I have to say that this was my most difficult challenge yet for a whole variety of reasons. And I do think that if numerous circumstances had been different I probably could have come a lot closer in terms of budget.
So here's the shakedown.
First and foremost, it was a hard month from the kitty-mom standpoint.
Sputnik's urinary symptoms came roaring back a few weeks after he had his antibiotic therapy back in June, so he had to be put back on Baytril for three weeks. He's tolerating it pretty well, and his symptoms are much improved, but that required several vet visits and it's one more medication to give each day.
Smoky continues to do better in terms of his edema (swelling) although he's still anemic and the doctors are pretty much at a loss to explain why. Thankfully he's now down to one med per day instead of three, and he at least seems stable. At this point they're not sure if he's got some sort of weird infection or an autoimmune disorder.
He's on doxycycline for another few weeks and we'll re-evaluate at that point. And, of course, just when I thought FeLV was off the table, the vet informed me yesterday that it's still possible that he's got it in his bone marrow even though he keeps testing negative for it in his blood. Goody gumdrops.
In a funny way the kitty thing sorta ended up cutting both ways with this challenge. I didn't have much time and/or energy to devote to my grocery bill, but on the plus side, I did have to drive around to various vets, pharmacies, and specialty pet food stores, and that did allow me to combine trips to some grocery stores that I wouldn't otherwise have visited.
And that brings me to one conclusion that this challenge made completely and totally clear for me. I HATE driving.
In general I've been very fortunate to have found ways to arrange my life to keep my need to be at the wheel down to a minimum. I've only owned one car in my adult life, which was a gift from my mother upon graduating from college. It was new then (1990 Honda Civic) and it now has a grand total of 86K miles on it. When you factor in several road trips across the country and one to Mexico that she's taken, you can see that my day to day driving has always been quite minimal!
However, since I stopped working 7 years ago, my need to drive has been reduced even further. And I find that the less I drive the less tolerance I have for the entire process. I mean, eee gads! Sitting in traffic, dealing with idiot drivers, trying to navigate unfamiliar territory, road construction and parking... It all just gives me a headache!
Throughout this month I kept thinking that I should drive out to the farmer's market, or the salvage grocery store, or the natural foods co-op, or the Costco... but honestly, I just couldn't make myself do it. So I ended up making do with what I could find at my local King Soopers (Kroger) and several stops at Whole Foods and Sprouts markets that weren't too far out of my way when I had to be out and about anyhow.
And that brings me to another topic: Availability.
I know I've griped about this before. Since I live in the "barrio" there really isn't much selection of organic foods at the stores in my neighborhood. I fear this lack of availability tended to throw me into a bit of an unhealthy "scarcity mentality".
I ended up buying some things that I really wasn't very interested in eating simply because they fit the rules of the challenge. And even worse, I managed to give myself hives a couple of times by trying to "push the limits" on my food allergies more than I should have. That was not only bad for my health, but it also meant that I ended up tossing some perfectly good food because I couldn't eat it.
The selection does improve vastly once you get into wealthier parts of town, but BOY did it push a lot of my buttons to shop in those areas.
First of all, I just couldn't get past the giant size of the stores in other neighborhoods. I mean, there's a King Soopers about 5 blocks from me, but the King Soopers stores in the trendier parts of town are literally 3-4 times the size of ours. They all have huge floral sections, giant delis full of ridiculously expensive imported meats and cheeses, and aisle after aisle of stuff that isn't even food!
I dunno... I just couldn't escape the feeling that I was helping to support an incredibly wasteful system. I mean just think of the amount of energy it takes to heat, cool and light one of those enormous places! And the bigger and fancier the store was, the less likely they were to have "salvage areas" selling things like day-old baked goods, stuff nearing its expiration dates and less than perfect produce. It leaves one to wonder if they just toss it out.
And don't EVEN get me started on Whole Foods. I have such incredibly mixed feelings about that place. I mean, part of me is really glad that they're taking organic foods and nutrition to the mainstream, but geez... it just seems to me that they're essentially a big corporation that's cashing in by playing on people's "food fears" and do-gooder instincts. I mean, the very same products at Whole Foods will generally cost at least 30-40 percent more than they do at King Soopers, and they do have some very questionable corporate policies.
Plus there's the whole issue of John Mackey, the founder and CEO of Whole Foods. Talk about giving me mixed feelings! I mean the guy is a huge advocate for organic foods and animal welfare, and has done admirable things like reducing his own salary to $1/year, setting caps on executive pay, and setting up emergency funds for workers facing tough situations. BUT, he's one of these crazy libertarians who opposes unions, and health care reform, and while he's not a climate change denier, he basically thinks it's nothing to worry about.
But for me, the bigger issue with Whole Foods is how they've literally gobbled up virtually every other health food store around! As I was driving around town in service of my felines this month, I found myself thinking about all the little co-ops and small health food chains that have either been bought out by Whole Foods or simply couldn't compete with such a giant corporation.
Of course, buyouts just seem to be the way things are done these days. Sunflower Markets were recently purchased by Sprouts and they've gotten significantly more "trendy" since then. I dunno... it's not that I think that everything that's trendy is bad, I'm just left wondering if I'm really paying for better food or for a hipper, cooler shopping experience.
There is one small player left in the market though, and that's Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. They used to be just Vitamin Cottage and sold, you guessed it, vitamins! But they've expanded to include more food items in recent years. There is much to like about this company. They're locally owned, their stores all have small footprints - no shopping opulence here, and they are very environmentally responsible - they don't even offer disposable shopping bags, you have to either bring your own or hope that they have some boxes lying around.
I'm not entirely sure where I've landed on the entire question of "ethical" foods. Throughout this month I sort of felt like I was in a constant tug of war trying to choose between the lesser of a whole slew of evils.
Is it better to drive across town and spend 4-5 times as much money to buy organic food that has been flown in from half-way around the world from a giant corporation that has some very questionable policies, or is it better to walk down the street to the King Soopers where I can find a lot of locally grown (but not organic) produce for MUCH better prices... or what about the Save-a-Lot store where I can find food that isn't organic or local, but I'll be supporting an employee-owned company that's actively working to bring grocery stores into "food desert" areas? I dunno... it's all a tough call for me.
I guess in the end I'll probably just end up splitting the difference and trying to do the best I can within the confines of both my budget and my "driving intolerance syndrome." I do think there is great value in supporting the stores here in my neighborhood, and I think that if I make a point of buying organic and local options when they are available in those stores, it might encourage them to carry more of those types of products.
But I do think that this will be the end of my grocery challenges for a while. I'm sorta feeling like dealing with my kitty situation is enough of a challenge for me at this point. But I do think this entire thing has been a really amazing experience, and I've learned an incredible amount.
I've convinced myself that I am perfectly capable of living within a food stamp budget if I need to. I've also broadened my horizons quite a bit in terms of exploring new and different options for food acquisition. And while I haven't exactly been diligent in terms of keeping up my price book, paying closer attention to prices has been a very valuable learning experience that I will certainly try to carry forward.
And I actually did manage to eat my way through pretty much the entire contents of my chest freezer, which is currently empty, cleaned out and turned off. I think I'll wait until the garden harvest starts coming in to turn it on again.
But I'm curious to know what y'all think about my tug-of-war emotions in this department? Do any of you feel torn by these issues? How do you choose between all of the "evils" out there?