I live in Seattle, so I have an advantage that many do not. I have the Country’s longest continuously open, open market. I have Pike Place Market. I learned long ago that this is not just a tourist stop, but an actual shopping center. I either ride my bike to the market or take the public transit. I carry my own bags, knowing full well I have to carry everything back, taking only enough bags that I can carry limits my purchases. Some will say shopping at a farmer’s market is too expensive, I say your health is more important and your mindset is wrong. Sure if you only shop in bulk, the market is not the way to do it. However if you learn to shop more like people in small apartments with limited space, people on boats, or even in a general sense people from Europe, you will see that you eat much better quality and that the cost difference is not that significant. One other thing you notice by shopping this way, is that by not buying more than you will use, you save your waistline. By limiting cheese purchase, for example, you are not as likely to build up a quesadilla in the middle of the night.
Sure I shop more than others, but I plan and I know that I am eating more excellent quality than what I can get at a grocery store. I am also free from impulse purchases, save a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers. This, I must say was a hard thing to learn how to do. I am a parent, and my ex-husband, whom I probably inappropriately blame for many of my problems, hates shopping. We were weekly shoppers, I would buy in bulk. I had a Costco card once upon a time. This was my worst nightmare ever. I impulse shop, and I like to make sure I have plenty. Who on this planet needs two dozen of the large Costco muffins? I certainly do not. Might be the cause of my never-ending battle with my waistline. I love food, you see. My passion for food goes beyond eating it though, I love to shop for it, to touch it, to chop and create with it. Food is my artistic medium. A blessing and a curse, if I had not abandoned bulk shopping long ago.
I am not claiming that I never use a typical grocery store, there are some things that cannot be found at the market. Out of season produce, boxed and canned goods. You see I am on a learning curve and I kick myself every time I make bad food purchasing decisions. I can tell you that shopping smaller is more economical. I have two teens and I can feed them both, myself and my partner, who only eats with us occasionally, for little more than $75 a week. I cheat. I have a bin of mostly local, all organic produce delivered to my doorstep bi-weekly. Used to be weekly, but then my kids are not home much and I was wasting a ton of produce. For $29.74 every other week I get plenty of produce to work with. These are the basics. I usually get three types of fruit. An example is two plums, two peaches and a pint of strawberries. I also get greens, usually some kind of lettuce, a bunch of kale, chard and or spinach. Some kind of squash, carrots and potatoes of some sort. Typically if I ate nothing but stuff from the bin there is enough for one person for 3 days worth of meals.
This weekend I decided to make a seafood chowder and this awesome salad I found on the New York Times this weeks. I went to the market Saturday around noon. List in hand I stopped at my most favorite veggie stand, Sosio’s. I like the people there, the quality is great and they can tell me what is imported and I will decide if I want that carbon footprint. In the recipe for the salad it suggested Frissee and radicchio. I asked about another type of lettuce to help round out the flavor. The wonderful woman brought me this tiny head of endive, this was perfect. I may never use regular head lettuce again. I gathered a handful of fingerling potatoes, which I actually did not need. I also gathered some fresh herbs and was informed Meyer lemons are out of season, so she picked the sweetest lemon she could find for me. You see, they know me there. They know if they are really busy I can gather most of my produce myself. A service they provide for people just looking for the experience of shopping an open market is that they will gather all of your produce, you never have to step inside the stand. I have gone in with a cryptic list, in which they grab from me and show me what they interpret my list to mean as they gather my order. The benefit of shopping at a stand as opposed to the grocery store is that prepackaged items often have rotten produce at the bottom of the bags or clamshell containers. At the open market this is never an issue, you can see them all before they go into your bags.
Since Burrata is a seasonal item, I half expected to not find it. I did manage to find it in a cheese only stand. Although disappointingly it was not fresh, but packaged. I can forgive this since it is a seasonal item. You could substitute regular mozzarella if you cannot find this cheese, but it is a cream stuffed mozzarella ball. I split mine in half over two salads, which was tricky since the cream oozed out, but I managed to get it done. The Burrata was creamy and had a light flavor, but that is to be expected with a mozzarella.
The chowder, I confess was spendy. First I had celery and carrots and potatoes, fingerlings are my preference. I added scallops and 2 oz of fresh steelhead salmon, from the fishmongers at the market. I also grabbed a can of crab, this was for ease more than anything else. I do not have the appropriate tools to crack crab and frankly this is a messy process. I also added about 30 medium shrimp, deshelled and deveined. With that much seafood you are looking at nearly $25. I added organic half and half about 20 minutes before serving. I seasoned it with herbs de Provence and garlic, salt and pepper. I served it in a breadbowl with a garnish of cheddar and a fresh parsley. This is not something I would serve on a regular basis, this was a celebratory meal. It also made a ton of chowder. My daughter had dinner with us, so there were initially three breadbowls full. I can see at least three more, plus my daughter had a second helping last night so that is 7 bowls of soup divided by lets say $32, for a total of $4.57 per meal. Add $2 for a each breadbowl. The salad was about $3 per serving and I have a ton of the lettuce mix left. If I had limited myself to one lettuce type it would be less than $3 and I would have nothing left over. The problem with leftovers is that most people do not want to eat them in the next few days.
To give you a bit more insight on how this market thing works, I also am a member of co-op. I ride my bike there at least once a week. If I put on my saddlebags, I can carry home, laundry soap, two dozen eggs, fresh yogurt, refilled oils, vinegar and a variety of produce. Relearning how to shop was probably my most difficult, even more difficult than learning how to live without a car. My current boyfriend is the only man I have seriously dated since I moved to Seattle, with a car. We use it on occasion, I am learning to rely on myself more, as I have become dependent on him to allow me to borrow the car. The only time I will ask to use it now is if i need to go someplace that is not feasible by bicycle or to run home to care for my dog. I live atop Beacon Hill, you see this is the second highest point in Seattle. I work in the valley so biking home is not exactly easy, I have however figured out it takes me 25 minutes to get home, biking all the way or partly pushing my bike. It takes me about 17 minutes to get back to his place. In a car it takes about 35 minutes, so the reality is I am saving about 10 minutes or so. And that is when the lights are favorable to our route.
Another thing to consider when thinking about the cost of food, is that certainly bulk buying is much more economical, if you use it all. Far too many people throw our more food than they consume. This makes the reality much less cost-effective. I would rather pay $1 for a small amount of herbs I will use completely up, than a bulk of herbs which lose their flavor in a month. I bet if you started charting how much food you throw out you will be amazed. One thing that helped me was composting is mandatory in Seattle. I have one of those cute little bins, which I keep in my refrigerator to keep the smell at a minimum. What amazed me was how often I had to take the little bin out. Once I figured out how to minimize the waste, and juicing helps minimize that, I started to be very present with my food purchases.
In my current apartment, I have this wonderful pantry. I purchase many dried beans and grains in bulk. I figured out to keep them organized, I had to develop a system. In my system I also reduced my carbon footprint. I reuse any glass jar I get, fill them with bulk items and then store them based on category on different shelves in old beer bottle six-packs. See Image below to get a feel for this. You have to find jars that fit, otherwise you stack those along the wall. By doing this, I minimize over purchasing things like flour and grains. Limited space makes things so much easier to drop the bulk habit. I love how a store will advertise 10 for a $10. Ok did you realize you can buy one and still get it for only a buck? Most people think that deal is only good on bulk, but no, at least in the city it is for whatever you purchase. So do not get suckered into buying more than you can carry or need.
So the question is, do you still feel that farmer’s markets are too expensive or are your food purchases based in an obsolete ideology that you were fed by mass marketers? Well which is it, are you a pawn in a monetary game or are you a free-thinker. Seriously make a plan for a week, give yourself a minimum budget and try buying only what you can carry per market trip. You will be enlightened, by the fact that simple menu planning, will greatly decrease your food waste and maybe even your waistline.
Oh I guess I should mention that I only eat seafood once in a while, I am primarily a vegetarian, and that does not mean I eat fake meats. It means that I eat eggs, cheese and tons of beans and grains. So my budget is likely much smaller than someone who desires to have meat at every meal. But try it anyway. Maybe cut back your meat portions and see how you feel and how your budget feels.