Is it just me or do your hackles rise when you see Kerry Katona trotting about in those irritating Iceland ads, loading up her trolley with cheap pizzas for the kids and braying about how wonderful it all is? I have nothing against Ms Katona or Iceland for that matter – I too have shopped there for BOG OFF offers in the past. And I’m not a parent struggling to feed my children. But if DJ ever overcomes his morbid fear of ‘small people’ and we have kids, I hope I won’t be shovelling cheap pizzas and chicken nuggets down their throats morning, noon and night.
True, we’re all experiencing the brunt of rising food prices and nobody more so than people already struggling to make ends meet. It makes sense to look at the weekly shopping bill and try to trim it by shopping around. There is nothing wrong with that, or the odd pizza. I lived on microwave lasagnes before I met DJ and he showed me there was another way.
But even in an economic slowdown, I think it’s important not to start eating rubbish just to save money. It’s clear from all the research into cancer and our ‘five a day’ that eating good food – good quality meat, and fresh fruit and vegetables – is vital to stay healthy (before you say anything, I’m not sure if that includes squirrel!). However, nowadays proportionally people spend less of their income on food. In 1957 a third of incomes went on food and non-alcoholic beverages. Now we spend only 15 per cent on food and more on housing related costs, such as rent, mortgages and council tax, our cars and leisure time.
OK, we don’t have much choice about paying the rent. But often when the property market slows people spend money on DIY to improve the homes they can’t sell. So before you think of adding a new bathroom or kitchen, why not spend the cash on your family’s bellies by building a vegetable patch at a fraction of the cost?
Not everybody has a garden. If you don’t, then why not try to get an allotment? Or if that is too difficult because of the waiting lists, find a friend with an allotment to help out, or someone with a garden who also wants to grow veg you could join forces with and share the produce. There is a council estate in Bermondsey which has turned its entire communal lawn into a vegetable plot, and many urban food growing clubs that you may be able to join. But if even if you can’t find a plot, then it’s still possible to grow herbs, tomatoes and lettuces in pots on your windowsill. You can also grow mushrooms in a box under the bed. Your friends may laugh but you’ll have your own delicious produce!
Growing vegetables isn’t always easy and it’s hard graft. You’ll need to do a lot of reading, not to mention digging. There’s also a little financial outlay, especially if your soil isn’t great. We have clay soil that’s hard to work and could have taken years to get right, so DJ cut to the chase by building raised beds on our lawn and filling them with bought topsoil. And you can’t plant your veg just anywhere. You need to see where the sun travels along the garden and which areas get the most light before you decide where to put your plot. Plus you’ll need to work out ways of storing your produce so as not to waste it. Many herbs, beans and fruits can be frozen, while other things, such as apple slices, can be dried or turned into jams and chutneys. If you want to be really clever, you could build a root cellar to store vegetables.
We also fight a running battle with pests, birds, foxes and cats which try to eat or dig up our plants, oh…and the odd rogue pet chicken that occasionally finds her way in there (naughty, Thelma!). But it’s really rewarding and the produce tastes so much better than anything from the supermarket.
So get digging!
Do you grow your own fruit and veg? Would you compromise on food quality to save money?