2 April 2009

The hierarchy of food

I have received quite a few emails lately asking about what I call the hierarchy of food. The questions ask how important is it to eat organic food, how can we afford to buy it on our limited budget and how does organic food fit into a simple and frugal life.

As many of you know, we grow a lot of our own fruit and vegetables and we have chooks for eggs; all that is organic. We try to grow our garden so we have a continuation of supply but that doesn't always happen so we have to buy what we need. This is how we do it and my reasoning behind where we buy what we do.

We never buy certified organic fruit and vegetables. We can't afford it, but I don't worry about it. We buy Australian fruit and vegetables from Aldi if we are due to go there for our grocery shopping, if not we'll go to the local Sunday farmers market and buy there. I have no doubt some of the produce there is organic but isn't sold as organic because it's not certified. We never buy from Coles or Woolworths but I do buy Australian produce from our local IGA and green grocer, and check out the prices at each place before buying (they are across the road from each other). If there is a choice, we buy from our our State, if not, we buy Australian. I never buy fresh fruit or vegetables from another country, I prefer to go without.

Homemade corn and barley loaf.

We buy organic bakers flour and it's the only organic product I continue to buy. It's more expensive than the ordinary flour but we eat bread every day and I think it's better that it's mainly organic. The other ingredients in the bread aren't organic, but plain cooking salt is as close to organic as you get without a certification, the butter and milk powder aren't organic and neither is the yeast. I try to not think about the milk powder, I have a lot of it in my stockpile cupboard and I'll use it all but I don't use it instead of liquid milk now, I only use it in cooking. Reading Nourishing Traditions has changed my mind on milk powder.

Homemade rosella cordial.

We usually buy local fresh Guernsey milk. I see these cows grazing on pastures around here every time I drive up the mountain. They live in a healthy natural environment. The dairy industry is a small, but important, part of the area I live in. We want to support them, so we buy local dairy foods, and that includes local cheese and yoghurt. I still make my own yoghurt when I can but when I buy it, it's locally made, but not organic.

Since we read Nourishing Traditions and have added back a small amount of meat to our diet, we buy local pasture raised, grass fed meat. This meat is usually shin beef, which I slow cook for the natural gelatine it contains. The meat is not organic, but it is local.

When you do your shopping, and if you can't afford to buy organic food, try to buy local. You might find that your local butcher or green grocer has sourced local food and will know a lot more about the food they sell than your local supermarket. If you live in an area where people are growing food, try to barter with them. If you're growing some of your own food, you might be able to barter eggs for honey, tomatoes for local milk or a box of your produce for some meat from your local butcher. Anything is possible, you just have to ask around.

Last year's winter garden.

As homemakers we are responsible for the food brought into our homes and for buying the healthiest food for the dollars we have available. I believe that if you are living on a limited income you will do more for your health if you cook from scratch, with as much fresh produce as possible, than trying to buy all organic food. Get rid of the food that contains preservatives and added flavourings and colours. Buy oatmeal instead of processed cereal, make macaroni and cheese from scratch, not from a box, encourage your family to eat fresh fruit by having a bowl of it on the kitchen table. Start your own vegetable garden if you have the space and time. Get rid of your chemical cleaners and clean instead with vinegar, bicarb and soap. Recipes for making your own cleaners are here. That will be a big step towards a healthier life.

Don't be pressured into buying organic food if you can't afford it. Of course it's great to eat organic if you can, but when you have to stretch your dollars as much as possible, all organic usually isn't an option. Like everything else in this simple life, it takes a bit of organising to discover where you'll get value for money, but always be guided by your own values, not by what someone tells you or what you read - and I include my blog and myself in that. If what I write here doesn't fit well with your value system and how you've decided to live, don't do it. Simple living is all about living an authentic and examined life and if you've thought about the values you want to live by, be confident and stick with them no matter what others around you are doing.



  1. Don't think I have commented before, but I always enjoy and appreciate your blog posts. We're a USA family of six living in a suburban area. We recently started our "great chicken adventure" and are always increasing our garden space. In other words, your posts are always relevant! Thank you!

  2. What a good post Rhonda, thanks :)

    I've had so many discussions about this over the years! (as I'm sure have lots of others). I've come to pretty much similar conclusions to yours - "it depends".

    I was vegan for many years, but now I eat dairy and eggs - local milk, eggs, yogurt and sometimes cheese (not a reliable supply, and fairly boring and expensive...). I don't eat meat.

    I've recently started shopping at the supermarket again, which I don't like, but it's an attempt to try one a week shopping rather than a couple of times every day (mostly to save money, if not time!) However, my partner just can't stop himself, he LOVES pottering round the shops (not a big spender though) so I might go back to popping to the more local shops as and when like he does...

    Thanks for a thoughtful and thought provoking post, as ever :) And thanks for popping over to my blog too :)


  3. Hi Rhonda,
    I try to buy organic all the time. Our local farmer's market is fabulous and even though most of the producers are not certified organic they still use organic practices which is the same to me. With our garden and the farmer's market plus we get our milk and eggs from local farmers we have the best of both worlds this way...local and organic. It may cost us a little more but I have noticed I only buy what we need and nothing goes to waste like before.

  4. oh this is weird.. this is just what I posted about yesterday, my struggle with buying organic, free trade etc.
    organic to me is so important as I am a cancer survivor and I try not to have chemicals around me, well as little as possible.

    you have inspired me to share how to make cloth bags. I have been making them for years and now am in the process of trying to work out how to share the method on my blog.

  5. oh & I just forgot to say that the post is fantastic as usual.. and I am in awe of your winter vegie garden!!

  6. Thank you! Finally someone who shares my view on organic versus local! I love your articles! They are always right on the money.

    We live in Canada where by the end of March we are reduced to potatoes and rutabaga for fresh veggies, and most of everything else must be frozen... while it's not always easy or enjoyable, I know it is the best lifestyle for us. It keeps us and the planet healthy.

    Thanks again,

  7. Since I have stopped buying almost all pre-made foods, I've been buying more and more organic items without an increase to my overall food costs. For example, I purchase our organic wheat in 50 lbs bags that I mill into flour for our breads, tortillas, bagels, scones, cookies, cakes, and even the crackers I blogged about today! Buying all these things as organic packaged goods would be ridiculously expensive.
    The flour costs pennies a cup, as do most of the other simple ingredients I blend to make all sorts of things. I usually bake our pita breads, tortillas and bagels all the same day because they all require the same basic ingredients in varying amounts. This saves a lot of time and money.

  8. I am blessed to have a local wholefood store which is also online, which does it best to offer organic and wherever possible local produce. I buy all my staples such as rice, quinoa, rapadura and wheat here from the bulk bins, they have a high turnover so dry goods don't sit in there long. They always have organic juicing carrots at a good price... at woolworths they were charging $9.95 for a 750g bag of organic carrots!
    I do shop at Aldi and try to buy their organic range, for example, their tomatoes and dates which are not Australian but it's hard to find dates that are Aussie grown and as for tomatoes... when I do not have tomatoes from my garden, I prefer the organic tinned over the local vine ripened which are not organic and hydroponic... just wondered what you know about hydroponic produce and what is put into the water? We refuse to eat it. I also avoid certain non organic-veggies which I know are heavily sprayed such as broccoli and onions. I find the true food guide from greenpeace very useful, if I buy non-organic food I always choose companies such as Saniturium that are not using GM ingredients.

  9. Good morning Rhonda. It was great to hear you this morning on Radio National! This household ground to a halt as the four of us sat around and listened. At the end of the interview we all cheered and clapped. You are a fine ambassador for the Simple/Frugal lifestyle and I was very proud of you.

    I can attest to the benefits of homebaked bread and goodies. While I have always cooked our evening meal from scratch, I've been inconsistent with bread and baked goods until the last few months. We feel so much better.

    Currently I am reading NT and absorbing the ideas in it.

  10. Hello Rhonda, A very reasonable post.

    Here in big city Arizona I have found that often the price difference can only be a dime difference a pound.

    Purchasing seasonally is a way to be able to enjoy organics at a reduced cost. Learn what is being imported and stay away from it until it gets into a season then the price is reduced. That is the time to buy and freeze or can it.

    In the fall apples organic or not are so much cheaper. As are the many other varieties of fruits and veggie. In the fall they come from the Pacific north west look to see where your produce is being grown.
    I do not buy Mexico produce, for they use human dung as fertilizer (no thanks). Higher chance of e-coli.
    If you clean your produce well in a week solution of vinegar or bleach it protects your family from some of the common concerns.

    Apples are my afternoon mainstay for the children. Those things I eat (we eat) every day are organic when possible. Some things are not any better organic here for the quality suffers so due to climate.
    Look to see if they are covered in wax. Look at the heal of an apple if it is closed tight it is fresh if it is opened it has been in storage and had gases used to artificially ripen it.

    Things that are moist, that absorb a great deal of liquid are also things I use care with. These are the items that are more likely to deliver a higher concentration of pollutants. (lettuce) Also fruits and veggies that I eat the skin of.
    If they are not organic just be sure to peel it. Farmers markets are fantastic!

    When purchasing meats...It saves if you grind your own. Meat ground, often will represent as many as 200 head of cow per one pound. Pretty gross if you think about it. Same as chicken , if you cut your own meats down fewer hands have touched it. Fewer hands well shall we say less chances and errors.

    Making food from scratch really does stop the preservatives and colorings. They are, I agree the first enemy of the foods.

    I love that you see the life in the fields near you.
    Have you the problems with camels.
    I have heard of large wild herd.

  11. I think sometimes we have to adjust our ideals to work for our circumstances instead of only adjusting our circumstances to work for our ideals.

  12. This is one of the most practical posts on organic food I have ever seen. Thanks for being so real. We all have to look at our own budgets and lives and see what we can improve.

    We do our best to buy local, naturally raised meats and we have our own garden.
    Every little bit helps!

  13. Hi Rhonda

    I live in Brisbane and sometimes like to take the family for a drive out to your neck of the woods (so beautiful there!). Would you mind sharing where it is that you buy your local cheese? I'd love to get some to try the next time I'm there. My family is really enjoying the all the home-baked goodies I've been inpsired to bake over the last few months. Yesterday my little girl came home from school, opened the front door, inhaled deeply and announced that "home smells wonderful". The smell of fresh baked bread is something special isn't it? :)


  14. Hello Rhonda,

    Thank you for all those wonderful green cleaner recipes! I look forward to trying many of them soon!

    I had a question about flour - I have started grinding wheat, and I know that after a certain time the flour goes rancid due to the germ in it. What I was wondering - can I freeze items (bread, cakes etc) made with freshly ground whole wheat flour? Until now I presumed the answer was no, but I would be very grateful for some advice ...

    Thank you!

  15. Wow, you are really inspiring me to make some major life changes for myself and my family. I live in the US but just moved to a new more suburban area with many local farms. I think I'll begin to explore what they have to offer and hopefully make some changes for the better. I'd like to ask you (sorry if you've already blogged about this), what do you think of raw milk? Is it really much better for you than processed?

  16. I so love your blog! Each time I learn something I never knew before. I turned my husband onto your blog as well and he is now an avid follower. I decided at one point to focus on buying local rather than organic. I felt that over the long run, this would be more beneficial to our society as a whole. Plus, it's more affordable.

    I am looking forward to growing our own organic veggies next spring!

  17. Rhonda-

    I stumbled across your blog a few weeks ago, and must say that I just love your gentle, practical approach to living simply.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post!

  18. Ann at Eden, I don't buy hydroponic produce either. We used to have an aquaponics system here and I've blogged about it but that was totally organic.

    Donetta, no camels here, love. We are close to the coast. There are many wild camels in the outback, decadence of the caravan camels the pioneering Afghans people owned.

    Sharon, we buy Maleny Cheese where it is made. If you drive towards Maleny, turn off on the Montville road and take the first turn on the left. You'll see it. They have sample trays of cheese to try before you buy. They have a separate fridge for their almost out of date yoghurt - 50% off. That's where we get our yoghurt.

    Rebecca, you can freeze the wheat, the flour after you've ground it and the cakes and biscuits you make with it.

    Umm Omar, I do think raw milk is better than pasturised milk, and I think non-homogenised milk is better than pasturised too. I will look for a farmer where I can buy raw milk (it's actually illegal here). I bought it previously only to make cheese. When I have more time to do a few extra things that is on my agenda. In the mean time I drink local fresh non-homogenised milk. Here is their website. http://www.malenydairies.com/theproducts.htm
    We buy the gold top Farmers Choice milk. See if you can find a copy of Nourishing Traditions at your local library and read all about raw milk. It's very interesting.

  19. We try buy all fruit, veggies, eggs and butter organic. Most other things are not organic. I have 7 children and find it too expensive to do. We do cook from scratch and bake our own bread, so I think our diet is a lot healthier than a lot of peoples. I do know that we would cut back on organic if our budget could not allow for it and buy as much local as possible. We are doing a veggie garden, but our summers are not very long and are quite mild, so we don't have veggies to grow for too many months. I think we should not feel guilty about what we cannot do, but rather do as much as we are able to do. There was a time when all organic food we could afford were the carrots and apples and I was glad I could at lest buy that much.

    Thanks for the post.


  20. Hi Rhonda, I listened to you on Radio National this morning. What a great interview. It was also lovely to be able to put a voice to to a face. Have taken out my old Warm Earth's and reread your articles. Very inspiring.

    Have been reading your blog for a while now and in the last week two things happened to make me realise how much my mindset has changed. whilst browsing in the local shopping centre (waiting to meet someone) I looked around with new eyes and realised that most things for sale were just "stuff". Yesterday while sorting "stuff" to get rid of I was very excited to find an old towel to cut into cleaning cloths. Hello to the new me.

    Thank you Rhonda and may your blogging continue for a long time to come.

    Karen near Bundaberg.

  21. Thank you for the response! I will definitely check out that book. Selling raw milk for human consumption is also illegal in the US. So, farms just stick a label on the bottle that says, "For animal consumption only." I know many people who buy this anyway for themselves and their children.

  22. Certified organic produce is very expensive in Sydney. Our major supermarkets have stuff that is labelled and priced organic, but is NOT certified -- I'd be surprised if it's truly organic. I have a leaning to Fair Trade products as well (for chocolate and vanilla, which are not grown here much).

    One thing we need to remember is that every country has different laws dealing with food production, and you need to be well-informed about local conditions. (For example, vealers aren't crated in Australia as they are in the USA, and milk from dairy cows on antibiotics is not sold).

  23. I'm not sure if someone already said this, but as a graduate of Faculty of Agriculture I can tell you that many times, "organic food" is a scam. I agree with you, Rhonda. Buy local as much as possible. Only this way you will know what really goes into your food.

  24. I love your last sentence!

    It's important to remember that stuff about homemaking is fun to read and can be very helpful, but that in the end, we are the ones who must make the choices for our own homes. No one should feel bad if they aren't as "perfect" as some ideal in their head.


  25. In response to Umm Omar, raw milk for human consumption is not illegal in the United States states as a whole, just in certain states.

  26. Oops! Sorry for the generalization. It's illegal where I live and in all the neighboring states. I guess I should've realized that's not the case all over.

  27. rhonda,

    visited your cleaners link and had a look-see ... but didn't note anything about a recipe for dishwashing detergent ... i mean the kind where you wash your dishes in the sink, as i don't have a dishwasher. i'd like to know how to make that. thanks.

  28. wonderful article! I am going to link back to this post.
    And for those in the US, check out foodnews.org to see the pesticide ratings on produce. The list helps me choose what to buy organic (or do without) and what doesn't matter as much.

  29. I don't know if anybody mentioned this, but if you can't afford all organic, there are lists of foods that are sprayed more than others. The lists are likely U.S based foods but I'm not sure. Here is a link to one:
    What I do when I can't afford all organic (most of the time now) is buy these particular items organic. It helps a little.

  30. I just realized Rhonda that we're not that different at all. I shop at my local IGA and my local farmers market. We have Aldis in Kentucky but I shop at JC Foods called Rulers Foods sometimes and I shop at Save A Lot which is just like Aldis, but I hear that Aldis is much cheaper and have greater variety of fruit and veg. We don't buy all organic either but we try to buy local home grown food when we can and we always buy in season and keeps costs down a bit. I enjoy reading your articles and you sound so much like my parents and the way it was when I was growing up. I am so glad to have found this forum and this blog!


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