top of page

Willpower, or Lack Thereof

Under my instigation, Daniel and I have each been on a $50-a-month grocery store budget. Guess who's having a hard time with this challenge?

I'm notoriously frugal when it comes to my own diet. The point of this challenge for me is to focus on farm food, even if the food isn't as crunchy or salty or sugary as bought food. If carrots and corn chips are equally available, I will eat chips. I just will. I know this about myself. The simplest solution is to make sure that corn chips and I are never left unguarded together in the same house. Fortunately Daniel's carrot harvest is lasting us well into the spring, and he regularly pulls carrots from the bin of sand we store them in, rinses them, and sets them in a colander in plain sight inside the fridge. When carrots are vastly easier to eat than chips, I will eat carrots.

The trouble comes through a twisted sense of generosity. All my budget overruns have been because I get carried away wanting to buy food for others. Now, food that is clearly and completely for others doesn't take up any of that $50 budget. But I impulsively bought a $25 salmon fillet at a farmstand to give to Daniel. He was unimpressed, and the salmon languishes in the freezer along with half my budget for the month. I bought ingredients for a dinner party, and in my unleashed exuberance bought ingredients that weren't strictly part of the menu. Now I must eat into next month's budget and into food I didn't strictly need. I find myself looking at a rancid coconut, a sweet potato, and a bottle of hoisin sauce. These ingredients are not the budget-worthy staples for me that salt and spices are.

Even going to the grocery store on a business trip gets tricky. I went to buy ingredients for kids in our programs to cook over a fire. Do I really, truly, programmatically need the extra bag of flour "just in case?" Or am I hoping that I'll be able to make biscuits with the leftover quantity and mentally nudge the cost out of my personal budget?

This picture is of nettle pasta ravioli filled with our own goat cheese and garlic. And yes, I used some of that leftover flour.

The $50 food challenge is a self-imposed experiment in eating more ethically. It's proving to be an uncomfortable success so far. I value navigating ethical challenges that show me who I am and who I can be. It's truly a luxury that this challenge is self-imposed; my lack of cocoa powder is not a life-threatening deficiency. Many of the world's people do not have to create artificial limits around a bountiful food supply. Their ecological and economic limits are firmly visible already.

I have the increasingly rare privilege of access to soil where I can grow nutritious food. My assumption is that a simpler, more local diet for all is a valuable pursuit. I think it is more valuable than a stratified, transported, low-nutrient diet that feeds different foods to different income levels. I take some comfort in observing that my generosity towards others seems to override my willpower. As long as the carrots are more visible than the chips.

bottom of page