Thanks to everyone for contributing, spreading the word, and getting involved with the Real World, Real Food Organic Basket Challenge that Sonja and I did last week. It was so incredibly fun. A particular congratulations goes out to Kara for winning, but I think everyone who participated was a winner (of course!). There was a lot of heart and soul (and tummies) in the mix. It was a great experience to be involve with.
As far as a wrap-up goes, I think the biggest take-away for me was the obvious differences in food costs across the country. Surprisingly, for the same grocery list, Kara (who lives in a fairly rural area) walked away with a lower grocery bill than anyone else who did the challenge from a big city. I was especially surprised that I had the highest bill, even though I am in the most centrally-located city (St Louis is the midwest after all). I for sure thought I would beat Sonja’s basket price, since I live in a mid-sized city that – from what I gathered – has a fairly low cost of living. But, I was wrong.
There are some confounding variables, of course. For one, the list was the same no matter where you are. So, what is locally grown in one region is probably not available locally in another. And, what is easy to import in some places (like from CA to CO) might take a little more to get from the origin to a different destination (say, Michigan’s UP, or Missouri). Secondly, I shopped in the city instead of on the outskirts, so I had to pay a bit of a premium (depending on where I shop, sales tax can be as high as 9.8%, and it turns out even food is taxed here … I think its around 4%?).
So where do we go from here? For me, the week’s worth of produce that I had all to myself forced me to eat real food every day. Instead of having nachos and cheese for dinner, I had to eat the fennel and cucumber and tomatoes and collard greens before they went bad. I admit, I didn’t get through everything by myself in the one week. Some of the stuff I stored in the freezer (shredded my zucchini and stored it in freezer bags for future bread!). But for the most part, it all went down my gullet. I realized, reflecting on the last week, that most of my meals were vegetarian, some were even vegan. I got a lot more creative with my meals, ate nuts and used olive oil in nearly every meal, and didn’t spend any money during the week by going out to lunch or grabbing a snack from the bookstore. And, as an extra bonus, I felt great all week. I felt sustained. My meals were filling, but not gigantic mounds of noodle and meat. In fact, I only had meat once during the week. I learned that I like fennel, and I like cooking with spices. I learned that I can make time to cook but I can also cook enough for myself to have leftovers to sustain me for the busier days. In other words, in the past week, I’ve really learned a lot about food, and myself.
It got me thinking more (oh boy, who needs that?!). It got me thinking about other cool things to try and what sort of plan I’m going to have every time I go to the grocery store. Yeah, I probably am not going to buy all-organic all-the-time. Unfortunately, I can’t afford it. But I am going to continue my habits of buying mostly in-season foods that don’t travel far. I also got thinking about another cool challenge: see how far our foods travel from the farm to the table. People have done this, they’ve written books about it. But something like this nationally, or even globally, might tell a better story as to why food is more expensive in some cities than others.
So to wrap up, thanks to everyone who participated, including:
And thanks to everyone who spread the word and thank you to those who thought about what they were throwing in their cart at the grocery store. Also, thanks to Whole Foods Galleria for being convenient and friendly, and for having everything I needed to complete my list. Did I mention that, this weekend – after eating clean for an entire week – I finished off my sweet potatoes with a (rather large) side of nitrite-free bacon and farm fresh eggs from Whole Foods? I love their meat counter folks.
Happy Holidays, everyone!