The true cost of food - more added

25 August 2007

A few years ago, when I started thinking about the true cost of food, I started to buy as much as I could in, and from, my own local area. It's very productive land here. We have local milk and cheese producers, lots of organic vegetable growers, honey men, organic beef and lamb growers and plenty of tropical and subtropical fruit. Some of my friends think it's strange that even though I live a frugal life, we spend more than we need to for milk and cheese. Often the local fruit and vegetables are cheaper than the non-local supermarket produce, but I don't mind paying more for local foods. It helps build my community.

When you think about it, a $2 lettuce doesn't really cost $2. It costs a lot more than that. If you calculate in the environmental cost of the transport that brings food hundreds or thousands of kilometres, add to that the damage done by pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers and top that off with eroded soils, the excess water used to grow that lettuce and the nutrient runoff into waterways, and you start to get an understanding of the true cost of that lettuce, and food in general. It's not just the item, it's the system of production and transport that needs to be calculated in.

When you go shopping, take a basket or cloth tote bags with you so you're not relying on plastic bags to bring your food home . Make some small net bags for bagging up smaller items like tomatoes, potatoes, apples and carrots so, again, you don't have to rely on plastic. Don't buy things that have a lot of packaging, and make sure the packaging you do buy, is suitable for recycling.

The best solution to this, if it's possible, is to grow as much of your own fresh food as possible. You can also keep your own chickens for eggs. Not only is this a lovely and simple thing to do, but you'll be rewarded with the best and healthiest eggs possible. If you can't grow some of your own food, then buy local, and ask your supplier where the produce comes from. Let them know you want to buy local food. Buy as little as possible from the supermarket, you'll get cheaper and fresher fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat from the green grocer and butcher. Often buying from the smaller local stores is cheaper, but if does cost a bit more, it's the true cost.

Further reading about shopping locally:
General tips
United States
San Francisco
UK and here

Graphic from

And in addition, after Elizabeth's comment, here are the net bags I use. Just cut out some large and small bags of the size you think you'll use. My large bags are 30cm x 15 cm and the small bags about half that size. Double stitch the seams and openings so they don't rip apart when you're using them repeatedly. You can put a drawstring through - I used crossgrain ribbon here but you can use anything - string, cord or rubber bands. Often they don't need closing. I place all my bags in my cane basket and they usually don't spill out.

Using net allows the storekeeper to see what's in the bag without opening it - they like that, but you can use any strong and lightweight fabric.


  1. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    Will you post how to make the net bags for small produce. This is a big issue for me. I hate having all those plastic bags each week to throw away. I haven't figured out a way to get my produce weighed and checked out without them.

  2. Elizabeth, I've added some photos and basic instructions. They're dead easy to make.

  3. Hi,
    I Love all of your idea's. I've learned so much from you.Thanks for taking time to share and teach.;o)
    Have great day.

  4. Wow Rhonda thank you so much, what a brilliant idea

  5. I have been meaning to make some of these, but in the meantime I have been washing and recycling the bags I already have. If I get time today I will get to sewing up a few for next weeks shopping trip.

  6. Thanks Rhonda Jean,
    I am going this week to look for netting and I make up a few.
    You are so wonderful to teach us this.
    I have been working on my price book today. One step at a time and I will get there

  7. Great idea! I've sewn my own bags for my main groceries, but was never sure what to do about the produce. I'll have to hunt some netting and make some. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. i love the bit about the net bags for produce! it wouldn't have occurred to me without you mentioning it! but now that you have, it makes perfect sense....wish i'd have thought of it a long time ago!
    can't wait to learn how to make saurkraut! after all my years of gardening and putting food by, i've never done kraut! it's about time, don't you think?

  9. Hi Lib, you're welcome. Thanks for taking the time to comment. : )

    Hello Robin, I don't claim the idea, but I've been using it for a while now. All good ideas deserve to be shared.

    Good for you, Lisa. They're very handy. You'll notice a lot of people will comment on them when you use them.

    Elizabeth, I have no doubt you'll get there. Don't forget to put a unit price column in your price book. That makes saving on groceries fast and simple.

    Brandy isn't is funny how we do something but don't think to take it to the next level. I do that too, I think we all do. It must be part of being human.

    Jayedee, yes, it makes perfect sense, doesn't it. LOL I've finished making the sauerkraut now. That was easy too. It made quick work of four cabbages. I've taken photos and I'll post them in tomorrow.

  10. those little bags are a great idea !

  11. I love this idea!! I may have to wait until next paycheck to buy the netting, but I will be making some of these asap.

  12. I want to get to the stage where I can buy local but at this point in life, price is an issue. I'm gradually growing the garden so hopefully that will start to free up some money that can be used to local & organic. We have a great organic shop locally that is fantastic about supporting local farmers.

  13. Rhonda Jean, once again you have inspired me, and the most wonderful thing about that is that it is something so simple as making a netting bag. A truly wonderful idea.

  14. You are a genius! Thank you so much for posting this. I am determined not to use those ridiculous produce bags...but the cashiers hate me for having loose peaches rolling around! Thanks for sharing!!!

  15. I'm reading Tescopoly by Michael Simms at the moment. It brings up another interesting point about the cost of food in and to a community. I can't remember off-hand if you've mentioned it before but even if you have I think it's worth reiterating. The point is essentially about remembering that when you have spent $2 on something, that $2 goes on to be used for other purposes. Spending it in a locally owned business is more likely to keep your $2 circulating around the local area rather than it being lodged to a bank and sent off to another bank somewhere miles (or countries) away where the supermarket headquarters are located for example.

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  17. I am reading early posts and I love this one...the net bags are ingenious! I have a bunch of the net bags that produce comes in here in the States..lemons, limes, potatoes, etc. I think I am going to work them up into the net bags...repurpose, reuse...



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