Gal On A Budget Has An Ethical Food Dilemma

Last night I wanted to roast a chicken and make some biscuits (yummy recipes to come later). I don’t know why but I thought that sounded like a darn diggity great dinner to me. So off I trodded (in the rain, no less) to Harris Teeter for a few veggies and a chicken.

I faced the fully stocked shelves and examined my options, of which there were three. A (slightly over-priced in my opinion) $16 “organic” chicken. A Perdue Extra Meaty Whole Roaster. And, finally, the Harris Teeter brand whole chicken. I’m not kidding when I say, as soon as I saw “extra meaty” on the Perdue bird I had a movie flash-back.

The images playing in my head were clips from Food Inc. where they showed chicken farms full of birds bred to be extra meaty. They were so heavy the birds could barely walk or support themselves. They’d take two steps and fall. And where were they falling? Why, into their own feces! The birds live in huge structures that are packed to the gills with thousand of birds all eating, pooping and hanging out together until they’re adequately “meaty.”

Ok that’s when guilt set in. Visions of chickens doing a step, step, plop dance were floating around in my head.

Then I looked at the prices. Organic chicken…$16. Perdue was something in the $8 range. Harris Teeter was like, $6. I couldn’t buy the Perdue. I just couldn’t. Not after seeing Food Inc. Harris Teeter’s bird was vacuum sealed in a transparent bag and I could see the juices and what nots and it grossed me out. (There goes the cheap option.) Organic doesn’t mean free range…so that one didn’t exactly set my conscious at ease and it certainly didn’t set my wallet at ease either!

With few options, and a rumbling tummy…I grabbed the over-priced organic bird, quickly ran to the check out line and spent the trip home listening to rap music to get the “step, step, plop” dance out of my head.

That’s mature, I know. I did the adult version of plugging my ears, squeezing my eyes shut and screaming LA LA LA LA!!! I didn’t feel any better about it when I got home, so now I have more questions than answers and I certainly don’t have a position. I know I’m not alone, and I know this isn’t a new dilemma that foodies/people are facing.  

Since I have no answers right now, I’ll ask you: how do maintain your budget while making ethical food choices? Because for someone who bakes a lot…$5 for a dozen free-range eggs in comparison to $1.79 at the grocery store just doesn’t compute. Same for milk. Apparently, same for chicken!

So. What do you do? What have you done? Have you had moments like these at the grocery store? How have you found a solution that’s economical and one your conscience can live with?

Interesting links and resources I came across while researching for this blog post:

Humane Society: Humane Eating

Eat Well Guide: Local, Sustainable, Organic

GastroNomalies: A directory of food, food policy, growing food, home cookin’ food, weird food, and the weird things in the food we eat.

Food Politics: Written by Marion Nestle, a Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and Professor of Sociology at New York University.

Food Stamped: An informative and humorous documentary film following a couple as they attempt to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet on a food stamp budget.

 PS – Thanks to the tweeps who answered my shout out and offered up resources and links!

16 thoughts on “Gal On A Budget Has An Ethical Food Dilemma

  1. When we got sick of buying eggs for $5 bucks-a-pop at the market we started raising our own chickens. Now we get rougly 2-3 eggs a day.

    Of course, we do A LOT of the adult version of plugging our ears and justifying paying $16 for organic chicken or $7 for a gallon of organic, raw, unhomogenized milk.

    What else am I going to do? If I were in Europe I wouldn’t have to think twice about my purchases…we have a lot of catching up to do.

  2. You ask a great question. I haven’t seen Food, Inc. yet (it’s sitting in an instant queue on my TV via Netflix). I really want to watch it up but at the same time I’m a little scared of what I will learn.

    That said, we try to avoid anything from the grocery store that has high-fructose corn syrup. We aren’t 100% strict on this rule when grocery shopping (which means that I cheat and buy things from time to time that I crave). We also try to by, as you mention, the organic free-range eggs. Unfortunately it can get cost prohibitive. We’ve gone to a middle ground and buy free-range eggs from Trader Joe’s and, when we can, we buy eggs from the Old Town Alexandria farmers market.

    I have a question back to you and your readers: do you know of any lists of local sellers of non-homogenized milk? I’d like to give the stuff a try. Currently we are buying our milk from a local store that gets its supply from Trickling Springs Creamery in PA ( It’s a big step up from the grocery store milk. The taste alone helps makes it worth the price.

    • Hi,
      I’m with Trickling Spring Creamery, Thanks for the shout out! I just wanted to inform you that we do an unhomogenized/CreamLine milk. While not all of our retailers carry the product most would be more than willing to special order it for you as we work very well with stores and special orders. Thanks again for the great compliment to our milk and dairy products!

  3. @Doug

    I love non-homogenized milk. I get a wonderful kind from Ronnybrook (NY) which is local for me, but when I lived in DC I used to buy from a creamery that sold at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market. I don’t remember the brand but it was delicious. My favorite is skimming the lovely cream off the top. You’re right that the taste really does make it worthwhile.

  4. I feel that way whenever I buy eggs. I solve the meat problem by not preparing it at home. In restaurants it is tough to know where anything is coming from, so it feels easier to eat meat.

    I wish all food was humanely raised. I don’t want my chickens miserable so they can be “extra meaty” either!!!

  5. You could try vegan baking for a few weeks, which would probably make you quite happy to pay any price for eggs…

    But really, once one becomes aware of the horrors of modern factory farming and the abundance of grocery store items which are products of inhumanity it is hard to keep buying meat. A sign it’s time to eat it far more rarely or not at all? Vegetarianism is pretty good for the budget :)

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  8. That “meaty” chicken scene was one of the hardest ones for me to watch in Food, Inc…. so so so sad! I think that it can be v. difficult to maintain “ethical eating” without breaking the bank, especially if you have limited resources like in a city/metro area. I think the first step is by seriously thinking about what is worthwhile to you, just like you did at the supermarket.

  9. What I thought was interesting in Food Inc. is when they make the point that each time we buy something in a store, we are casting a vote for what we want suppliers to provide. Therefore, more people requesting free range or organic leads to more suppliers providing it which leads to more competition and hopefully long term lower prices. So make the right vote! Also, it may cost more, but what is worth more than your health?

  10. Also check out Farmer’s Markets for grass fed beef and more free range poultry options – Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market is open year round.

  11. I have the same problem every time I grocery shop. I have not seen Food Inc., and probably won’t, just because I don’t think I could stomach the thought of it and my budget certainly doesn’t allow me to purchase the organic/free-range/humane way I would prefer to. But I did date someone who lived in Eastern Shore MD and you pass Purdue & Tyson’s and the smell, sight of all those chickens crammed into trucks, and an curiousity-killed-the-cat moment on the PETA website has made me think twice ever since about where my chicken (or anything, actually) comes from and how it lived and died. Perhaps farmer’s markets/similar establishments are the answer? We have a “dutch market” in Germantown, MD and I think (though I have no fact to back it up so not sure) that all those products are raised on farms with Amish/Mennonites…and it’s relatively inexpensive and often better priced than Purdue/Tyson’s/organic, etc. I’d love to hear if you find any good sources for humane/organic foods on a budget.

  12. I took an entire class in college about this issue called Food, Culture, and Social Justice. I am really passionate about the food system and the changes we HAVE to make as a society.

    The solution isn’t going to be the answer to the question “what is the best option at the Harris Teeter?” The answer must be a huge change in where we source our food and how we think about food. I promise you NO food in a conventional grocery store is going to live up to most people’s ethical standards if we are honest with ourselves. This goes for non-meat products to like produce. Even if a chicken isn’t mistreated to put food on your table the workers who work in huge corporate farms are. They are hugely mechanized and often are located in economically desperate countries where workers are paid pitifully little for dangerous, repetitive work where injuries are inevitable. They are often not giving any protection from dangerous pesticides.

    Conventional/industrial food producers are catching on to this guilt and marketing “organic” and “free range” options (for more money as well all know) but these products are often no better than their cheaper alternative. Many terms are not regulated at all.

    We have to buy local when we can and know where our food is coming from. Never before in the history of the world have humans been more isolated from their food sources. Look into local farms (find out about Community Supported Agriculture). Go to farmer’s markets and talk to the farmers… ask them about their farm, if they know someone who sells whatever it is you are looking for. Also worthwhile is looking into halal and kosher butchers. Halal and kosher don’t necessarily mean the animals have been humanely raised but they usually can tell you where they get their meat and you can figure it out pretty quickly.

    In the end conventional food is cheaper than is actual cost. The hidden cost is paid for by animals that are mistreated, workers that are abused, the land that is not cared for, and small farms that aren’t able to compete.

    For now, on a budget, pick what is the most important to you and make small changes to make responsible food choices you can afford.

  13. I’ve been trying to comparision shop – finding out where the best quality products are available at the best price. For example, our Whole Foods has free range chickens for $9 each, which is not too bad. Sometimes I get dairy products, veggies or fruit on clearance at the local health food stores. If quality meat is on sale, I buy in quantity and freeze. And I’ve started making my own yogurt. It does cost more to eat the quality products, but with some effort, it doesn’t cost as much as I thought it might.

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