Saturday, January 10, 2009

On Shopping Responsibly

The New Year demanded a State of the Blog address. A week ago I posted thoughts on the first part of the Pinch tag line (the entirety of which reads, "Sophisticated home cooking that supports shopping responsibly and eating along practical, healthy guidelines.") In three installments I'm explaining what Pinch holds dear. This is the second installment.

The middle part of the Pinch tag line concerns itself with shopping. Some of you love it, some hate it. Some of you leave it to Peapod, some share the responsibility with spouses and some of you wouldn't dream of letting someone else pick your avocados. I'm in the latter camp, though am lucky to be married to a gem of a man who picks a fine avocado when called upon to do so.

What does it mean to shop responsibly? Why is it important?

Shopping responsibly means being thoughtful about what you buy, how much you buy (or how much is wasted), who you buy it from, and how much time and money you spend buying it. We can live more responsibly by minimizing waste (food waste, money waste, environmental waste (in the form of gas and packaging) and exposure to needless chemicals or prices.

What you buy
Food you buy should be nourishing, healthy and leave the smallest footprint possible.

For help finding or improving the balance in what you eat, the revised food pyramid (I like the new one from Harvard School of Public Health) is a good place to start. Figuring out the protein-fat-carbohydrate ratio that works best for your body will get you eating healthier more balanced meals. Weekly menu planning helps a lot in this area. If you want to make sure you eat fish once a week, or increase protein in your diet, the way to do it is to shop accordingly. If your cupboards are full of pasta or rice and beans, that’s what you’ll be cooking that week.

Related to footprint, consumers sometimes struggle between buying local or organic. Personally, when forced to pick between the two, I go with local.

Who you buy it from
Where you choose to spend your grocery dollar determines your part in the food economy. I don’t like spending all my money at the farmer’s market but if we want to have smaller farms we need to out our money where our mouth is. It’s important to appreciate the true cost of our food, whether it’s paying $0.89/pound for chicken thighs at Safeway or $1.99 for an avocado at Whole Foods that was grown in South America. In both cases the consumer is footing the bill for more than cheap chicken or avocado airfare. In Slate, Sara Dickerman summed it up nicely,

“…Most of us followers of the food revolution believe that industrially produced cheap food is not actually cheap. It might not cost much at the checkout line, but it hides a raft of government food subsidies and externalities like pesticide and methane pollution, not to mention the inhumane mass production of animals. So it can be hard to get to the bottom of the bottom dollar.”

How much to buy
Shopping precedes cooking and menu planning precedes (or should precede) shopping. When a weekly eating plan or menu is written, it enables the family cook to shop once and cook meals all week long. When I know we’re eating beans, broccoli, artichokes and salad during a given week it’s easy to only buy what we’ll consume that week. This saves time and money.

How much time/money to spend shopping
Over the years I've streamlined the process to make my grocery shopping more efficient. I've significantly reduced the number of weekly grocery runs. Many weeks I've only had to go grocery shopping once (disclosure: I hit 2-3 different stores to get everything on my list).

Before I had children I was a daily market shopper. Granted, we lived down the street from the Pike Place Market in Seattle where it was easy to walk out of my restaurant job, pass thru the market and round up ingredients for dinner for two. It may be inefficient in terms of time, but it did enable us to eat well, seasonally, and left a small footprint.

Spending is entirely personal. My grocery budget is probably on the high side since cooking is a passion of mine. Do vote in the poll this week!

Next up: the final installment in the series will look at how to eat along practical, healthy guidelines.

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