Posted by: Hil | June 2, 2009

Goodbye to Big Grocery Stores

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Whenever I fly, I always treat myself to a new book to read on the plane.  Last weekend’s book was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  It was a really enjoyable, inspiring book.  It’s mostly a memoir about the author’s experience moving to a farm and eating almost completely locally for a year, with touches of investigative journalism and food history thrown in.  Kingsolver and can be slightly preachy at times, but she is a wonderful writer and her passion for local organic food is contagious.  I also found it surprisingly relevant.  While I enjoyed reading Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemna, I found it to be maddeningly abstract and pretentious in sections.  (Boar hunting with a chef from Italy is your best example of how to eat locally in the Bay Area???)  By contrast, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle provided even a city dweller like me with lots of ideas that I could immediately implement, such as tips on finding local winter produce and a recipe for homemade mozzarella cheese.  The book left me inspired about food in a way that I haven’t felt in a while.  Inspired enough to take a small step of my own.

For several months, the Lemonator and I have been shifting our food purchasing habits.  We always used to do the majority of our shopping at a nearby chain grocery store, then supplement with foods from other stores.  The shift probably started when we realized that Whole Foods was having more and more sales on produce in response to the recession.  We hadn’t been happy with the quality of the produce at standard grocery stores, so we started making fewer and fewer trips there, getting our produce instead from Costco, farmer’s markets, and Whole Foods sales.  As time went by, we began to realize that there were a lot of staples that we could get for the same or better price than at the chain grocery stores.   Gradually, without thinking about it much, we began going to the normal grocery stores less and less. 

Last night, the Lemonator and I enjoyed some thin cut chuck steak from Whole Foods and a side of kale chips for dinner.  We never, ever bought meat at Whole Foods before because it was so expensive, but we recently discovered that there are often a couple of affordable items in the meat case.  We also discovered that the meat tastes much, much better.  These steaks were delicious…flavorful and not at all tough.  We had a talk, and decided that we were ready to stop going to the big chain grocery store unless there was an item we specifically needed.  This isn’t an all out boycott or a hard and fast decision, but it is a change in perspective.  

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To be clear, I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with grocery stores or that shopping at Whole Foods is automatically better.  I have my own set of problems with Whole Foods, and I look forward to the day when I can patronize a local independent grocery store or co-op, as I did when I was growing up.  But for me, it was extremely difficult to maintain any awareness of where my food came from (or how long it had been sitting on a shelf) when shopping at the big chain grocery stores.  Especially during these summer months, I want to become more aware of where my food comes from and I want to stick to local, seasonal foods as much as possible.

Part of this shift for us is a greater commitment to trying patronizing our local farmer’s markets.  The Lemonator and I went to the Tuesday farmer’s market today.  The Lemonator had never been before.  He liked it so much that he suggested making it a weekly tradition.  Fine by me!  We got lots of fresh produce and some farm fresh eggs, which we used to make a leek omelet for tonight’s dinner.  I topped it with a little bit of white cheddar.

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I also made green pea soup based on a recipe I saw Ellie Krieger make.  I sauteed half an onion in some olive oil, added a cup of vegetable broth and a cup of frozen peas, seasoned the mixture with salt, pepper and thyme, pureed it, and gently heated it.  I garnished the soup with a bit of fresh yogurt.  This was really good and highly satisfying.  It had a fresh flavor completely unlike split pea soup that I’d tried before.   I think this would also be delicious cold.

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For dessert, I had some fresh farmer’s market strawberries. 

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We also bought ingredients for my birthday dinner at the farmers market, which I am very excited for.  On the menu:  grass-fed beef filet, rainbow chard, and strawberry shortcake.  Mmmm.

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Responses

  1. My local farmer’s market opens on Friday I can’t wait to go!

  2. This is awesome. I know this is important to you and I can’t wait to read more about it. I’ve been thinking of joining a local co-op myself and you provided even more motivation!

  3. I loved that book. I’ve also been wanting to join the co-op for quite some time, and you’ve inspired me here in this post.

  4. I LOVED that book and I agree with you about Michael Pollan. I started reading it and was like “what?” and couldn’t get through…but I’m going back into it because I’d really like to finish it. He’s sort of becoming the “guru” of the health food movement and food policy injustices but I wonder if he’s the right one…

    I am working with the Brooklyn Healthy Food Campaign (check out my most recent post for details 🙂 ) on increasing awareness about the value of local farmer’s markets and the options they provide. Some CSAs even take food stamps in NY which I think is really vital. Great post!

  5. I want to go to a Whole Foods store so badly! We don’t have it in my city.

    I’ve been hearing so much about that book, I really need to read it. Have you read Nina Planck’s “Real Food”? It sounds like it is very similar (and it’s an awesome read).

  6. I’m still reading this book. I started it a few months ago but got distracted.

    I *never* buy produce at the chain stores. Most of my produce comes from the Asian markets around me (there are a ton) because it is ridiculously cheap. I supplement occasionally with WF’s, but they are still much more expensive than the Asian markets (3 organic heads of romaine for $1.99!). I get my organic spinach at costco because I go through so much of it.

    Have you read “Diet For a Small Planet”? It’s a little bit older but I think you would love it. I want to reread it but my copy was destroyed by rain and I had to throw it out a while ago. You can find it on Amazon (used) for really cheap. I think I got it for about $1.

  7. I can’t wait to go to my farmer’s market this weekend! It’s the highlight of my week 🙂

    Your birthday dinner menu sounds incredible… happy early bday!


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