Tuesday, August 17, 2010


While driving home with this week's food experiment in the back of my car, I started to formulate some kind of blog. I was thinking about personal identity and how we become who we are, how that person grows and changes, how some people fear the unknown while others throw up their hands and adapt. I'm convinced that there are only just a tiny percentage who actually, most of the time, evolve gracefully like they were meant to.

Since we got back a day early from our vacation, I decided to use our $100 weekly grocery budget  entirely at the Common Ground Coop in Urbana to get me until Friday, my normal grocery shopping day. Now before you roll your eyes at me (either pro-organic or another). Let me say up front, "I KNEW THAT IT WOULD BE MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE." I knew I couldn't shop like I do at Meijer each week. I knew there was no way that the coop could have everything that the mega box store does, nor could they sell most of what they have more cheaply. So, why would I bother?

I've been reading a lot of nutrition articles lately. Some of them are from magazines like Eating Well, Cooking Light and Runner's World. Others are in the New York Times, The News-Gazette and other online news sources. There's a strong -- push, to eat local. There's an even stronger push to eat organic. And there's a whirlwind force to eat plant-based foods.

I won't lie to you. As an HMR groupie, I find extraordinary comfort that when I feel out of control in the eating department I just simply jump back in my box during the crisis. That means the bulk of my food comes from packages with whole foods mixed in. For example, a breakfast would be a package of HMR cereal with a 4 oz of blueberries. Mid-morning snack might be two HMR vanilla protein shakes with a banana, some sugar free caramel syrup and a smidge of imitation rum extract. Lunch would be a package of HMR Mushroom Risotto with 3 cups of baby spinach mixed in and an orange on the side... See what I mean?

In a normal day, when I'm not "in the box" I eat HMR for breakfast. Since I never used to eat breakfast when I was obese, this is a big deal. It's clockwork. My body knows the fuel and it's used to it. Then I usually try to stick to the usual healthy diatribe of whole grains, lean proteins and fruits and veggies. At dinner time, I slip in a double HMR shake or make it into pudding. My goal is always to try and have 3 HMR supplements a day. It helps me keep track of what goes into my mouth, and they are much lower in calories than other items I'd choose for myself. (Read here, my mental issues around food require a crutch.)

I digress.

I made my grocery list of the items we normally eat. Then I made a list of the ingredients I'd need in three recipes this week. As usual 30 percent of my grocery list is fresh produce, and off I went with my reusable grocery bags, just like it was any normal grocery buying day.

Now, unlike the usual Friday, I didn't write down the cost of everything as I put it in my cart onto my list. I do this to make sure I stay in my $100 budget. I also tend to buy my groceries in cash. I feed it myself into the self check out. Before my diet, MacTroll and I realized we were spending way too much at the grocery store. We were throwing food away. We overbought items and never planned dinners so that we could reuse leftovers in recipes or use leftover ingredients. But today, I used my credit card.

It was no surprise that I couldn't find everything on my list. And the one guilty item that my household can't let go -- diet soda -- ate most of the budget. It cost just over $14 to buy one six pack of the Stevia-based diet soda and one six pack of San Pellagrino orange soda. Yes. $14.

It was $13 for Buffalo burgers, a shift I made when I realized I couldn't find everything I needed for the Greek chicken meal I was planning. Namely, where were the cucumbers? And there were no green beans for the side dish available either. So, lesson 1 of shopping in a place where foods are not always available -- you have to be able to be a good enough cook to adapt. We'll see if I am that kind of creative cook over the next couple of days.

I bought one item that I didn't have on my list -- almond butter. My son has become kind of a kid-food focused eater. And by kid-focused, he's not willing to explore other foods too much right now. He finds some kind of comfort in having a fry section at every meal. So I've been making homemade sweet potato baked fries, regular baked french fries, etc. But he refuses potato wedges as being too much like a potato, which he doesn't like. Almond butter and jelly sandwiches are a fall back in case my 4 year old decides to suddenly fast.

I'm a co-op member, so I walked up and gave the woman my number and put my food up on the cart and then bagged it myself. The total was $106. And here's the gut of MY eating problem. Plenty of people shop entirely at the coop. They make it work because they either cook a great quantity of their food from the bulk bins (the coop has menus for using the bins AND a eat organic for less class that is free and offered every month to the public) OR they comfortably get by consuming less food overall.

I made several of the coop menus after taking the class last fall. They were great in the winter, but a lot of them, though they were high in fiber, ended up being high in calories and fat, as well, at least as they were portioned out in the recipes, so I had to change some of them to drop those numbers down. But I am reluctant to reduce my overall consumption of food. I'm not sure why. I find myself more and more eating because it's time for my mid-morning snack, rather than because I'm hungry lately. Sometimes, this is good, because when I don't eat on the schedule I can get sudden blood sugar dips (like what happened at the zoo on vacation). Sometimes, it's bad, because I'm eating when I don't need to. But it's often impossible for me to figure it out.

What I figured out is that shopping at the coop for me is an occasional stop. It doesn't fit into my life as a required shopping stop. Maybe it will in the future, but right now, shopping at Meijer is still much more economically feasible, particularly for box items on the shelves.

I was hoping that knowing that shopping at my local coop and knowing that purchasing produce there would induce some kind of upper-middle class euphoria based in the righteousness of following the recommendations of the research I've been reading. But it didn't. It made me realize how very dependent I am on food globalization. How paying $5 for organic strawberries at the coop hurts a lot more than the $2.50 I'd pay for the same carton... Even though the $2.50 funds a much more meaningful grocery. A grocer with intention that is overall better for both the environment and -- the final punch in the gut -- my family. I can honestly say that on the receipt of my food purchases today there was not one unreasonable or unhealthy food item.

Not one.


Tracy said...

I lurk your blog through Misc and Co, and I really enjoyed this post. I like that you articulated your values, respected other's values, and made choices that are best for you and your family, with the rest of the world in mind also.

Dana said...

I wouldn't classify shopping at the co-op as an "upper-middle class" activity of righteousness, so don't beat yourself up over some perceived or self-imposed standard.

I balance my shopping between Meijer and Common Ground because that is what is economically feasible for me. I feel like it is a privilege to shop at CG, but not a privilege of class so much as a privilege of community.

I don't budget our shopping or plan out our meals, though, I am sure we would do much better if I did, so I applaud your efforts there. Mostly, I look for organic first, local second, and avoid HFCS completely. I try not to buy things in a box, can, or bag, but some of that is unavoidable. (The less packaging, the better, in general.) If the boy was still a young, finicky eater (versus just a semi-finicky, routing eater), I am sure I would have to consent to a lot more mass production items than I would like.

While I have switched us to a healthier eating choice, I have not become a better cook as I should. I am still a pretty lazy cook. :-p More than five ingredients? More than 20 minutes? Ugh.

I guess we all do our best for ourselves/our families based on the knowledge we have. For example, right now Meijer has both organic and non-organic baby carrots for $1.50/lb. While I am not buying them at CG, I am getting organic. I look at it as clipping coupons - I pay attention to which location has the best deals on organic produce and spend my money there. I suppose not planning our food helps since it means whatever is on sale I can get because I don't need a specific ingredient.

As for eating because you've gotten on a schedule, I don't think there is much wrong with that. Like you said, it keeps your blood sugar in check. I rarely eat breakfast, either, though I know I should. A habit that helps keep you feeling good and level sounds like a good habit to have. If it were to become part of a bad cycle, I am sure you would spot it right away and be able to address it. Find a new box, if you will.

Speaking of boxes, have you read "The Big Box" with Xander? It's a neat book by Toni Morrison written with her son.

Andrina said...

Do your regular big box stores not carry an organic/natural range? Most of our grocery stores here do - which saves us from the super expensive Whole Foods trips... as for the cucumbers, I'm super surprised by this - our garden is overflowing in cucumbers at the moment - I should have brought you a few while you were in town :-)

Looseyfur said...

Dri, I'm pretty sure they were just sold out for the day in cucumbers. But the big box stores sell organic, but in limited amounts. So finding organic spinach, easy... finding organic kiwi, not so much.

I also find that finding organic apples in the off apple season is difficult in the big box stores.