the same thing I've always done (at least for the last year).  I'm going to a grocery store near work on my lunch hour and buying whatever is cheap.  Eggs, meat, the works.  I can't get past how convenient it is and how well it fits into my life, compared to the high-quality stuff.

Here's what brought this to the forefront.  There was an Amish family at the conference selling their wares, raw apple cider (yessss), cheeses, eggs, and other prepared goods.  When I found out how much they're selling the eggs for ($5/dozen), I decided against buying their eggs.  They are probably really good eggs!  But I chose to stay with the cheap grocery store eggs, this time.

The choice I have to choose, is whether to pay more money and spend more time getting good, local fare, or continue the grocery store habit.  Honestly, it depends on how important this is to me.  Normally this sort of thing is a time/money tradeoff (you spend more money to save time).  This is exactly the opposite (I'd be spending more time to spend more money to get better food). A little hard to swallow, given all the other things I want to do in my negligible free time.

This is where the two ladies I met yesterday come in.  They live a little east of me and north, which is not ever on my path around this little planet.  I go west. What they told me though, makes a big difference.  What they said is that if I continue past the Agway, I'll get to a beef farm that has an honor system freezer in his breezeway.  And on the same road is a dairy that sells raw milk for $6 a gallon.  Score!!  I can visualize doing this!  Maybe not all the time, but enough to move the quality of the food I eat up. I do think I can do it enough to make a habit.

We also talked about chickens and coops and bees, and a bunch of other things.  I had my notebook and pen out and took copious notes - more than some of the actual workshops!  It's going to take a while to work through all their recommendations, but I know where to find them again, at the Bennington farmers market or the Hoosick Falls farmer's market.  I'm in the inevitable emotional slump after such a good weekend (and it being Monday), but thinking about the local things I learned goes a long way towards making it all better.


  1. Another way I justify spending a lot for things like meat and eggs is that I don't eat a lot of them. Zach has one egg most mornings for breakfast, and it's easy to justify getting the more expensive ones for him. They also last longer (well, these do) because they are local.

    I too want to make the effort to buy more local stuff. I set a goal to spend $20-$40 a month, and Fort Collins makes it easy because there is a winter farmer's market every other weekend downtown. Little incremental changes...

  2. I hear you, Jordan. I have very similar thoughts.

    I buy Stewart's eggs, because they are known locally for being much, much fresher than the chain grocery stores. Their eggs also move more quickly off the shelf. But I want to buy from a farmer's market some day.

    I have not figured out the meat issue, but what I did last summer was buy from the clearance freezer from a local farmer at a farmer's market. (It was still expensive, so I will not do it often.)

    I buy fish from a great company in the Northwest that "flash freezes" it, and is known for its high standards. I buy from their web sales, where they make fish available that was bigger or smaller than what they want for the catalog, at an amount that gives me free shipping. It's very tasty.

    I'm curious where you can get the raw milk for $6 a gallon.

  3. The other really, really important thing, Jordan is that as we grow older, we need to take better care of our bodies by being very conscientious of what we put into them. (I hate to talk about "growing older" because "getting old" or not is a large part your mental outlook and the other part is what you eat. Just because a person is 70 doesn't mean he has to be "old." And, for heaven's sake, I'm old enough to be your mother so I'm not saying you're getting old!) BUT we do need to think about putting only the highest quality food into our systems to keep them running at the highest level. Chickens that are raised in cages, never get exercise, or sunshine and are fed ground up feathers (for protein) of dead birds and cement (yes, they do that because it's a cheap form of calcium to produce hard shells for shipping) are not going to produce eggs that give your body needed nutrients. It's the same on down the line whether we're talking about beef from cows or pork from pigs or milk from dairy animals or veggies raised with poisonous sprays. We think of the extra expense (and we do not have money to spare) as health insurance. We don't want to get sick so we give our bodies the best fuel we can find. How can your basic cell structure be strong and healthy if it doesn't have access to the nutrition required for same?

    Whew. Guess I just used up all my soap box time for this week. You're on the right track. Don't mean to preach to the choir.

  4. Good point Mama Pea - that'll scare me straight! You're right, I don't need to know what to do, just need to move it higher on the priority list. Somehow, taking care of myself always seems to fall too low on the list.

    Kate - after I find this place and confirm that they do sell raw milk, I'll let you know about it. It's apparently on Rte 7 around HF.

    Linda - making a budget and plan to spend the $$ is a good idea. That puts it explicitly on the list - easier to meet a goal that's listed.

  5. Actually, your butcher was simply trying to keep his business up. I frequently eat dairy cows(steers) and the meat is wonderful. I prefer the holstein or the brown swiss over jersey or guernsey meat. The drawback is instead of 60% return on meat, you only get 40% but the price difference of buying an angus calf or a hereford calf comapred to a dairy calf is huge. A dairy steer finishes out just as nice and a little quicker.

    Sheesh, I need to up my farm prices! $6 a gallon for milk and $5 a dozen eggs? I sell mine for $2, BYOC. I guess it's because I live so rural, nobody would pay those prices around here, not with Walmart wiping every other source of food out.

  6. Good to know about the beef. The meat at the conference was really tough - I heard that it's because it's grassfed and you have to cook it differently (organic farmers donated the food, but the hotel cooked it and served it).

    LOL on the prices. My grocery store charges $1.89, so $2 would be great. I'd never pay $5 for a dozen eggs. I have no idea what milk costs because I only buy it for cheesemaking. Could it be $2.50 a gallon? it's so hard to get raw milk that $6 sounds semi-reasonable. As for goat milk - apparently it's REALLY tough to get that. One place in the state advertises that it's licensed to sell goat milk - for $9 a half-gallon (but remember this is pretty close to New York City where the rich people are - I'm 2 hours away)

  7. I understand how you feel too. We just moved to a new state and I was determined to buy local meat, milk, eggs, etc. What I have to remind myself is that sometimes it takes a little time, and maybe one step at a time. Buying local can be more expensive (I miss our cheese factory down the road in our old state- it was actually cheaper than the store!)and when you have a set amount of money to buy food it's hard to justify $4 for half a gallon of milk. So you have to be willing to make a sacrifice somewhere else or go without the local option. It's a difficult balance, but if you're determined, down the road solutions will present themselves, even if it's just one step at a time.

  8. Jordan - do you have a freezer chest yet? If not, get one! If you can budget for buying, say, 1/4 of a cow all at once - you would only have to make that trip once or twice a year depending on your eating habits/guests. Plus you'll have it for this year's harvest time, when you may have a little time to pick your own produce every day, but may not have time to put it up. Lots of things can just fine when they're frozen! I don't know about raw milk, but regular supermarket milk will also freeze OK. I know cream will separate oddly, but that may not matter for things like cheese making. Anything you can freeze you can buy in bulk, thus reducing the number of trips you need to make to the less-convenient local producers. Good luck! I'm still trying to find local sources around here that will take food stamps :(

  9. Thanks for the thoughts Sarah Rachelle and Alison! I think that when you move to a new place, the hardest part is finding where the good stuff is. Alot of the time you have to know someone who knows someone, etc, etc, and it takes a while to meet those people.

    I've been thinking about a freezer and I should really get one. In Oregon, they handed out the food stamps at the farmers market to encourage peeps to buy the fresh goods. I know, they're waay out there!

    Kate - what's the name of your fish connection? I'd like to look them up.

  10. HI! Glad you made good connections...yes it is often who you know, and who they know, and who their sister is married to, that reaps the most benefits!
    Here in the country between Buffalo NY and Erie PA, milk is $2.79 at my country fair and less than $3.25 most other places for a gallon. Milk drinking at my house has turned into a competitive sport! I'm buying it at the CF on my way home from work most days 1, many days 2 gallons at a time.
    My brother has raised chickens in his former life during the summers, and then dated a girl who had chickens, so I drift in and out of the brown egg days. Also had a tax client who brought us eggs one day. Good barter! I was saving my cartons for while in anticipation of making a local egg connection, but I'm not pursuing it too strongly right now. Still like to think I could fit chickens into my life, but I would need the nod and I don't see it coming right away.
    I found a couple of local CFA's but haven't had my emails answered, so I don't know if they are still active or not. Hoping to get more into it all this summer. A couple of steps at a time.
    I have a freezer, but I've never frozen milk! I actually have 2 now-last summer one of the guys hubby throws horseshoes with said he had one to give away and it came to live in my garage. It is small, but about like new and just enough to not stuff the other to overflowing.. :o)