Book Review: Real Food on a Real Budget

I haven’t done one of these on this blog before, but I’ve been meaning to.  You see, I actually do read, and lately it’s been half fiction, and half non-fiction like this.  I make great use of the library, and my reading list is a mile long.  I figured some of you might want to know my thoughts on what I read.

So, first up is Real Food on a Real Budget by Stephanie Langford.  Stephanie Langford is the original writer of  Keeper of the Home, which I believe I’ve mentioned before.  I originally bought this when I first started getting into Real Food, because, well, Real Food tends to be more expensive.  So I was looking for a manageable way to convince myself and Andrew that changing completely over to Real Food would still be feasible.  (To be honest, it’s not that feasible on a grad student budget, at least with the way we eat meat.)

Most of the book is actually applicable even if you aren’t trying to eat Real Food.  Many of the tips I’ve seen on other websites about saving money.  Some of them are very common sense: plan meals, cook at home, buy in bulk.  Of course, some of them don’t make sense for just two people.  Andrew and I recently tried to see if it would be worth to get a warehouse membership, but we discovered that except for a few canned/dry goods, we wouldn’t be able to eat it fast enough, and the prices wouldn’t save us very much compared to the other local grocery stores.  However, I know that I would probably order some bulk goods for grains or flours, as things like whole-wheat pastry flour is not so easy to find, and expensive when you do find it.

Other suggestions that Stephanie makes are much different, and definitely something to think about.  Ever wonder why strawberries are cheaper in July than in December?  It’s because it’s actually strawberry season in July (in the northern hemisphere anyway.)  Eating seasonally can save a lot of money, and if you buy it from the farmers market, you’ll definitely know what’s in season or not.  You can also combine this with the buying in bulk to get discounts.  Remember those cherry preserves I put up last summer?  I made those from a bulk container of cherries I bought in the summer, right when cherries are at their cheapest.  Which brings me to another point Stephanie mentions in the book: growing your own food, and learning to preserve it.  Now, you don’t necessarily have to can it (though that’s one of the good old-fashioned ways).  You could freeze it, or dry it.  If you had a root cellar, you could store it.

She also makes suggestions on how to avoid wasting any food, and also on how to make it stretch longer.  Both are things that most people figure out they need to do, but don’t know exactly how to do it until someone gives them ideas.  She also has a whole section devoted to finding the time to cook things from scratch in our busy lives.

I only have two complaints about the book.  First, there’s some religious language.  Given Stephanie’s blog, I really don’t have a problem with this, but it makes it difficult to promote to a wider audience, I think.  Second, Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom, and it shows.  Aside from some comments in the back of the book from other people, she doesn’t really address how someone is supposed to be able to do this while working a full time job.  Sure, she makes suggestions about fitting in the time to cook and meal planning, but a lot of the passages still gave me that feeling of “Well, yeah, if you’re home all day.”

The best thing about the book is a section at the very beginning where she suggest that you write out what your priorities are with respect to real food.  So, for example, for me and Andrew it goes:

  1. LOCAL.
  2. “Real” meat (Grassfed, pastured, unprocessed).
  3. “Real” dairy (as unprocessed as possible).
  4. Managing Grains (soaking, sourdough)
  5. Other real foods (oils, vinegars).
  6. Buy Dirty Dozen fruits and veggies as organic.
Notice how organic isn’t really a priority for us?  It may be for other people.  For us, local food trumps everything (assuming it meets some other criteria too.  Local crap is still crap.)   We’ll take local grassfed meat over organic grassfed meat any day, because we want to support the local economy.  And we’re not going to stress about whether or not we’re eating organic frozen dinners, because we’re trying not to eat frozen dinners at all.  I should also note that Stephanie doesn’t tell you what eating Real Food is.  She assumes the reader has already decided what their version of Real Food is like, and just wants to give you tips to save money.

Overall, the book has some good ideas and certainly offers a variety of suggestions on different ways to save money.  Unfortunately, if you read the blogs that I do, there’s not really much new here.