I concede that not everyone is bound to share my dream to bag the supermarket. I further concede that doing so is not a lark. It’s a life-changer.
In that vein, I had to laugh last week when Catherine commented on my post about making my own hard cider. She said:
When you start cooking over a fire in your backyard, we’re going to have a little chat…”
I actually do have this really cool book about building a wood-fired oven and have been trying to get Virgo Man to make me one. So that little chat may not be far off, Cath…only a few more months of begging, pleading, and wheedling ought to get me there. Or who knows, maybe I’ll learn how to build it all by myself! Ha.
In all seriousness, I think Cath has a point, and the point is this.
Being self-sufficient and weaning off the supermarket has plenty to recommend it, philosophically, but it sure seems impossible to a lot of people.
Even I must face the fact: supermarkets are convenient and affordable. The food they sell is convenient and affordable. For people who are living with stressed budgets and trying to do 8 million things at once, which is pretty much everyone these days, you do have to find convenience and affordability wherever you can. I get that.
Furthermore, I have not come clean about part of my motivation for bagging the supermarket – until now. It harkens back to something I wrote about a year ago or more. Virgo Man has always said to me, it’s easier to cut expenses than make more money. It’s a mark of how far I’ve traveled that I now whole-heartedly endorse this point of view.
I used to think that I could always earn more money. But the world changed, jobs got scarcer, and people don’t hire brains as much as they used to. Instead, they develop and use their own brains, and I’m all for it. But it kind of limits my employment options sometimes, since I’ve pretty much been a brain for hire all my life.
So what’s the thread here?
It’s this: If I want to take the edge off not working for the kind of money I used to work for, I have to cut expenses. I have to be less dependent on a paycheck for the fundamental necessities of life. And since food is a major expenditure for our family, food is where I start.
Maybe you see a disconnect here, because I’ve said many times that buying local sustainable food is more expensive, not less expensive, than buying supermarket food. That’s certainly usually true. But there’s a piece I haven’t really talked about yet. To wit: there are times when local sustainable food is less expensive. The rub is, you have to be watching for it, you have to have a strategy for it, and you have to put effort and time into it.
For example, rain is coming to my area on Monday. The farmer’s market on Saturday was full of talk of it. Once it rains, any produce left on the vine or the stalk splits and is ruined. So, in preparation for the rain, the growers brought piles of end of season produce to market. Tomatoes could be had for $1 a pound – even less if you were willing to take whole crates on the verge of over-ripeness.
Pickling cucumbers were 50 cents a pound. Onions and green beans were going for a song. I bought a flat of incredible strawberries for 30% less than the usual price, and got a deal on 5 pounds of figs. Four pounds of cherry bomb peppers set me back a whole $2.
So you can guess what I did all weekend. I made 8 pints of fig and cranberry jam. I pickled five pints of cherry bombs. I roasted and froze yet more tomatoes, and wished I’d sprung for more of them, because I cannot imagine having “too many” tomatoes. I’ve got a big container of cucumbers fermenting on the kitchen counter. Next up: a couple of pints of strawberries into the freezer for smoothies and tarts some dark January day.
Time consuming? Yes.
But I am setting food by. Added to my freezer already full of corn, green beans, blackberries, salmon, and ling cod, it’s a true bounty. I don’t know if I’ll make it this winter, but by next winter I won’t be spending money on groceries from November through May.
That’s my goal. Bag the Supermarket by November, 2014.
The other thing is, I love to cook. So this is a joyful way for me to do my bit to change the world. I said a minute ago that it takes time and effort, but time and effort are no problem if you’re doing what you love – which I most emphatically am. I don’t really expect that most other people will dive into it as wholeheartedly as I do.
But get this: If you just choose one thing in your grocery budget to obtain locally, that can be enough. It can change more than you might imagine. The easiest thing for most people is milk and eggs. If you do that, you’ll be buying a staple locally, supporting a local farm, and doing your bit to life a significant burden on the environment. (Oh, and the other thing too: introducing yourself to the true flavor of local milk and eggs, which will amaze and delight you.)
In the last week, both Sir Empath and O Psychic One have come to me saying they are ready to improve their diets. They have both sworn off processed food, sat down to family dinners with me, and happily accepted homemade sandwiches that I’ve happily made them for lunch, instead of getting them Subway. I haven’t lectured them about a thing. I’ve just been who I am, doing what I do. They’ve seen me in the yard pressing apples, and in the kitchen blanching tomatoes. It got their attention. I didn’t expect it to, but I’m thrilled.
So I’ll keep on keeping on about my obsessive local food foraging and preserving, and maybe a few of you will catch my disease. But if you don’t, that’s okay too. The world offers many ways to dream up change. Bagging the supermarket is but one of them.
And making any change at all is, in and of itself, a life-changer.