On the whole, our family probably spends less money on food than many North American families do, since I’m able to cook most things from scratch (mayonnaise, granola, yogurt, bread, etc), we grow some of our own food, and we almost never eat out.
But I spend quite a bit more money on certain items than a lot of families (especially other lower-income families) do. And I do this voluntarily. Often, when deciding between two products, I’ll actually go with the more expensive one, which makes some folks gasp.
“Ten dollars for four liters of milk?!” [That’s about a gallon for you Americans.]
“Seven dollars for a little baggie of salt?!”
“Three dollars for a chocolate bar?!”
Yup, I’ve heard them all. They can’t believe I’d willingly spend double to triple the amount on what seems, to them, to be essentially the same product.
There are a number of reasons I do this, which I will outline below.
But I first wanted to explain that for me, the way I spend money is an expression of my theology. It’s one of the ways I “do ministry.”
Most Christians believe strongly in the importance of giving money to the poor. Most Evangelicals accept the idea that at least ten percent of one’s income should go towards Kingdom-building endeavors.
This isn’t so different. The way I choose to buy my groceries is my attempt to help feed and clothe the poor, as Jesus commands, in a way that may be as effective as – possibly even more effective than – donating money in the traditional sense. I am choosing to spend a portion of my earnings on bettering the lives of other humans and non-human animals.
Moreover, I try to keep in mind that we North Americans still only spend a tiny fraction of our incomes on food compared to people of other nations. While Americans, on average, spend only 6-10% of their incomes on food, Algerians, for example, spend almost 44% of their incomes on food (source). I don’t think it’s unreasonable, then, to be willing to spend a little extra to ensure that my food is ethically acquired.
Here are some reasons why I choose to spend more money on groceries.
1. I don’t think I’m actually spending more in the long run.
I believe it’s actually more economical to invest in high-quality (whole, local, organic) food, because it results in improved health for me and my family. That means less money we have to spend on drugs, dentistry, vitamin supplements, and the like. (As Canadians, we don’t personally pay for doctor and hospital visits, but we reduce the amount of taxpayer money that has to be spent on our health problems). As 11-year-old Birke Baehr puts it, “We can either pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital.” I choose to pay the farmer.
We also save money because quality food fills you up better and longer. A hard-boiled free-range egg and a banana will go a lot further and give me a lot more energy than a coffee and donut, which will just leave me needing to refuel again soon (not to mention make me feel like crap and make me work less effectively). When my food is nutrient-dense, I require a lot less of it.
2. When it comes to animal products, I often pay more to ensure they’ve been raised humanely.
When I can, I try to buy meat, eggs, and milk from animals that have lived their lives on the pasture, not in cramped, dirty cages or stalls. (When they’re not available, I try to avoid these foods altogether. We eat a lot of beans around here).
I believe that God cares deeply for his animals and He grieves to see them treated cruelly. I don’t want to participate in the brutality characteristic of factory farms.
It costs a lot more to raise animals on an open farm, so I have to be willing to pay more if I want to see animals treated well.
3. When it comes to things like sugar, cocoa, and tomatoes – foods that are frequently produced using slave labour, or bought at unfair prices – I choose to pay a premium for fair-trade certification, to ensure that farmers and harvesters have been paid a fair price.
A lot of what we buy is so cheap in North America because people were exploited in the process of getting it here.
As I mentioned above, we North Americans spend way less on food than people all over the world. The reason is because we’re practically stealing it from those people.
If we wealthy suburbanites were all willing to pay a little more for our food, we could help ensure that farmers get paid what their crops are worth.
4. I buy organic not only for our own health, but also to ensure the land remains healthy for future generations, and so workers don’t have to be exposed to harmful chemicals.
Pesticides are dangerous for everyone involved, not just us consumers. And they’re damaging our soil, water and air. Again, I’m willing to pay more money for food that is safely and sustainably grown and so no one has to suffer.
5. I sometimes pay more for local produce.
Last June, in a weird twist of logic, I discovered in the grocery store that the strawberries grown here in Ontario cost more than the ones shipped in from California — that is, from the opposite coast of a different country! For the few weeks that strawberries were in season, I faithfully picked up a pint of Ontario strawberries and paid the extra dollar for the ones that didn’t take gallons of fossil fuels to get to me. This was just a small way I felt I could help reduce pollution.
So these are just a few reasons that spending more money on groceries is part of my peculiar lifestyle.
Am I forgetting anything?
How about you? What factors influence the way you shop?
*An earlier version of this post appeared April 10, 2012.*
Images courtesy of Anca Mosoiu and Sharon Drummond.