Instead of farm-to-table, I want to talk about getting food to your table. Despite the fact that many people eat in their cars, or at their desks, or in restaurants, numerous studies show that gathering together at the table leads to better family relationships, better digestion, and ultimately better health. Making this a goal is sadly somewhat lost in our frazzle-dazzle society where the goal appears to be dollars and not one’s health.
But you can’t eat dollars; and you need to eat to stay alive. All that you ever need is given to you via the eco-system. Photosynthesis leads to plant foods, dairy products, honey, and high protein foods. What we hope is an infinite sun that will provide for us. Foods created in labs are not the best choice.
There are many ways of getting healthy food onto your table. Choices come down to growing it or buying it at a grocery store. Other choices will be addressed in another column. We’re all concerned about the cost, or should be, so I decided to run a little experiment. I chose four different stores to compare prices. I chose a “regular” grocery store, a “healthy” store, a “bargain” store, and a “big box” store that’s employee-owned.
I chose to compare not only prices but the “shopping experience.” I chose items that I regularly buy, though in some cases not often. The items I chose were vinegar, sesame oil, Amy’s frozen meals, coconut oil, and fresh carrots. These are not especially expensive items, but they seemed to be sort-of across-the-board items in most stores, no matter what kind (excluding the stop-and-go markets which rarely carry anything I find edible).
I didn’t go running from store to store but did choose four stores within five to fifteen minutes of where I live. At the closest “regular” grocery store where I’ve been going for thirty years, I have a few favorite check-out people, Lynette and Craig. But that store also has some check-out people I specifically avoid. Who wants to hear a check-out clerk say “I’d never eat that!” I wondered if she was making fun of my purchase, or trying to talk me out of that purchase.
The “healthy” grocery store also has two of my favorite check-out people, Diane and Jerry. They are truly the friendliest store and once a check-out person reached into her own pocket to dig out the thirty-nine cents that I was short so I wouldn’t need to write a check. (I don’t use credit cards.) This was quite a bit above the call of duty but very much appreciated. However, I removed one of my items so that I could pay properly with cash.
The “bargain” store has check-out people who must be told to increase the number of people served as they all talked fast, moved fast, and therefore put no effort into getting to know their clientele.
The near-by “big box” store is employee-owned and the workers appear to be happy working there. Their 24-hour venue means you don’t often deal with repeat check-out clerks especially if you shop at 5am, and only a few times a month. There were trade-offs in all of the grocery store choices.
But here’s the clincher–the “healthy” store has a reputation for being the most expensive–but they also have a sit-down eating area, hot pizzas, and soups, cold salads, and many other choices if you’re hungry NOW, or meeting friends. Only one other store even offered an area for sitting and having coffee! At the “regular” store I often find errors on my receipt and while they’re nice about rectifying it, it’s still disturbing as the errors are rarely the check-out person but appear to be computer generated. I always check my receipts at this store! The “big box” store is slightly cheaper but it still is a big box and you still have to shop carefully! The “bargain” store had prices that were exactly the same as the so-called most-expensive store and in some cases the same price to the exact penny!
The bottom line is that all these stores had almost the same prices and some of them didn’t even have some of the five items I was looking for. I only use Bragg’s vinegar. The “big box” store had the cheapest vinegar. It is sometimes not even available at the “bargain” store. The “regular” store and the “healthy” store were very close in price. But the ‘big box” store did not even have any carrots with their tops on and I personally would never buy a bunch of carrots without the tops. At the “healthy” store they will remove the tops for you and my favorite clerks will pull them out as they know I have chickens who love those carrot tops. I will occasionally buy a frozen Amy’s meal when I’m dead tired or in a real hurry. The “big box” store did not have that brand which is the only brand I most often buy as it has the best flavor. Sesame oil really ranged in price from a dollar cheaper in the “big box” store to a dollar and a half cheaper than the “healthy store.” But to be fair, it’s not an item I buy often, though I do buy it regularly. The range of price on the coconut oil was the biggest and I do buy that fairly often as I use it in cooking and on my skin. The healthy store had the most expensive (I was comparing prices of the organic brands) but my favorite brand is worth it to me as they used the entire coconut and not just a portion.
To be fair, I don’t shop the way most people do. Most people go into a store without any meal plans so they buy what they have a hankering for whether it’s on sale or not. I do not buy many items that are not on sale. I’ve learned to substitute asparagus for peas when called for in a recipe. And I can live without dairy products or wheat products for at least a week. And I only eat ice cream perhaps once a year. It has taken years to learn to shop this way but it makes a huge difference in your food budget! So go with a list, only buy it the item is on sale, and buy what’s in season. Purchase less-often needed items when they are on sale, and don’t wait until you are completely out.
If 10% of your food cost goes towards advertising, refrigeration, and transportation and you are discarding 40% of what you buy, maybe it’s time to consider a CSA (community supported agriculture), a farmer’s market, or growing your own food. More about the alternatives to getting food on you table in a future column. In the meantime, whenever you shop and wherever you shop,do so wisely.