The Grape Debate

Quick! Name three luxury items you would love to be able to afford.

  1. Infinity pool.
  2. Yacht with a slide.
  3. ValuMart grapes.

Since A&P closed its refrigerator doors over 20 years ago, ValuMart found itself with a grocery store monopoly in a small town, with plenty of fairly affluent folks. Combined with high shipping fees to traverse fresh produce down the 17, taxes, and inflation, the cost of food meant that sub-$100 grocery trips were a thing of the past.

Staring-down the hefty ValuMart receipt, you notice something startling. The first half of your grocery trip, through the produce and meats section, is much more expensive than the later jaunt through pre-packaged, processed foods aisles.

The grocery price disparity weaves its way into the food-decision-making process. “My kids like the $2.39 canned vegetable soup more than the vegetable soup it cost me $17.56 and a Sunday morning to make.” The temptation to eat canned is financial. Eating “clean” is expensive.

My friend experienced the grocery dilemma first-hand. Since she started eating clean (basically, eating real food with no additives, sugars, fillers), her grocery bill has doubled. “No wonder people don’t eat this way!” she complained. She felt her food bill was jacked-up because it was fresh.

Fairly or unfairly, this is the repeating chorus I’ve heard since I moved back to Deep River: ValuMart produce is too costly to make eating fresh food a financially smart decision.

I disagreed with my friend. All food is expensive. Real food at any grocery store still gives way more bang for your buck than the cheaper aisles. Here is how I proved it to her:

Fresh Soup and Chicken Breasts (Meal A)

vs.

Canned Soup and Kraft Grilled Cheese (Meal B)

The cost of our real food, Meal A, is approximately $30. Feeding the canned soup, Kraft Singles on white bread, Meal B, to a family of four costs less than $8, all-in. However, Meal A’s price per nutritional unit is actually cheaper.

The real food in Meal A packs important vitamins, nutrients, and protein into everyone eating it. 100% of the foods will be helpful to the body. Bodies will not only “feel full”, but will actually be satiated. Later that day, when bodies want to exercise/think/sleep/function, real food can only help.

Meal B’s nutritional value is miniscule. In the canned vegetable soup, we see that only a fraction of the ‘meal’ has real ingredients. The rest: salt, refined sugar, water, and chemicals I struggle pronouncing. The white bread and butter leaves little for a body to capitalize on. Do not get me started on the Kraft Singles. After Meal B, you’ll be hungry again in an hour, so you need to price-in an inevitable post-dinner snack.

Eating is fuel. Cheap processed food is like burning chemicals and garbage in your woodstove. Sure, this fire is quick and easy, and will flame bright and hot at the start. However, it will burn out quickly, you will be constantly replenishing it, the chemicals from the garbage can impact your health, and you’ll end-up reeking of its by-products. We are better-off to use quality wood to fuel a lasting, useful and pleasant fire.

Let’s turn to price per unit. If we say that 15% of canned Meal B ($8) is giving you nutrition vs. 100% of real Meal A ($30), then we can figure out what the food actually costs. To get the same 100% nutrition from the pre-packaged foods in Meal B, I would need to buy more of it, to the tune of $53 ($8 ÷ 15% … do I have that right, Mrs. Van Wagner?)

The worst part of pre-packaged food is life imposes additional extra costs to eating garbage. The remaining 85% of non-beneficial ingredients in canned Meal B will make a body lethargic, cause weight gain, and maybe even contribute to medical problems. We must add-on costs like gym memberships, Spanx, and sick/unpaid leave from work.

Adding-up costs: $53 in product for same nutrition + $100 gym membership + $15 Spanx, cheap food is the more expensive alternative.

I am not a mathematician. I suspect my numbers need tweaking. I’m also not an investigative journalist. I have no idea why groceries cost what they do, why Food Basics is cheap, or why I can’t afford to eat grapes most weeks at ValuMart. I suspect that the reasons are far more complex and boil down to logistics, franchise agreements, and the quality of the produce. In fact, this might be a great piece for the NRT to investigate…

I am a realist. Bailing on nutrition isn’t going to make your life less expensive, no matter what grocery store you shop from. Food is expensive. Good food is no exception. My friend will have to find an alternative to lighten the grocery load: potlucks, sending the kids to friend’s houses for dinner, waiting for the infamous $1.99 grape sale week at ValuMart.

Instead of crunching numbers, consider treating yourself to a little luxury once in a while. Dine on expensive ValuMart grapes! Go for broke: enjoy some fermented ones at the LCBO at the same time.

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Who The Heck Is Larry Dumoulin?

Every country needs its whistleblowers. They are crucial to a healthy society. The employee who, in the public interest, has the independence of judgement and the personal courage to challenge malpractice or illegality is a kind of public hero. ― Fuad Alakbarov

Deep River is a different place than when I left it in 2002: Centennial Rock has a new landscape, Mackenzie is now a Community School, and everywhere I look I see a name I did not know before: Larry Dumoulin. In the North Renfrew Times, in Counsel Meetings, on Social Media, in the aisles of Giant Tiger, on the CBC: Larry Dumoulin’s name and his opinion call out for change to everyone who will listen.

I had no idea who Larry Dumoulin was. Through my extensive research (Google, my friends and family), I understand Larry has lived here for a long time and even worked for the Town as Treasurer when I was still in elementary school. Mr. Dumoulin has had his spoon in the pot for years. With the advent of Facebook “Discussion Groups”, Larry Dumoulin is a household name. Larry regularly disrupts the status quo of our small town and is not afraid to do it.

Living in a small town, we wrestle with social dynamics that spill into all aspects of our lives. A medical professional who does our physical in the morning might sit beside us at church that evening. The police officer who confiscated our underage booze backpacks on the way to Summerfest might be the parent who invited us over for our friend’s birthday party the week before.  A councillor that we face-off against about municipal decisions one night might also be the teammate who wins the face-off for our hockey game the following night. Awkward? Ya. Surprising? Nah.

Close social ties in an isolated town makes a community stronger. Your doctor can fill a prescription quickly, the police officer might give you a “you’re a good kid” break, and our municipal officials consider the nuanced concerns of the townspeople. We all go-along-to-get-along in our non-social activities to allow for smooth and harmonious social lives.

The problem with going-along-to-get-along is that we maintain the status quo. Change does not happen. Systems that never worked are never fixed. Problems within an organization bloom into catastrophes. Small biases turn into systemic unfairness. Like the junk drawer in our kitchen, ignoring annoyances and problems can result in a heaping mess that nobody is willing to address.

Enter Larry.

I have never met the fellow. I understand that most of the bees in his bonnet are with the functioning of the Town. Whether it be an under-researched proposal to switch police forces, or the neglected decision of what to do about our fire services, Mr. Dumoulin is not content to go-along-to-get-along. Instead, Mr. Dumoulin asks hard questions. Mr. Dumoulin demands answers. Most importantly, Mr. Dumoulin incites the public to take an active concern in the town politics that affect us all.

We are not always happy with town decisions. Complaining to one another over brunch may feel great, but does little to change anything. Many of us cannot or choose not to publicly share our opinions on town issues because of our work, our social circles, or even our own ignorance on the topic. Having a town adjitator keeps everyone accountable, promotes change and certainly adds to our conversations around the water cooler.

For anyone who has yet to read one of Mr. Dumoulin’s indictments on the town issues, I urge you to get out your dictionary and have a stab at one. They are well-written, sophisticated submissions that easily put the President of the United States’ correspondence to shame. When you reach the end of the submissions, you may not agree with them. You will admit, however, that they are persuasive.

Mr. Dumoulin’s regular advocacy can seem intrusive, overbearing and, in short, annoying to some. Mr. Dumoulin’s positions on issues can be polarizing. Mr. Dumoulin’s methods can be controversial. Many do not agree with the arguments he makes or the creative ways he chooses to make them. Mr. Dumoulin’s voice on Facebook can be loud – so loud, in fact, that a new Facebook Group was required to discuss the issues he has taken-up.

Being a lawyer by trade, I recognize that speaking-up for change can be unnerving, isolating, and even punishing. Nevertheless, the most important discussions are often the most challenging. We are all very lucky to have someone in the town who is willing to have those discussions – whether we agree with him or not.

I began my year here wondering “who the heck is Larry Dumoulin?” I am left now wondering where our town would be without our favourite pot-stirrer. I propose a toast! Here’s to Larry Dumoulin: a man we can all count on to speak-up on our issues, even if we disagree with him, and even we have never actually spoken with him before.