The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Holy Cow.

It is becoming a common expression with those around me lately, but BEEF is seriously WHAT'S FOR DINNER for as long as the eye can foresee. I picked up my order of a 1/2 cow today! All 270 lbs! Its 100% grass-fed, organically-raised cow from a farm in southern Ohio. They supply the local co-op and appear at a farm market right up the road from me.

Check 'em out, More stuff going on there than just beef, including some outstanding photos.

I ate their meat when I was going through cancer radiation therapy and had to be on a restricted diet (no iodine residue, which is common in some meat-processing facilities). It did me good then, I expect it'll do me good now.

The health and environmental benefits of grass-fed meat is a very, very long list, and I encourage anyone to check it out: I really believe that eating meat raised in this manner is a good alternative to being a vegetarian, especially those like me who don't respond well to a vegetarian diet (I'd tried).

[I'd challenge vegetarians out there to really look at where their food is coming from and how its produced, because they may not be having quite as good of an environmental impact that they think (although there is no question that eating a conventionally raised vegetarian diet is better than eating factory farm animal products, but I think organically raised meats, eggs and dairy would give any vegetarian a run for their money in terms of environmental responsibility. I'll take my grass-fed meat, raised locally and organically to your polluted and plantation-grown bananas shipped from 3,000 miles away anyday.)]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Eat Cheap Well

One of the blessings of our society is that food is readily available and actually pretty cheap--if you know what you are doing (most Americans do not). The staples of diet cost very little, yet many of us still have large food budgets. A 10lb bag of potatoes, a bag of dried beans, a dozen eggs and some bulk grains or flour could feed you well and good less than a couple dollars a day. Make sure you have some spices, some butter and milk and some oil to cook with and you're all set! Then all you need to worry about is filling that out with choice fruits, veggies and meats.

This is a bit of an extreme example, becuase your diet does not need to be so limited. But its good to start with a foundation and to understand where your money really goes. You primary sources of energy and nutrition can be shockingly cheap. You money goes to condiments, to packaged foods, to junk food, to restaurants, and to waste. Fruit and meat are expensive, but much less expensive if you cut out junk food and ready-made items. Look in your frozen food section--pound-for-pound, what are you paying? Then compare what you pay for fruit or meat per pound. You could eat steak every night without increasing your budget just by cutting out Stouffer's meals and trips to the convenience store.

Some people regularly spent $5/day at a convenient store--morning coffee and a bag of chips or pie. That's a $150/month habit. Others I know eat out every day at work for lunch. That's about $100-200/month just for work days.

While you're at it, just buy organic. I eat exceptionally well--high quality meats and organic foods make up a significant portion of my diet, yet my food budget is probably less than yours. The reason? I buy whole foods (minimally processed) and eat rarely in restaurants. I throw out very little. The nutritional quality of what I eat is also outstanding. The people that cry over a half gallon of organic orange juice costing $4.50 are the same ones who spend the same amount on a single glass of beer at a bar. I can make you a delicious and nutritious meal of organic, grass-fed hamburger on a whole grain bun, skin-on steamed potatoes and organic juice for less than the price of a happy meal at your favorite fast food joint.

If a dozen eggs costs $1.99, then that means that a 2-egg meal costs you 33 cents. I've seen onions and potatoes on sale for $0.99/lb. I can get bulk organic grains between $0.79-1.29/lb--the same price as generic bleached white pasta. At the local farmers market, I buy a frozen whole chicken for about $8 (gizzards and all) and throw it in a large pot for soup which feeds me and half of my friends for a week. A loaf of bread can now cost several dollars, but you can still bake your own for some cents. If you're really adventurous, go to a local farmer and buy a 1/2 pig or 1/4 cow and store it in your freezer. You may be getting top-of-the-line quality meats but paying moderately.

A good strategy is to bake your own bread and cook a large amount of food once a week. I usually do it on the weekends. While I do love cooking, I don't have to be slaving in the kichen several hours a day if I don't want to. You can load up your bread machine and crockpot one morning, come back several hours later and you have food for a week. Store extras in your freezer so you don't have to eat the same thing every day.

I mentioned throwing food away. Remember, its money. If you bought chicken on a super half-price sale for $2/lb, but ended up throwing half of it it away because you didn't manage it well and some of it spoiled and the rest you threw away for whatever reason, then you actually paid $4/lb for what you acutally ate.

So what are people doing wrong? Let's break it down:

1. They eat at restaurants, and not just as a social event but just to eat
2. They throw food away
3. They buy a lot of pre-packaged foods and go overboard on sauces and extras. The "basics" are extremely cheap

If you manage those 3 areas, you can eat an outrageously good diet full of very diverse and healthy, organic foods, and still come out a winner budget-wise than your peers. Let me also suggest here that a lot of people really do take advantage of sales and farmers markets and other ways of buying good food cheaply. But they lose a lot of that savings (maybe all of it) on bad restaurant decisions, mis-management of time (ie not packing a lunch) or inconsistency. People allow themselves to splurge and because they know they are saving money the rest of the time. The problem is that in the end they may be squandering it all. I believe the best bang for your buck is to have a consistent strategy that you can get the food you want without falling into these traps.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Do Hang Me Out To Dry

I decided to stop washing my clothes so much. I had gotten in the habit of just throwing items in the hamper. Questionable item? Toss it. Change shirts halfway through the day? Toss it. I'm sorry but a 'day at the office' does not necessitate a thorough wash with heavy duty laundry detergent. Socks and underwear--sure, they only get a single use. But my pants and shirts can be worn 2, 3 and even more times with impunity. I simply hang them up in my room, and the air over the course of a few days freshens them (not that they need it) for my next use. A little spritzing with an iron brings them back to life.

Its a total win-win-win-win. I'm spending less money on detergent and the laundramat. I'm conserving energy (when I do wash clothes, I am careful to hang them up to dry and avoid using dryers). I'm flushing less detergents into the environment (and using biodegradable ones). I am spending less time at the laundry machines and more time doing whatever else I'd prefer. The best part of it all is that I have experienced no loss of quality of my lifestyle whatsoever, only improvements.

I don't know why, but many of us are programmed to wash clothes obsessively. A single use for part of a day and the item gets tossed into the hamper. Its unnecessary and wasteful. We use much more detergent per load than necessary, and wash many more times than reason would dictate. And we never allow ourselves that nice feel of a pair of jeans that have loosened up after several days wear to really become part of your body, to live and breathe with you as a good companion, rather than the starched floor model we don't know and keep at a distance.