When shopping for my own food, there are a few things I have to occasionally remind myself:
Unlike food shopping for some of my wealthier clients who don't have to worry about prices and who may be partly to blame for my extravagant spending habits, I'm not on an unlimited budget, so in this instance, I do need to check the price tags.
The world is not going to run out of food supply—there will still be food available for me to purchase next week.
Just because it's more expensive doesn't necessarily mean it's better—price can be a function of branding and packaging.
My kitchen is small, and storing those extra bags of nuts, seeds and brown rice in my sock drawer so I have them "just in case" is not really necessary.
My sister thinks I need to join a 12-step program for compulsive shoppers. I know she has a point—I could possibly live without some of those dresses, but when it comes to food, I'm not so sure I'm ready to admit it's a problem. I just love my food, and I tend to get a little heady as I peruse the aisles of the health food store and have to restrain myself from putting one of everything in my shopping cart. Perhaps my problem is that I never shop with a list, and many of my recipes are created in my mind as I stroll those aisles. The foods ignite my creativity, and marvels are created in my mind at the mere sight of them.
Shopping for myself and shopping for my clients are two very different experiences. My work has taken me to movie locations around the world, and in many instances the foods I use in my recipes are not available where I'm going, so I have to stock up in advance and take many of my supplies with me. We were on location in a small town in Canada last year, and when I Googled "food shopping" there, I got the Chevron Gas Station—and they weren't kidding! Of course, I like to be flexible and integrate new ingredients from the region in which I'm cooking. In Bulgaria, many of the beans I love to use in my cooking, but usually always have to buy dried in health food stores, were grown by farmers up in the mountains, and they sold them in little stalls by the side of the road, which was a thrilling find for me.
The availability of natural foods and ingredients to create healthy whole food dishes is variable, depending on where you live and the demand for these foods. Most larger towns have health food stores these days and as demand increases, more and more supermarkets are stocking organic natural foods at competitive prices. If there's not a health food store locally, I have found most local grocers are very amenable to ordering foods I suggest as long as they feel there will be demand and they won't sit and rot on their shelves.
Another great idea, which I suggested in an earlier post, is to find some kindred spirits—people who are also living a healthy lifestyle—and create a community co-op where the foods can be ordered in bulk an divided up among families. This is an economically good solution, as the prices are much lower when ordering in bulk.
Community Sponsored Agriculture is a system we're hearing more about these days. It's a system where consumers can buy locally produced seasonal foods direct from a farmer. Consumers can hold a share in the farm, which means that they contribute an amount up front and, in return, receive a weekly box of fresh produce. This benefits the farmers, as they have money up front to support producing the foods, and the consumers benefit by getting locally produced, organically grown vegetables direct from the source. When I have been in a position to take advantage of this system, I love the surprise of opening my weekly box having no idea what's inside. Many farms not only offer produce but also fresh eggs, breads and artisan foods.
I have some selfish motivation in writing this article, as one of my New Year's intentions is to become more organized and to observe—I won't exactly say "control"—my spending and be aware of areas where I can be more economical. For this purpose, I've created a shopping list of items I use in my cooking that I can print out and put a little tick beside each item I need to purchase on my weekly shopping trip.
To save time, it's a good idea to have your kitchen stocked with a nice range of basic ingredients and to shop occasionally throughout the week for fresh produce and items like fish or fresh cheeses. Of course, more hardy fruits and vegetables like onions and winter squashes that can store longer can be purchased weekly, but I like to shop for fresh greens and perishables every few days.
Storing foods depends on the size of your kitchen. Many kitchens I've worked in have large pantries with lots of shelving where dried foods can be stored in glass, ceramic or hard plastic jars. There are several factors that influence the shelf life of dried goods, such as temperature, exposure to light and air, type of containers used and moisture content of ingredients. Storing dried foods in tightly sealed containers in a cool, dark area extends their shelf life.
Whole dried grains and beans: These foods can stored under the right conditions for eight to 12 years. Brown rice has a short shelf life, as it contains essential oils in the germ, so it degrades more quickly. It can store for up to six months, but much longer if stored in the fridge or vacuum-sealed. Once the outer hull of the grains are broken down to create flour, the product will degrade and start to lose some of its nutritional value and should not be stored for more than a year. Of course you need to take into consideration the length of time the food has been on the shelf in the store, so check dates on packaged goods. For bulk foods, it's best to shop in stores where there's a quick turnover of bulk items or buy in smaller quantities that you won't have to store for long periods.
Nuts and seeds: Some people suggest storing nuts and seeds in the fridge, and I think this is a good idea, especially in warmer temperatures. The oils in nuts and seeds cause them to go rancid quite quickly. When I travel, if I'm going to be away for a while, I store most of my grains, nuts and seeds in my fridge and freezer, and they stay fresh for much longer.
Seaweed: Because of its high salt content, seaweed can be stored in sealed bags or containers, as moisture can cause it to mold. If it does get moist, it can be dried out in a warm oven.
Fruits and vegetables: All fruits and vegetables except potatoes, garlic, ginger, lemons, limes and bananas can be stored in the refrigerator. Ripe tomatoes can be stored in the refrigerator but do better stored at room temperature. Lemons and limes can be stored with other fruits in a fruit bowl or basket. Potatoes, garlic and ginger do best stored in a dark, dry place.
One last word of advice: Don't go shopping when you're hungry. When hungry, all food looks great and you're liable to end up with a full shopping cart of things you don't necessarily need.
I recommend a big slice of my Divine Corn Crust Pizza to leave your feeling satisfied and fulfilled. I first made it for a friend who was told by her nutritionist to avoid eating wheat, dairy products and tomatoes and was devastated, as pizza was the love of her life. I came to the rescue with pizza made with a cornmeal and spelt crust, but of course if you're on a gluten-free diet you can use another flour in place of the spelt, such as rice or oat. The sauce is made with pureed beet and carrot, which is then added to sautéed shallot with herbs. It is a truly delicious alternative to tomato sauce. In place of cheese, I topped with a seasoned tofu, but for nonvegans, you can use mozzarella or crumbled feta cheese. The feta is a lovely combination with the slightly sweet flavor of the beet sauce.