a modern question

Guys.  I’m going to ask you a question that isn’t original at all.

“Why is it so expensive to eat healthy?”

Let me start backward and work forward.  When I was thinking about what to write this week, I actually considered writing about my struggle to determine if I should become a vegetarian again.  But then I thought more big picture.  You see, I was driving down the highway this week, like I do, and (I promise I’m not going to get all soap-boxy on you and I’m most certainly not going to get graphic) I passed a pickup truck pulling a trailer of pigs.  These pigs looked pretty jammed in there and normally I like to play ignorant and look away from livestock trailers but I saw their little pig noses poking out, so I looked.  This is something that I’m entirely too soft to handle—this “seeing” where my food comes from.  In my own personal protest about the pigs (who I liked to imagine were going to a farm…) I pulled the sausage off my breakfast sandwich and threw it away.  But that doesn’t mean there’s one less pig to sacrifice for my sausage.  For this reason, I was a vegetarian for five years; I believe in animal rights.  Not crazy PETA style but I don’t believe the way we get our meat isn’t the way we’re meant to get our meat.  I bought from Whole Foods, my friends and family bought only farm-raised holiday meats and I bought local where I could when I was transitioning out of my vegetarianism.  That became costly for everyone and eventually I just turned a blind eye and began consuming restaurant burgers and steaks.  Flash forward to present day—I live in the midwest; the breadbasket of America; the Pork capital of the world; Omaha Steaks are my neighbor.  If there’s anywhere I could be a locavore, it’s here.

That brings me to my bigger picture.  While there’s an outstanding farmer’s market on Saturday, I can only buy so much produce to avoid it rotting on my counters.  As much as I try to shame it, the convenience factor still gets me from time to time.  I just don’t have the energy to make food for the week or even every night.  And, as it turns out, eating pre-made stuff or take-out… not all that healthy.  Unfortunately, the reality of this amazing world we live in is that it’s more cost effective to get a Quarter Pounder w/Cheese, french fries and a large Coke than it is to go out, buy fresh ingredients, and make a meal at home.  I think Mark Bittman (disclosure: love him) said it best: just eat real food.  I guess that means, for the everyman, more trips to the grocery, more planning ahead of time, more skipping of the convenience factor.

That’s probably the *only* thing keeping me off the vegetarian bandwagon.  While I’m passionate about what happens to those sweet pigs, it’s crazy expensive right now to buy the meat I want to buy to ease my conscience.  Simply removing it from my plate means more pasta and that’s no good for my waistline.  Should I resign myself to the fact that even a simple diet of fruits and veggies are going to cost me?

I’m still working out this vegetarian thing and I’m still trying to do the best I can to eat healthy on a budget.  That’ll probably be the case until I can afford to grow my own food or buy half a humanely-raised cow or pig.  It’s all a work in progress, as am I, but it’s hard when society as a whole makes it easier to eat food with poor nutrition quality (I’m looking at you Hostess Fruit Pies for breakfast) vs. the healthy stuff (oatmeal, eggs) that keeps me going throughout the day.  Finally, as Mark Bittman implores, I’ll do my best to “eat real food”.

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ioway

photo 2

look at that sky – majesty

 

There are a lot of things that Ohio and Iowa have in common.  For example: four seasons in both states, the landscape isn’t vastly different (vastly being the keyword), we’re both considered Midwestern states (which I didn’t know till I moved here); in a nutshell, it’s not a total culture shock to move from Ohio to Iowa.

Back in another blogging life, before I left my home state, I wrote a little homage to Ohio which some of you may remember.  I wasn’t sure what to expect moving to Iowa but here I am.  I am happy to confess that all my preconceived notions were totally wrong.  Turns out there is more here than pigs and cows and corn; there is a great little music scene if you’re patient enough to wait for it to come; there are wonderful places to roam and big cities within driving distance.  My job has blessed me immeasurably by indulging my traveling heart so I think I’m now qualified enough to write a post about the differences between Iowa and Ohio.

The first and most obvious difference is how kind people are here.  It was a lesson I learned after one of my first trips to Hy-Vee.  Everyone there said hello, made eye contact, smiled… it was really weird.  I chalked it up to the liberation of being completely anonymous but it persisted everywhere I went: at the gas station, at Target, driving down the road (people wave a lot in rural Iowa)—Iowa kindness was rampant and it changed me.  I became Iowa Ryan and Iowa Ryan is personable and will ask you about your 150 head of cattle, your dog, your sister’s dog, your daughter’s goats and I like that people are willing to share their stories with me.

There was also a learning curve with some minor things.  Here, instead of asking “would you like a bag for that?” people ask “you want a sack?”  Sack.  At first I replied, “yeah, I’ll take a bag” but it wore off when I realized “sack” is much more fun.  Plus, I blend in when I use the local lingo.  Another word that was met with a quizzical brow was my usage of “expressway”.  I don’t know if that’s a Ryan-thing or an Ohio-thing but in my house/family/network of peeps we always called all the highways “expressway” whether it was 76, 480, 71 or even 80 (“the turnpike” sometimes).  Here, Iowans use the correct highway, “I was eastbound on I-235…”.  Speaking of, people here use cardinal directions.  It seems like everyone has an inner GPS and they know what’s the north side of the street or the east building so it forced me to learn pretty quickly that my former method of taking directions just wouldn’t suffice.

While there are still pretty much all the same landscape elements in Ohio and Iowa, there are far fewer trees here.  I remember my old commute to the office when I lived in Ohio, both sides of the expressway were lined with forests of trees.  Here, it’s fields as far as your eye can see.  It’s almost like the sky touches the grass.  There are rolling hills, more corn fields than you could ask for, farm animals and wind turbines for miles.  The landscape here truly is something special.  Last week I was lucky enough to find my version (so far) of heaven on Earth.  It’s called Corning, Iowa.  There was dirt road after dirt road where no one would pass by and when I watched some calves run and play along the banks of a pond I knew in my heart that being here has been so right.  I never anticipated running away from home and ending up so far away but I am convinced that this is my kind of place.

Corning, Iowa

Corning, Iowa

I’ve become a better person for being an Iowa transplant.  The other day, my friend Kelly told me that I know Des Moines in my year and a half here better than she does having been here longer.  I learned everything I know from a fella that loves his city and I honestly think that makes all the difference.  I never gave Cleveland that same respect until I left.  This place is just magic to me.  I love and learn from the differences in my two homes.  So when/if you come to Iowa, prepare to go back home just a little bit changed.