Are you tired of your weekly grocery store routine? Do you wish to eat more local, organic food? Do you need a reason to stop buying processed snacks and meals? Do you want to know where your food comes from? Do you want to feel great? Well if you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then you may want to consider a No Grocery Store Challenge too! Does this sound like an infomercial? Sorry, let me explain…
Inspired by an article that I had read earlier in the summer, about a family’s year without visiting the grocery store, five weeks ago, our family also decided to embark on, what we’re calling, the “No Grocery Store Challenge.”
After reading the article, I thought to myself, “what a cool idea….one day that will be me.” Then three-ish weeks later, I was all like, “wait a minute, that can be me right now!” After all, summer is an ideal time to embark on a journey like this–there’s plenty of food in our garden, local farmer’s markets are popping up everywhere, and food is litterally growing on trees!
I’m pleased to say that yesterday marked our six weeks without shopping at the grocery store. No, that’s not a type-o, our family decided to do the challenge 5 weeks ago, but we hadn’t technically grocery-shopped since the week proir, so it seemed fair to start from that date.
There have been so many different reactions to our decision. Some people totally “get it,” while others would look at us with sympathy, or confusion — I could read their minds by the look on their faces: “you poor thing, what are you going to eat?” or “you’re crazy, lady.” Well I hope the explain our craziness in this post!
Note: Before I continue, I need to mention that although our original goal was to carry out this challenge until the first day of fall, we cut it short by a couple of weeks. Now, before you start calling me a sell-out or a giver-upper, I’ll explain in the “What we missed/challenges” section.
We set aside a few rules for ourselves to follow, some based on the original article, and others that we added.
- No shopping at the grocery store, butcher, drug store.…essentially no shopping anywhere where there’s tax and a roof.
- We could eat out two times.
- No “stocking up” before hand (this was a cold-turkey, spur of the moment decision).
- We can eat at friend’s and family’s homes if we’re invited (I wasn’t exactly willing to live as a hermit and turn down social gatherings all summer.)
- We could eat food from our garden, our family’s garden, friends/neighbors fruit trees and garden, forage food, and eat the food that’s currently in our pantry/fridge.
- We could buy our produce from farmers markets and fruit stands, fish from local fisherman, and eggs and meat from local farmers.
- When/if we go camping we could buy beer. (We did go camping and my husband really took advantage of this rule and bought enough beer to last us the rest of the summer…not really what I had in mind.)
- To meet local farmers, gardeners and artisans in our community.
- To locate all of the Farmers Markets, produce stands, and other local food sources, like eggs and seafood.
- To educate ourselves on native plants, foraging and fishing.
- To gain a greater appreciation for our food.
- To learn how to be more fulfilled with less.
- To use up the food that’s been lingering in our pantry!
- To cook out of my routine (I usually have several dishes on rotation).
- To have fun! (This was a fun and exciting idea for us and an opportunity to try something new)
And Six Weeks Later…
What we loved about this challenge
- Getting out in the community and meeting the people who grew and made our food, and thanking them with sincerity for providing it to us. Long hours are dedicated to this task. I met a man, whom I bought bread and butter-tarts from, who had still not slept–he baked all night! This challenge took away the convenience of going to the grocery store. We were forced out into the community and got to meet the people who grew or made our food.
- Knowing that our food was organic and local. I didn’t need to head to a specific section of the grocery store, or check labels, I knew where my food was coming from.
- Not going to the grocery store! I don’t know many people who enjoy going grocery shopping, I know I never have (unless you shop at Whole Foods, which is only temporary-fun because all of your joy drains out of you when you get to the till and pay $139 for 6 things.) And then I had a toddler, and now grocery shopping is the low-light of my week. This challenge has been a fabulous vacation away from grocery shopping.
- Being forced to learn how to make new foods and condiments. When my hot-sauce ran out, I had a mild panic attack–I’m an addict, I couldn’t buy any more, and I had never made it before. So, I scoured the web for a recipe, bought some hot peppers and garlic at the farmers market, and ended up making an amazing hot sauce! It was a great way to expand my DIY kitchen skills.
- Learning to appreciate seasonal fruits and veggies. As fruits and berries came into season, we harvested as much as we could, ate as much as we could, and persevered the rest. I’d never felt such a strong desire to go blackberry picking!
- Having less waste (garbage and recylcing.) Many store-bought foods and even some produce, are unnecessarily packed or bagged. When I see people at the grocery store bag a single orange, I want to punch them. In comparison, when you’re eating food from your garden, or supporting your local farmer, you are eliminating a lot of potential waste. We had one, small grocery-sized bag of garbage each week and minimal recycling–this felt great! We were actively decreasing our family’s environmental footprint!
- We feel SO good! THIS, is a real-food “diet,” friends! We consumed so much more fruits and veggies then we usually would, tempting, processed foods just weren’t an option, and snacks turn into cut-up fruit and veggies, stir-frys, salads, and omelets. I’m not into dieting, but if you’re looking to get “healthy,” the RIGHT way, this challenge is for you!!!
- Learning to live with food that I didn’t think I could live without. Everyone has their weakness–mine is cheese, mayo and hot sauce, and my husband’s is peanut butter and Stone Wheat Thins Crackers (low salt) lol. It was HARD for us to live without our “can’t live with-outs,” but we managed, and found substitutes. Actually, my husband didn’t manage….he caved, and bought peanut butter 🙁
- We ate up a lot of the lingering food in our pantry. We all have it. Whatever we didn’t eat, we probably never will. It was a good opportunity to clean out the pantry and make room for future, fresh stock and home-canned goods.
What we missed/ challenges
- For certain, our biggest challenge, which I didn’t anticipate, was sourcing fatty foods in our community. I was unable to source butter (or lard, tallow etc.), cheese, fatty meat, avocado (obviously, I live in Canada), nuts, whole milk (for making yogurt), and coconut oil, all of which are regularly a large and welcome part of our diet (I am NOT a calorie or fat-counter.)This was concerning to me because, as the mom of a growing two-year old, I know that these healthy fats are essential for growth and brain development in children. I wasn’t comfortable with our daughter’s fat-intake, so as a family, we decided to call it quits a little earlier than anticipated (our initial goal was until the first day of fall.) If you’re a parent, I know that this makes sense to you.
- When I mentioned before that this challenge was easy, I meant that it was easy to source enough locally grown food to keep our bellies full. What wasn’t easy, was the fact that I spent 10x more time in the kitchen prep-ing food–my job as a housewife got a lot harder. When you eat in this way, there is just no quick way of cooking; everything is from scratch. Meal prep is the answer here. Next time I’ll probably write out a weekly menu.
- There was definitely food that we missed: avocado, bananas, rolled oats, organic whole milk (for yogurt), coconut cheese, coconut oil, rice, and nori.
- You really learn to appreciate the convenience of a one-stop-shop when you do I challenge like this. I found myself doing a lot of extra driving around to find what I needed, and coordinating my day around Farmer’s Market hours. This was also a moral struggle, because even though I liked the idea of buying locally, and thus minimizing the distance that my food had to travel to get to my table (which decreases the environmental impact associated with food transport), I was driving more and burning more gas! As an economics major, and having read text-books on the economics and environmental impact of transportation in the economy, this is something that I probably spent too much time pondering.
What we bought and where
I’d like to give a shout-out to…
- My garden, for supplying me generously with cucumbers, carrots, kale, beet-tops, tomatoes, spanish onions, green onions, dill pickles, herbs, and, last but not least, a billion zucchini!
- My mom and step-mom’s garden, where I would regularly kidnap kale, raspberries, beans, garlic, lettuce and spaghetti squash!
- The egg lady down the road from my mom’s house.
- All of the local farmers and artisans who spent endless hours preparing for and working the farmers markets, and providing us with honey, bread, coffee, desserts, eggs, goat-cheese, organic olive oil, and endless produce! And, the Sechelt Farmers Market, Gibsons Farmers Market and Roberts Creek Farmers Market for hosting such events!
- The cute fruit-stand guy…for a ll the great looking B.C. Grown Fruit 😉
- My friends, who shared their fruit trees and gardens with us, and those who invited us over for dinner!
Did we cheat?
Yes, we cheated *gasps*. Like I mentioned before, my husband did for sure, he bought peanut butter (totally throwing him under the bus here), and I bought sugar and salt for fermenting and canning. I SWEAR it was for the purpose of preserving food. Summer is a now-or-never time to start preserving food in Canada and I couldn’t just let things rot!
I think that I’ve made pretty clear that I’ve gained a new appreciation for food, and local food suppliers, however, one of the biggest surprises from this whole experience happened yesterday when I went grocery shopping. I really thought that I’d come out of this with a sense of hostility toward grocery stores (for taking business away from local farmers, or something like that), but instead, I feel a strong sense of appreciation for them.
When I was grocery shopping, I was very shocked at how excited I was. Even though I was paying for everything, it felt like I hit the jack pot! “I can buy…anything?” It was a really crazy experience. The convenience of grocery stores, the importation of food, the selection…all things I’ve clearly took for granted in the past.
That being said, I’m sure that by the time spring rolls around we’ll be taking grocery stores for granted again, and will be needing to kick-start this challenge.
Although I’ve started grocery shopping again, due to a moral struggle that I mentioned earlier, I’ll continue to buy produce, eggs and meat from local sources. This is like the opposite of the recommended “perimeter shopping.” I’m tempted to put a sign on my fruit and veggie-less cart that says, “don’t judge me, I buy my produce elsewhere.”
Believe me when I say, you don’t need to spend the entire year without grocery-store shopping before you start experiencing the many benefits. If you’re used to shopping 2-3 times a week, try the challenge for a week or two–at the very least, you’ll love the vacation away from the grocery store.
Would I do this again? Absolutely, but next time for longer. Although I may change our rules and stock-up on certain food groups that we know we aren’t able to source locally (like healthy fats) first. There are SO many benefits to supporting your local, farming community! At the very least, purchase your produce, meat and eggs from them when you can.
Last night my husband thanked me. He said that because of this challenge, he now has a new appreciation for food, and that he now knows he can live without Stone Wheat Thins crackers. That right there makes it all worth it for me.