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Staying fresh: 30 days of avoiding grocery stores

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Farmers market offer fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables -- and a chance to shop outside.

A month ago, in an attempt to eat healthier and shop locally, I embarked on the 30 Day No Grocery Store Challenge. Now, 30 days have come and gone and I lived to tell the tale. Along the way, I had good experiences, “challenging” experiences and some downright frontierswoman experiences. All in all, though, I deem the experience a success.

Some people questioned the amount of time and effort the challenge required. It’s true, this month I spent more time thinking about the food I ate, where I bought it and where that food came from than I ever have. But for me, this was largely the point.

For years I’d been on autopilot, buying the same foods from the same stores, knowing that much of what I bought wasn’t as healthy as I’d like, but buying it because it was easy. During those years, I thought that it would be nice to support local farmers and small businesses, but I didn’t do it much because it meant a little extra time and effort, which always felt in short supply.

When I started the challenge, I viewed it as an adventure. Over the course of the month, I tried to investigate and try out many of the local, healthy options. I discovered that my town’s farmers market has an incredible variety of local foods and goods. I’m lucky in this, as it certainly isn’t the case for everyone. Just one town over, the farmers market is much smaller and less convenient.

Other options didn’t work for my family. Though I’m intrigued by the idea of buying a quarter of a grass-fed cow, butchered just for me by an in-state rancher, it wasn’t going to happen since we don’t own a deep-freezer. I discovered that I love baking bread, but will likely leave cheese-making to the experts.

The advice for shopping at a farmers market is often “buy whatever looks fresh and good.” Too bad no one ever seems to follow it up with, “but don’t buy everything that looks fresh and good, because there’s no way you’ll be able to eat it all.” Yes, it’s common sense, but at the beginning, I got a little giddy and overdid it with my shopping. However, as the weeks went on, I learned to shop and menu plan and it got easier. It also got cheaper. As I began to know what I was doing, I was able to make smarter decisions about what I bought. In the end, our monthly food expenses were pretty darn close to what they always are.

One of the best parts of doing the challenge was the tips and advice I got from friends along the way. During the month, as I’d run into people, I responded to the old, “What have you been up to, lately?” question by telling them about the challenge. In return, so many of them gave me names of stores to shop at, tricks to try and one friend even took the time to teach me how to make cheese. If I’d just told people “Oh, I’m trying to eat better these days,” I would have gotten a polite, “Mmm hmm,” or “Good for you,” before they moved on. Something about the gimmick of a challenge though, brought out more conversation, which in turn, loaded me with lots of new ideas.

One of the worst parts of the challenge was the weight loss. Or, should I say the lack of weight loss? While losing weight wasn’t my primary goal for this challenge, I had secretly hoped that I’d shed a couple of pounds. My friend who first introduced me to the challenge lost 10 pounds while doing it, which of course made me think I’d lose 12. But here I am at the end of the month, weighing the exact same amount as I did at the beginning of the month – a fact that makes me more bitter than a bunch of raw kale.

At the beginning of the experiment, my family was rather reluctant about it. But as time went on, they largely got on board. Now that the challenge is over, my husband has gotten used to reading labels and paying attention to where things come from. On a post-challenge trip to Costco, he told me that he’d decided not to buy apples because they were all from South America; we’d wait until they were in season here. He and our small children also became fans of shopping at the farmers market and it’s a practice we’ll continue with. We’ll never be perfect locavores, but in general, we’re making some better choices and that’s what I’d hoped for (well, that and a little weight loss…).

Dana Macario is a Seattle-area writer who survived 30 days of shopping locally.

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