Previously I shared how I slowly came to improve our family’s diet by upgrading our grocery budget. Although it was difficult at first to reconcile my frugal nature to spending more money than we absolutely “had” to, I came to appreciate the benefits of eating better quality food. There will always be more room for improvement and learning, but I felt we had achieved a good balance.
Then my husband was laid off from his job. While he searched for reasonable employment, he supported us by working whatever jobs he could find to pay the bills, and we scaled back expenses drastically. We returned to our bare-bones budget for a time, thankful that we had the ability to make do with little. This was during the worst of the recession and our area was hit hard, so we knew we might be in for a long spell of underemployment.
I cannot emphasize enough how blessed we were and are to be able to make the choice to prioritize our food budget according to our resources. We were not compelled into a restricted lifestyle by a health crisis. We do not have any significant (known) food allergies or sensitivities that include dietary limitations, so we have more options than most families have who do struggle with allergies. I am grateful that I have the margin to scale back to the basics when time, money, and energy require it.
After my husband found another job and our income became more stable, I cautiously resumed our higher-quality food budget. We had moved to a new city that boasted a vibrant community of food enthusiasts. Fresh, local, and farm-raised products were readily available and relatively affordable. I met up with a group of local ladies who were much farther along on their crunchy journey than I was, and I was able to learn so much from their experience as well as benefit from their extensive research. I learned all about oil pulling, homemade soaps and deodorants, sourdough baking, kombucha fermenting, nettle tea, grass-fed gelatin, and essential oils.
The nice thing about being part of an enthusiastic group of people who are passionate about healthy living is that other people are able to do much of the legwork in uncovering the best sources. (Which brand of fermented cod liver oil is the most effective? Where is the best source for dried elderberries?) A drawback, of course, is that it can be easy to compare oneself with others and feel discouraged or demoralized for not managing to do it all. Fortunately for me, this crowd was very inclusive and accepting of the fact that everyone is at a different place in life, and I never got the feeling that anyone was marginalized for personal choices. There was no metric of failure or judgment in the group; everyone shared what worked for them, and we all implemented as much or as little as we chose.
It was an exciting time of learning and growing, and I was able to dabble in all kinds of culinary adventures as time and energy allowed. Sometimes my enthusiasm outstripped my family’s appetite for adventure. For instance, I tried kombucha. It didn’t work for us. I couldn’t keep up with brewing all that tea, my family didn’t like the taste, the SCOBY grew slimy, and then the final straw was when I saw a picture of someone who found a fly maggot in her kombucha culture when she didn’t secure the lid properly. We quickly moved on to water kefir soda, which did work well for us.
And then…life happened. Another job change precipitated another move and a long spell in temporary housing. While our financial situation wasn’t quite so tight this time around, our living quarters were, so I had to give up some of the more sprawling endeavors. I didn’t have room for water kefir soda or other ferments. Again we scaled back. Again we made do with the resources we had.
During the lean times, while I may have missed our fresh eggs, milk, and raw honey, I was able to practice contentment with what we did have. We were grateful for the assistance of local food pantries that helped us through some tough times.
Right now we seem to be on another plateau. I make sourdough bread when I can. I soak my flours if I get the chance. I do my best with the resources we have, but I don’t stress too much if I can’t do it all. I do believe that feeding one’s family nourishing food is a worthy goal, but for us, as in other areas of life, it must be kept in balance. An interest in healthy living could become an obsession. For us, knowing that we can scale back if we have to gives me freedom to dabble in new adventures when I do have the inclination and wherewithal. There’s always something new to try out!
Photo Credit: First photo taken by Irina Blok; second and third photos taken by Rose Focht.