Friday, September 12, 2008

Knowledge Can Be Expensive

I've been watching the grocery budget here at Chez Necessity continue to climb. We are a family of four, and we don't eat meat (but do eat fish). I used to be able to feed everyone for about $240 a month. Lately, my head hurts when I go onto my Quicken file, because our monthly bill has climbed to about $340 a month. Some of this can be blamed on the rising cost of food. I especially enjoy the price increases that the food companies think are hidden, such as the shrinking package size. Just irritating (but then, I am easily irritated).

The other reason for the vast increase in our grocery bill is reading. Yes, reading. If I (and The Professor) would stop reading I think we would be rich as kings. I used to be very leery of the organic food movement (I used to live up by Woodstock, and the people on this bandwagon were a bit too crunchy granola for me), but after reading again and again what the use of pesticides, antibiotics and the like is doing to our food, ourselves, and our environment, we have begun switching to more and more organic products. Milk was my final holdout, because it's so pricey, but I finally gave in this summer.

The other issue is one of fair trade practices. I am not one who spends huge amounts of time scrutinizing the labor practices around the world, so it's always a shock to me when I learn about what goes on. We started buying Fair Trade coffee last year, after The Professor showed me some information about the treatment of the farmers and workers who harvest coffee. This effectively doubled the price we pay for coffee. It's also not so easy to find, but lo and behold, when I was in Costco this week, I picked up this:

The thing to look for (which I never would have notice before) is the little Fair Trade symbol:

Luckily for those of us who are unable to remember things from one minute to the next, this symbol is used for all products that have been certified Fair Trade. This certification basically means that the company adheres to the standards set up by the organization (fair prices for workers, sustainability, no slave labor practices, etc.). For more specifics, Wikipedia has a comprehensive article here.

Now I see that my bills will be going up again, because I've been reading this:

It's an interesting (but painful) read which chronicles the history of chocolate and chocolate production. I am now in the section on the labor practices, and they are horrific. Who knew that such a tasty luxury item in this country is made with a raw product produced in part by slave labor, including children. Unfortunately, it's much easier to find fair trade coffee than fair trade chocolate, as I've discovered from hunting online for the last hour, but I'll keep at it.

They say ignorance is bliss, but unfortunately the bliss only applies to those who are ignorant, not to those on the other side of the coin.


Batty said...

Feeding people is expensive. After much experimenting, I have become able to feed DH and me for about $70-90 a week... but that's only two people, not four. Going vegetarian has made this easier for me (he gets his meat at the caf at work), and I also find that going with a list is better than just "browsing". Of course, if something is on sale, I'll buy several instead of one, but I make myself stick to that list.

Luxury items like chocolate and coffee are my downfall too. Every time. The good stuff just tastes way better.

The Professor said...

Good on you, MN!

Knowing how you have wrestled our budget to the ground and made it cry "Uncle," I appreciate that spending more is a tough thing to do. But you never cheat us of any of "the essentials." You spend the money you must to buy what we need. All that's happening now is that we are adding seeking social justice and avoiding Frankenproduce to what we call essential around Chez Necessity.

You are right: Knowledge is expensive. But ignorance is truly costly.

Love, The Professor

Guardian Angel said...

Reading might be expensive but if we are smart enough, we can use it as an investment for a future activity or situation.

As the saying goes - If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.