Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Frugal Times - Part II - Food, Shopping & Cooking

I look at the various choices I've made this year to reduce expenses and to follow my beliefs in nutrition, packaging, use of energy, etc., I suppose top of the list is the second hand (or third no doubt) cast iron stove I purchased for my fireplace. I then needed wood to burn in it. Purchase, installation and wood came to 600E. Conversely, I kept my thermostat at 14C (57F) during the day and 11C (51F) during the night. That I pay a monthly estimate calculated on last year's consumption and the fact that Gas de France has yet to reduce its prices since its own prices went down from the highs of the summer, have meant that my bills for the moment don't reflect these efforts, but I hope to see a shift in the upcoming year. In any case, I feel just a bit virtuous, and my fire-starting skills have taken a giant leap.

An added benefit of the stove is its cooktop. All soups, stocks, and even many vegetables have been cooked atop the stove this winter. Potatoes and one roast chicken were baked in the ashes, and nearly everything was reheated by simply placing it on the stove's surface. My main adaptation for this trick was working with time and the lower temperature of the stove compared to my electric oven and gas burners. I had to put the soup ingredients in the pot around 3PM to be ready to eat at 7PM, or to calculate double the baking time for the lasagna. But it was possible and a hoot to experiment with. Thus a reduced electricity and gas bill.

I've particularly adapted my shopping behavior to the current moment. I purchase in bulk from an organic supply store twice monthly my flour, rice, sugar, grains, butter, grated cheese, eggs, pasta, house-cleaning supplies etc., On the way home from school I will make a weekly pass by the grocery store for large size strawberry jam, batteries, light bulbs, toothbrushes, ham, maybe a chicken, coffee, etc., My girlfriend who goes to Switzerland once a month brings me back recycled toilet paper in huge quantities. And there is a farm on my island that I go to with the children as we return from school to pick up fruit and vegetables. In organic wine I'm well stocked by JP, no worries there. For milk we go to the farm that is on the road between Arles and Avignon, and Erick brings me 7 liters or so every Sunday evening -- using mineral water bottles discarded by a friend.

Do we have need of anything else? Not really.

After these basics, I've worked hard to limit my car usage to reduce my gasoline/diesel bill. This meant grouping as many activities as possible, fewer shopping runs, fewer to no visits to friends who live far away (we still see each other at school, so my social life hasn't been hurt much); scoping out the two cheapest gas stations in the area and keeping an eye on the prices, as they go from 1.20, to 1.10, to a low of 88.5 and now back up to 91.9. On my weekends at the winery, I take the route with the fewest roundabouts and no stoplights to use less gas for these unavoidable 60 kilometers.

Where I find myself stumbling is my easily awakened desires for a new blouse, a pair of pants, etc., I was raised in a world where acquiring pretty things each season is a well-established tradition. More than any other area, this one trips me up. I no longer live next to that great flea market, and I've read all those articles about these inexpensive, not-super well made clothes from China that have flooded the market and hurt the local garment unions. Yes, I think about all that badly paid child labor, the polluting air-flights over, the no-doubt highly sprayed cotton plants used to make the materials.... Do I make an effort to justify these moments of caving into the desire for a completely non-necessary pretty thing, or not. It all depends on background and my feelings on the subject of 'rewards' for good behavior, or, contributing to the local economy, or, just satisfying an urge for something pretty.

But oh, Promod has some really nice things in their window this spring...

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