Healthy Eating: The Sequel
A while back, I wrote about the conundrum of wanting to eat healthy but finding that most healthy choices cost more than less healthy choices. My post, entitled “Healthy Eating: It’ll Cost You!” was based on a New York Times article and on my personal experiences trying to shop wisely in rural America. I received a range of responses—many people seemed to agree that the American poor face a true dilemma when it comes to eating wisely. Some pointed out that I should just head to Trader Joe’s or a local ethnic market to save money. I don’t blame those people for not realizing that we don’t have Trade Joe’s or a local ethnic market. Sometimes when you’re used to living with those things, you forget they’re not everywhere.
My friends in more metropolitan regions of the state have Trader Joe’s, as well as a nifty place called Plum’s that seems based on the same idea as Trader Joe’s, and a smattering of other small, reasonably priced “healthy-and-organic-on-the-cheap” options around town. Here, in sum, are my grocery options within thirty miles of my small town, whose economy, for what it’s worth, is largely stimulated by tourism and whose local residents are rarely as wealthy as the vacationers who flood the place in summer and winter. I’ve listed the stores in ascending order according to price:
• WAL-MART—you all know this one. Rock-bottom prices and questionable company policies all around. I know people who drive 20 miles to shop here.
• THE REGULAR GROCERY STORE—a regional grocery chain with decent food selection, where you’ll pay more for the same items you get at Wal-Mart.
• THE FAMILY-OWNED GROCERY STORE—a small family-owned grocery with locations in four small towns. Decidedly more expensive than Wal-Mart.
• THE FOOD CO-OP—a well-stocked food co-op with plenty of healthy, but inevitably premium-priced, organic and local options.
Come summer, of course, all of this changes; I live in a beautiful, agriculturally rich area, and the farmer’s markets are unmatched. But from November to May, you’ve got those four choices. I'm sure the choices are similar throughout much of small-town America.
I think it’s really all about short-term versus long-term thinking. Am I willing to pay one-and-a-half times as much, or even over twice as much, for groceries in short-term, if I know that by doing so I can support local businesses in the long-term? For those living close to or below the poverty line, short-term thinking is sometimes the only option, which is why these corporate giants can be so detrimental to our communities. When given the choice to pay $3 or $1.75 for a loaf of bread, there are plenty of people who simply have to pay $1.75.
If you’re somewhere in the middle, check out my…
SHORT-TERM TIPS FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH LIMITED GROCERY OPTIONS:
• If you have a food co-op in your area, ask them for a coupon book. Most co-ops put one out monthly, and clipping coupons can offer amazing savings on regular grocery items. Most co-ops will also trade volunteer hours for discounts: volunteering just four hours a month at my co-op will earn you 10% off your total purchase every day of that month.
• Call your Chamber of Commerce to see if there are any incentive programs available for shopping at local businesses. In my town, anybody who works for a local business can get a Chamber Discount Card, giving them deals when they shop locally. It’s meant to encourage local businesses to support one another.
• Start small. Choose one or two items you want to buy organically or from a locally owned store each week. Maybe you’ll decide to buy organic milk, or local apples, or maybe you’ll just get a cup of coffee at the local shop instead of Starbuck’s (which we don’t have either, by the way…and I don’t miss it. Our little coffee shop is just what I need!). A friend of mine recently said she started out just buying one item a week, as well as whatever was on sale, at our food co-op. “Then, I just started buying more items there each week, and now that’s pretty much the only place I shop for my family,” she said. “I’ve made it work.” This might not be within economic reach for everyone, but you never know.
• Check your budget and weigh your priorities. Are there places where you could adjust in order to allow you to shop locally for a few items? I rarely buy a $3 latte anymore, and I rent movies rather than going to the theater, and the extra money in my pocket gives me a little extra to cover, say, the difference between shopping at a local grocery versus Wal-Mart.