Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shop for a good deal that benefits everyone

Twenty five years ago when I was living in New York City I didn’t like going to the grocery store. Like most people in the city, I didn’t have a car so I could only buy what I could carry. (I heard a number of people use that as an excuse for eating most of their meals out.)

The grocery nearest to my apartment was dingy and the gum-smacking teenage cashiers obviously would have preferred to be elsewhere. So when I could, I shopped at the fresh fruit and vegetable stand that I passed on my walk home from the subway. Maybe that should have clued me in to what would be in my future.

When I moved to Kentucky twenty years ago, I missed those stands but I discovered the joy of shopping in a well-lit, clean grocery store with clerks who offered a friendly a smile. I could redeem coupons, choose from a wide variety of items and easily take home three bags filled with food if I so chose. I truly began to enjoy grocery shopping, searching for healthy bargains as I perused the aisles.

My motivation for where I shop and what I buy has changed since then. I no longer look for the cheapest sales or the one store that will have everything I need. My shopping priorities revolve around good health, eating local foods, buying in bulk and getting a good deal.

Good health. I believe the best way to establish good health, at least for me, is to eat primarily whole foods. I still used canned goods sometimes but most of my vegetables come either from my garden, my freezer or shelf of preserved garden vegetables or the produce department. The fresher the food is the better it is for my health, not to mention ensuring the most flavor.

Eating local foods is also strongly tied to good health. I belong to Good Foods Coop in Lexington that buys what they can locally and in-season. The less distance a food has to travel, the fresher it is and the more nutrients it maintains. That means eating primarily what is in-season in our region. (It does limit my fruit choices and I’m still puzzling over that problem.) That diminished trip also means fewer fossil fuels are burned to get the food to me. I get a fresher meal and a cleaner environment all at the same time.

Buying in bulk. I began to consider this when someone I interviewed for an article about simple living pointed out how much energy and how many resources are wasted in packaging the food I was buying. So even though there are just two of us in the Brown household, I began buying in bulk when possible and looking for items with less packaging. That led me to the Amish grocery store that’s about 15 minutes from here. They buy everything in bulk and package it simply. I was amused not long ago when I went to the store to refill my supply of flour and sugar and checked out after an Amish man. There I was with my less packaged products to cook with from scratch. There he stood with boxes of manufactured cereal and snacks. So no, everything at this store isn’t healthy and environmentally friendly to the max, but they do better than many places. And since we don’t have a grocery store in my town, it’s the nearest source for baking basics.

Getting a good deal. I’ve come to understand that there’s more to getting a good deal than only saving money. No, I’m not overrun with piles of money that I can throw at organic and local choices. But luckily for us, what we save from gardening gives us a little bit extra to spend on the more expensive items. As I’ve gotten to know the stores available to me and the local farmers, I’ve found ways to save money while following my shopping priorities. If I can shop to make myself and the earth healthier at the same time than I think I’m getting a very good deal.

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