Last night I spent $60 at Whole Foods – representing the largest bill that I have racked up at any grocery store in more than a year. This is not something I am proud of. I know $60 is a nominal bill at this store – and that amount would get you a bit more food at Shaw’s Supermarket and even more so at Market Basket, another local chain so cheap that I have been known to willingly fight their multi-lingual throngs and narrow aisles strewn with saw dust to buy a few cans of chick peas. But the more I delved into my locavore lifestyle, the more I realized that I could get almost everything I wanted – generally without sacrifice – from the farmer’s themselves, or at least from specialty shops that have hand-chosen each purveyor. My shopping trips became the modern version of how my Nana – my Nani’s mother – would assemble the ingredients for a meal back in Calsinasetta, Sicily: farmer’s market (or in my case, CSA) for the produce, meat from the farmer who raised the animals, milk to drink or make mozzarella and ricotta also from a local farmer, or cheese made by another local artisan. The garden in the back for herbs and other items in season. Perhaps the local store for staples that could not be grown or obtained through the purveyors in the neighborhood. I’m not sure of my great grandmother’s freezing or canning abilities, but I have also been tapping into my preserves from the previous year: pickles, tomatoes, jam, salsa, peaches and root-cellared beets, cabbage potatoes, onions and turnips among others.
But yesterday: for lunch I finished the cole slaw from our second-to-last cabbage and couldn’t imagine eating another batch. I had defrosted pork chops in the fridge, but I just wanted a quick, fresh meal. Seafood maybe. It was five o-clock and we were in a time crunch. And needed toilet paper. And I could go for some fresh fruit. So my husband and I wandered around Whole Foods, choosing pre-made salmon burgers for dinner, grabbing some fair trade bananas and raiding the bulk food for cashews and split peas. Steve chose some yogurt (we had been eating an awful lot of egg and kale frittatas recently) and a veggie side dish from their fancy salad bar. I picked out a few interesting links of store-made sausage. Oh and the made-from-recycled-material toilet paper.
Sixty dollars later we were sitting down to a salmon burger that was dense as a hockey puck, eating a variety of veggies that would not have been distinguishable had we been tasting them blindfolded. For these alone we had paid more than $15. We each choked down the last bites of the burger – more panko than fish – and Steve said, “I guess that’s why we don’t eat out much.”
Now, we are not locavore militants: just this past week we ate Thai takeout (cost: $20) and one morning I woke up to find that Steve had made his favorite midnight snack of boxed pasta and warmed-tomato-paste-and-water (cost: <$1). And it’s not about the money, although we’d likely eat at one of the local farm-to-table restaurants a lot more frequently if we had the funds. To me, it is about value. And not just value for my money, but value for the earth and the people who provided the food and the food itself. If I am going to eat salmon, I want that fish to be honored: harvested sustainably, prepared deliciously. I will pay a fair price for that. I considered the value of the Thai take-out – something we eat rarely, but I worked late and my husband had a gig and we had one hour to spend together in between. It was almost certainly not local or organic, but that was the price I was willing to pay to be filled with tasty food and catch up with my husband. This is a convenience I have that my Nana did not, and I do not feel guilty taking advantage of it on occasion.
Eating local is hard to do – especially in this shoulder season when the stored produce is nearly gone and the spring breezes make me yearn for the not-yet-ripe foods of summer. But it took me straying with a completely average and typical meal like the one I had last night – a meal not unlike thousands, probably millions of people eat every day – to appreciate and redouble the efforts I make every day to eat locally, sustainably and deliciously.