Navigating the Grocery Store: An Attempt to Eat Real Food on a Budget
Up first: fruits and vegetables. I wasn't expecting to find much, but when I took the time to look, I found a good selection of organic produce. I've always assumed organic was more expensive and never bothered to price check. As it turns out, the organic bananas are 20 cents more than nonorganic bananas. Organic oranges, 40 cents more. Tomatoes, 50 cents. Celery,15 cents. We're talking small change here! Opting for organic is feeling really easy right now.
My best discovery is the apples. Regular Fuji apples (my favorite) are $1.99 per pound. The organic Fuji apples just so happen to be on sale—for the exact same price. Score! One point for me.
Blueberries are on Dr. Oz's anti-aging checklist for their antioxidants, and I've recently begun to eat them for breakfast mixed with yogurt and granola. I've been very pleased with this healthy new me—until I examined the label a little more closely. My blueberries hail from...Chile. So much for eating locally; minus one point for me. I live in Chicago, where there is still snow on the ground and no farmer's markets to visit until summer. I search the store in hope that I can find at least semi-local blueberries, but no dice. Confession: I bought them anyway.
Something to keep in mind: A printable list of produce worth buying organic based on pesticide contaminations levels.
Following the perimeter of the store, my next stop is the meat department. It starts off well. I pick up a package of ground turkey meat, clearly marked as organic: "No antibiotics ever administered, vegetarian feed, humanely raised and no growth hormones." Sounds good to me, and at $4.49 per pound, it's only $1 more than the nonorganic ground turkey.
Chicken is up next, and it's a moral minefield. A package of brand-name chicken is on sale for $2.99 per pound. The organic chicken, stating "no antibiotics, free range, vegetarian feed and no hormones added" is $8.99 per pound. Triple the price!
My thrifty side is panicking, but I can't bring myself to buy the cheap chicken—I think Food, Inc. has changed my taste buds. (It could be the guilt.) My solution: I buy neither. By no means am I turning vegetarian, but I'm starting to think I don't need to eat as much meat as I have been in the past—a shocking concept for me.
I stay away. For this week, my budget isn't going to allow for grass-fed steak, and I'm okay with that.
I'm happy to see my grocery store carries three options of cage-free eggs. The most expensive dozen stands out with its "USDA approved" label, but the other cartons use the exact same cage-free, no-hormone wording. None claim to be free farmed, which would have been ideal. As I'm standing in the refrigerated section for far too long, a couple comes up next to me. They are also looking for cage-free eggs, but clearly aren't willing to spend 10 minutes thinking about it. "Let's just pick one," he says. "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe." I notice they pick the cheapest cage-free dozen, and I grab the same. At least they have a system.
Doesn't "low fat" equal "healthy?"