Two weeks ago, in an attempt to eat healthier and support small, local businesses, I signed up for the 30-Day No Grocery Store Challenge. They say that if you can do something for a month, you’ll have formed a habit. By shopping locally for healthy food, I’m hoping to do something that’s both good for my body and good for my community. I found the first week to be a fun adventure into my local farmers market and food co-op. However, just as I was about to think it would be smooth sailing the whole way through, we hit a bump in the road.
Our local farmers market is held for five hours every Saturday during the season. Normally, this is a pretty convenient schedule, especially for most working people. However, if it’s August and you’re planning to be camping for the weekend, it’s a bit of a problem. Having to miss it for a week put a wrinkle in my new-found shopping habits. It also reminded me that it would be more difficult to shop locally come October when the market closed for the season.
I mentioned my quandary to a friend who recommended a large produce stand about 40 minutes from my house. The stand-store is owned by local farmers and is open year-round. It mainly sells the produce those farmers grow, and supplements that with food from other in-state (and a couple of out-of-state) farmers. Although their produce wasn’t organic, most of it was local and the prices were incredible.
For instance, the hormone-free, antibiotic-free eggs they sold were $2.50 per dozen. That’s a better deal than I’m getting through the dairy home delivery and less than half of what I saw offered at the farmers market. But, it was a trek for me to get there, and when you add in what I spent on gas, suddenly those eggs aren’t so cheap.
I’m discovering that in my little corner of the world there are a lot of options for eating healthily and locally (at least in the summer). But, there are bound to be trade-offs. Generally speaking, I’ve had to choose between convenience and cost. Some of the local produce stands and farmers markets offer great deals, but they tend to have more limited hours or are located a bit out of town.
The food co-op is terrific and convenient, as is the home milk delivery, but they’re also a bit more expensive. If I’m going to keep this up, I’m going to need to get smart and figure out ways to make the most of the less convenient shopping experiences and spend money at the pricier vendors in moderation.
While budgetary and time constraints have proven to be the challenge this little adventure promised to be, I’ve enjoyed eating better. There’s almost a feeling of relief, knowing you’re eating foods that are good for you. I’m even finding that there are options for eating out that include eating locally and healthily.
While visiting my mom this past week, we decided to grab some dinner but wanted to keep to the spirit of the challenge and avoid the old drive-thru. She knew of a small shop nearby that sells frozen dinners, which are made with local, healthy ingredients. Although the initial price gave us sticker shock, we later calculated it out and realized it was only marginally more expensive than a trip through a drive-thru would have been. As an added bonus, it actually tasted good — something I’d been a bit skeptical about.
I also made a trip to Chipotle with my kids. It’s not local, but it is a burrito joint known for its sustainable practices. My kids liked it and I didn’t have any of my normal fast-food pangs of guilt. Strictly speaking, it may not be the ultimate in healthy living, and I recognize that. But, I’m realistic enough to know that there are times when I’ll be in a time crunch and need to grab food on the go. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of making the best choice but simply making a better choice.
At the two-week mark, my family is having some mixed reactions to the experiment. My husband has given it two thumbs down, worrying that we’re spending, as he put it, a “crapload” of money on health food and are buying foods we don’t always end up liking. I’m a bit more hopeful. While we spent a fair amount the first week, the second week was much more budget-friendly. I’m optimistic that as time goes on and we get the hang of this, we’ll figure out a way to make this work for both our diets and our wallets.
Dana Macario is a Seattle-area writer who is terrified, yet determined to eat healthy and local for a full month.
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