Growing up in a Pacific Islander home, I was accustomed to walking in the kitchen and seeing nothing but non-American foods, spices, condiments, and snacks. Our kitchen pantry was overflowing with rice and sweet flour; noodles of different colors, textures, and sizes; cans of quail eggs, sardines, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots; soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and sweet and sour sauce; and those are just the ones you can see in the front. The countertops were covered with bowls of bread, pastries, and snacks that barely had any English writing on them. And don't let me get started on the fridge and freezer. I can't remember that appliance ever being empty. On any given day, you can open it up, and there would be cooked jasmine rice, coconut juice, frozen egg rolls ready to be deep fried at a moment's notice, and a dessert favored by every guest we've had called halo-halo ice cream. Needless to say, I was fortunate enough to never go hungry.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of a downside to all that goodness. There wasn't a single low-fat, low-sodium, fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, organic, or all-natural food in the entire house. Okay, maybe the water, but who's to say that was all-natural? Growing up in that home, I didn't know any different. And when I left the house, my apartment kitchen carried most of the same items, just not in the same abundance. I started to shop for ingredients to cook other types of food as well, so Italian, American, and Mexican recipe cards were no strangers to my countertops. It wasn't too long after that I became obsessed with coupons and bought everything that was on sale without any rhyme or reason. I continued the same habit even after I married my husband. When our first child was born in 2006, I became a stay-at-home Mom, and our biggest priority then was saving money, not eating healthy. Our kitchen was filled with boxes of cereal, goldfish crackers, canned spaghettis, and Capri Suns. Our deep freezer was never empty of chicken, ground beef, and boxed meals. The bathroom cupboards were filled to the brim with boxes of toothpaste, toothbrush packets, shampoos, hand sanitizers, and deodorants. On one wall of the garage, we had stocked piles of laundry detergents, bleach, and multipurpose cleaners. I could spend a whole day shopping for food and supplies that would last for months! It was a weird feeling of accomplishment.
Then one day last summer, a couple of months before our 3rd child was born, we had an epiphany: we can't keep living like this! For the last few years, we have been active in being Earth-friendly by composting, recycling, shopping with reusable bags, drinking from reusable cups, and carpooling, just to name a few. So we asked ourselves, why can't we be friendly to our own bodies? We walked into the one grocery store I never thought in a million years I'd shop at - Whole Foods - a market that sells only natural and organic foods and products. My receipt for that first shopping experience came out to a little over $120. I walked out with maybe three bags of groceries. Had I gone to the big box store instead, my cart would have been overflowing and then some. Getting home, putting up the groceries, and once again, looking over my receipt, I remember thinking, "Forget this. We can't afford to eat right." But after having eating a few days of organic meals, we almost instantly noticed a difference in how we felt. Maybe it was a coincidence, maybe it was all in our heads. Whatever it was, it made us see food in a whole new way. We have never shopped at the big box store ever again. Everyone has their own priorities in life. Everyone has a choice. Half a year later, we are still living under one income, and our priority is still the same: shop only for organic, all-natural foods with little or no packaging and products made from recycled and eco-friendly materials.
These days, my kitchen pantry is not filled to the brim with food that will last for months on end, our deep freezer is now for sale, our bathroom cupboards are empty, and my husband has his garage back. Now, we only shop every week for the things we need and care to eat and use, even if they aren't on sale. We shop at the farmer's market for cage-free eggs and locally grown in-season produce. And for the first time time ever, we have purchased organic rice cereal for Little Peanut to start eating next week.
Our kids have gotten so used to seeing the word organic at our house that when we visit my in-law's, they sound kind of snobby when they tell them, "but this isn't organic." I feel proud, but at the same time, embarrassed. Most people still don't get us and what we're trying to do, and it makes it difficult when we attend dinners or parties elsewhere. But everyone has their own values and beliefs. We are not shunned for ours, just like we don't expect others to conform to our lifestyle. We just ask them to respect us for the choices we have made.
Our next step is to start using all-natural health and body care products. We just recently bought the kids organic shampoo, body wash, and lotion from Earth's Best, and although the price made me think twice at first, I don't regret it now. I know we made a choice that will eventually make a difference in the way our kids will live their lives. And though this type of lifestyle is not considered frugal, it is less expensive to purchase only the things we need when we need them and being "almost" forced to eat in, seeing that there are only so many budget-friendly sustainable-responsible restaurants that offer organic foods on their menus. In the end, the amount of money I set aside now for groceries, clothes, gifts, etc. is just about the same (if not less) as when I was using coupons and shopping for sale items only. I would say that we're still living financially responsible on one income, but now with one more mouth to feed. Go us!