Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Breaking the Supermarket Habit: Getting Started

As we enter the growing season and the arrival of fabulous fresh foods to our farmers markets, and hopefully arriving in some of our gardens as well,  I am planning over the next few posts to discuss ways in which the average person can break free of what I call the "Supermarket Food Habit".

I am often challenged by readers and others as to how they are supposed to "start" eating more locally, seasonally and humanely.  How much more will it cost me?  How much time will it take?  How do I begin actually cooking real food at home?  It is my hope that I will be able to answer all of these questions, along with providing some guidelines for getting started.  And remember, everything does not have to happen at once.  Actually, these kinds of changes are best carried out in small steps/in increments.  The practice of going to one enormous store and filling up one or two shopping carts with everything we could possibly need for at least a week - often supplemented by fast food - is ingrained in our DNA.  So this is not an overnight fix. It's not a fad. We want the changes to be permanent.  So, one step/one day at a time is definitely the way to go.

First, a little bit of history and discussion about where things used to be and about how we got into the situation we are in with Food.  It"s important to think about how this all unfolded.  What led us to where we are today?

In the beginning, industrialization and urbanization cut deeply into the agrarian lifestyle of earlier generations.  Many people stopped keeping a garden and "putting up" food for the winter.  After World War II, "Victory Gardens" all but disappeared. New conveniences like electric refrigerators and freezers became common place in every home.  This begat a corner grocery store, which then begat a supermarket, which then begat a superstore.

Our foremothers shopped the way many of us on the fringes of the Fair Food movement shop today - making 2, 3, even 4 stops.  My Gran would go to the small farmers' market where she liked the chicken and she'd take me regularly to the Reading Terminal Market (when there was sawdust on the floor and poultry hanging) because she liked a number of things from the Amish folks. And always while we there, she got herself a buttermilk from the "Drink Buttermilk and Live Longer" stand and me a Bassett's ice cream in a cardboard cup with a steel holder.  She knew lots of people by name.  And of course she had a real relationship with that corner store owner.  It was a tiny store and Saul stocked it to the ceiling.  He was also a trained butcher, so Gran got her fresh meat from him.  His son played with my sister and I and the other neighborhood kids. There was a personal connection.

Well folks, that was then, this is now.  A time, as Michael Pollen calls it, of "needless complication" about food. My grandmother would not recognize much of what's on the shelves - and especially what's in the freezers - in a typical supermarket.  "Dinners" that you can put in a drawer or a cabinet; fifteen versions of everything; and ingredients lists that boggle the mind.  Our insatiable need for mega stores; our inability to eat seasonally - forget locally - and our insane demand for "perfect looking" produce has nearly destroyed real independent farms and replaced them with horrible institutions of manufacturing food - factory farming/big Ag - whatever you want to call it.  That worm hole led us to tasteless hybrids that shipped well, and then later, GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

So, like many of us, if you at the point where you are considering eating real food, food that comes from the region in which you reside, food that is free from lots of additives and chemicals, and food that is raised the right way - humanely - the supermarket is not going to be your main source.  As a matter of fact, probably no "store" will do everything for you.  A lot of this effort comes from your own kitchen - by cooking more of your own food yourselves, you take the first giant leap toward real food, healthier food, and fair food.

Let's Get Started!

First we should get the obvious issues out of the way.

1.  Cooking most of your own food takes time. Doing a weekly menu takes time.  Preserving your own food takes more time.  You will come to know that it is time well spent.
2.  Shopping selectively (having a butcher, a cheese monger, a bakery,  and going to the Farmers Markets) is more complicated and time consuming than walking into a supermarket.
3.  Consider whether you are really willing to go "all in".  For example, if you are going to take more time in food selection and in cooking for yourself, and then eat fast food lunches or those over processed meals that have a shelf life of forever, you are defeating your efforts.  Learn to Brown Bag it!
4.  YES!  Let's get it out of the way. Some things will cost more.  This is a direct attempt to keep you hooked on the supermarket by the national mega food factories!  I have very little else to say on the subject of costs.  You are putting food into your body! And the bodies of those for whom you are preparing food.  What is that worth to you?  Your call - would you rather pay the farmer or the doctor?

OK - As we begin this process there are a couple of questions for you to take some time to consider  and to answer for yourself  - honestly.

1.  What are your goals in changing your food purchasing and preparing practices?
2.  Do you meal plan?  Do you make a weekly menu?  Do you shop with a shopping list?
3.  Do you have a good idea of what produce is in season at various times of the year?
4.  How often to you cook?  And when you cook, what do you make?  Be tough on yourself.  Reheating a roast chicken purchased from a chain restaurant does not count!

For the next installment of "Breaking the Supermarket Habit", I will provide some guidelines around the above four practices.  If you answer these questions for yourself, the next post will be more useful for you. My guidelines will help you shop for, make, and eat great, fresh, healthy food and be much less supermarket dependent!

Do the Homework! Have Fun!