Navigating the grocery store.
Photo: Creatas/Thinkstock
A few years ago, an organic bakery opened up a just a couple of blocks from my apartment. I, for one, was baffled. Organic chicken I get. Organic tomatoes, sure. But organic cupcakes? The organic movement was getting a little too trendy for my taste, and I was finding it hard to grasp.

I'm still confused about organic frosting, but I've decided to educate myself. After seeing Michael Pollan on The Oprah Winfrey Show, my fiancé and I watched the documentary Food, Inc. together. It's smart, eye-opening and refreshing in that it doesn't feature a celebrity telling me the "cool" thing to eat. It also made us realize that a lot of what we have been consuming isn't really food. Low-wage labor and practices have made food more affordable, but not more nutritional. I've been living in a bubble, wherein the only thing that mattered about my food choices was how they would effect the size of my wallet and my thighs.

The truth about the way foods are grown and processed is something I'd avoided. I can't even handle the Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial, so watching a documentary about the animals I eat was not high on my to-do list.

The good news is that our food system is full of choices. I hope to make better decisions now, but I'll admit—I'm a little lost. Now that I've seen Food, Inc., I can't go back to the way I used to eat. I'm left to figure out how I to implement healthy foods into my already busy, budgeted lifestyle. Less processed foods! Free-range meats! Cage-free eggs!

My trip begins at my local grocery store, Dominick's. It's not a specialty store, just your regular ole grocery chain, similar to a Safeway, Food Emporium or Winn-Dixie. I went in with a few goals in mind:
  • Buy less packaged, processed foods full of ingredients my grandma wouldn't recognize, as Pollan says. I never bothered to look at the ingredients before. Sure, I'd turn the box around, but it was always to look at the calories, fat and sometimes the carbohydrates. Maybe sodium. It's amazing what you find when you read the ingredients.
  • Buy more fruits, vegetables and foods that are overall healthy, low in fat and nutritious.
  • Buy free-range meats that do not contain antibiotics and hormones.
Is it possible to shop for real food on a budget? Let's find out