just got back from a week’s vacation on Cape Ann. Since the
advent of Epicurious.com, cooking while on vacation has become
way more fun than cooking at home. And it’s easy to justify
scallops one night, lobster another, tuna on yet another,
all accompanied by farm-fresh salads and gourmet cheeses and
good bread and nice wine and a lazy gin-and-tonic as a aperitif.
After all, we’re on vacation!
And since we’re on vacation, running down to Lula’s Gourmet
Shop and buying tarragon mustard, estate-bottled olive oil,
rosemary shortbread, lime curd, French green lentils, Spanish
saffron and Mexican chocolate all seems allowable—extravagant,
yes, but allowable since, you know, it’s vacation.
Then the ritual pilgrimage to Trader Joe’s on the way back
home is another kind of allowable indulgence. How often to
we get to Trader Joe’s? Once a year. And the prices are higher
than Hannaford but cheaper than Lula’s, so it’s really a bargain.
Therefore we are not abstemious when we make our pilgrimage.
We load up the cart. We have to buy extra cloth shopping bags
since, between the leftovers from the cottage, Lula’s high-priced
provisions and this haul at Trader Joe’s, we’ve run out of
all our other cloth bags.
But back home in the real world of Price Choppers and Hannafords,
it’s a different story. Eating just costs way too much.
And ironically, we have made the decision to start buying
as much organic food as possible at a time when food prices
in general are rising like floodwaters. A further irony is
that we made that decision after I returned from a local farmers
market sticker-shocked by the price of organic beef, chicken
There’s no excuse for my naivety. I’ve been buying organic
milk now for a couple of years and though my daughter goes
through it the way some kids go through soda, I’ve always
felt OK about the high cost: I’d heard that hormone-free milk
was the most important dietary change you could make for your
kids. I’ve been buying cage-free eggs—not the really expensive
entirely organic kind, but not the normal kind of egg, either—ever
since I found out how chickens are treated in order to lay
those normal kind of eggs.
But unless you’ve been living under a rock you can’t escape
the knowledge that our health and the health of the planet
depends a whole lot on what we eat. Drinking hormone-free
milk and buying cage-free eggs doesn’t go real far in eliminating
additives or salving a social conscience.
On the other hand, unless you’ve been living under a rock
you can’t escape the knowledge that food prices are skyrocketing.
Most days when I’m buying what we need for dinner I wonder
if maybe we’d save more money by going to a restaurant. And
truly, if we visited our local Taco Bell or Wendy’s we would.
So even though we’ve made this decision to “go organic,” I’m
the one who does the grocery shopping and I’m the one whose
jaw drops at the price difference between a head of romaine
which was chemically doctored and one which was not.
In spite of our decision, most of the time I keep on buying
the cheaper stuff. And I still can’t believe how much everything
Each trip to the market becomes a series of mini-moral dilemmas.
Should I spend the money we said we would spend to eat the
kind of food that is the healthiest and most environmentally-sensitive?
Should I feel guilty that there is the money to spend on food
that costs so much? Should I not spend the money on organic
food out of a sense of solidarity with those who have less
money? Should I feed my family less healthy food because I’m
a) making a social statement, b) cheap c) feeling guilty.
Or should I blithely and guiltlessly feed them healthy food?
M.F.K. Fisher, the dead author I would most want to go out
to dinner with, published How To Cook a Wolf in 1942
as a culinary guide for housewives stymied by rationing, food
shortages and little money. Her argument was that it’s possible
to eat well and keep a cool head during war time—and afterward.
She writes, “I believe that one of the most dignified ways
we are capable to assert, then re-assert our dignity in the
face of poverty and war’s fears and pains, is to nourish ourselves
with all skill, delicacy and ever-increasing enjoyment.”
In chapters with titles like ”How to Keep Alive,” “How to
Be Cheerful Though Starving” and “How To Comfort Sorrow,”
she writes with her customary brio, offering a variety of
recipes ranging from war cake and mock duck, to mouthwash
and home-made vodka. In some ways How to Cook a Wolf
is a very classy guide to accepting less and making more of
And I think that’s the only approach I’ll be able to take
with this splurge-on-health decision we have come to. We’re
not on vacation anymore; we’re back in the real world. And
since we live in a world in which healthy food costs more,
we will learn to live with less—but less made with “skill,
delicacy and ever-increasing enjoyment.”