Friday, July 9, 2010

No Grocery Store Challenge Wrap Up

So, the no grocery store challenge has ended.  We went three and a half weeks only spending $12.94 at Meijer Supermarket.  This challenge was a way for us to save money while our budget was temporarily tight.  Many advocates of food storage cite natural disasters as a reason to be well supplied but fail to mention that food storage can be extremely helpful during times when the pocketbook is lean.

Here are some of the things I learned about myself in the past weeks:

1.  I am a food hoarder. My pantries bulge. I collect staples.  The problems is while Webster's defines a staple as "a basic and necessary food item" my definition is quite broader.  I shop at grocery stores and ethnic food markets like most people shop malls and antique stores.  (Case in point: On our recent trip to Omaha, the only shopping I did was at Whole Foods and various ethic food stores.  Yes, I was a tourist at a Whole Foods.  If you happen to live near one, don't take it for granted!)  I’m always in search for the seeds, nuts, legumes, pulses, beans, grains, ect. that I can’t get in my limited Bowling Green grocery stores, and I buy up.  I also buy up whenever I see something on sale.  In fact, pantry space has overflowed to the laundry room.  Shelves are heaped haphazardly with bags of lentils, rice, beans which threaten to avalanche at any moment.

2. The No Grocery Store challenge made me less of a hoarder.  I HAD to use what was on hand.  Many times I have the tendency to save the good stuff for a special occasion, but that occasion never comes.  It didn’t occur to me that this was the case until I started buying groceries again.  Yesterday, I was prepping to make a beet and lentil salad.  I only have French lentils on hand (from Omaha’s Wholefoods, before that I got them at Cleveland’s West Side Market because I can't get them in B.G.).  I thought, I can’t use these in this recipe—it’s my precious stash—so I sent Kent out to buy regular brown lentils.  So it's great to collect uncommon grains and beans, but I need to stop saving them up.  Perhaps this is why I find the urgency of using fresh, seasonal produce so compelling.

3. I didn’t make much of a dent in my pantry or freezer.  See two previous items.  I really must do better with this.  So, while Kent’s gone next week, I should make sure to eat all the frozen food that he won’t normally eat: KALE. FISH.  But, at the same time, if it's not in danger of spoiling, it IS comforting to have extra food on hand.

4.  I liked the limitations of using what was on hand because I didn’t feel overwhelmed with too much food to cook.  While I think I do a good job of not letting food go to waste, I still overbuy.  Or I let the CSA box get the best of me, and can't seem to use up everything before it goes bad.  I hate feeling anxious about having TOO much food! 

5.  Limitations make even small treats feel decadent.  After awhile, the limitations did begin to feel spartan.  We ate a lot of peanut butter in 3 weeks.  But, when we sprung for Parmesan, it felt lavish.  I forget how easy it is to be jaded by over saturation of something.  Which again, brings me to Alice Waters’s quote “The things most worth having are not available everywhere all the time.”  Because if they were, they wouldn’t be worth it.

6. I appreciated and celebrated the food that I did have more.  I felt grateful for the soups I had frozen this winter and thawed.  I felt thrilled that I was able to cobble together healthy, delicious meals from what was left in the pantry.  I was even prouder of the vegetables from my garden (if that's possible).

7.  I had more free time because I wasn't obsessing over grocery shopping.  This challenge made me realize that I don’t like going to the grocery store. Submitting weekly to a crowded big-box store, with it's onslaught of heavily marketed packaged food, not to mention the plethora of decisions about what to buy and not buy, makes me a little crazy.  I’d rather not have to deal with it.  It's more manageable for me to stay out in the farmer’s markets, CSAs, my own garden, and the underground food network I’ve made for myself here, and to go to specialty markets for special treats.  Of course, I can't stay out of the supermarket forever, but at least during the summer, I don't need to rely on it nearly as much for my food.

What about you?  How do you approach food storage?  What is your pantry like?

* I forgot to give photo credit where, credit is due.  Kent took the two grocery store shots in this post.  Good job, honey!


Anonymous said...

My pantry is hip-deep in staples (wow, that sounds painful...) and I LOVE grocery "shopping" in my own basement. Most of our grocery store runs these days are ten items or less for things like bread, cheese, and milk. It's a huge relief, in some ways, but also takes some of the spontaneity out of cooking...which is the fun part, for me.

Emily (chicken-harvest-arranger)

JEM said...

I have just come across your challenge wrap-up a year late, so I apologize that I am commenting so late. What did you do about milk? My family consists of two people and I have to buy 3+ gallons a week. Did your project have exceptions like milk? I'd love to do this challenge. What are the rules. Or are there no rules except No Food Buying?

Sarah said...

Hi, Jem,

We don't drink milk because of my husband's lactose intolerance, we drink rice milk, which comes in shelf stable packaging, so that wasn't an issue here. But setting up your own "cheat clauses" for milk every week is a good idea. You can really make a No Grocery Store challenge your own that way, and be more successful in the long run.