Tip #1: The Farmers Market.
I know, I know, those of you who know me well are wondering why Trader Joe's wasn't the very first place I posted about. That's only because I intend to feature a series of Trader Joe's lessons in the future; and I just didn't feel like heading back out today, after a fun stay at the farmers market under the freeway and some quality time at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op for some bulk grain-buying. I recently moved to this apartment and still haven't figured out all the decorating & window treatment schemes for it, so it takes up some time to do all that. Time that you can't spend frolicking amongst fresh produce.
If you have access to a farmers market in your area, GO. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, you simply must GO. You are all probably aware of the increasing cost of food these days, so it should be no surprise to you that places like Safeway and Raley's are marking up their food by more than the parts counter at work does. I know good, fresh produce doesn't come free, but it is simply ridiculous to be paying $1.99 per avocado, or $.99 for an anemic bunch of cilantro, let alone $3.99/lb for heirloom tomatoes. What you are paying for here, folks, is good ol' business & capitalism. The stores have to make a profit somehow, and marking up the prices is how they do it. Not to mention the fact that you have to pay for all the fluoridated water that is sprayed on said produce about 5X per hour, guaranteeing initially aesthetically pleasing produce, but notsomuch once you've brought the soggy mess home.
- 3/4 lb button mushrooms
- 5 Freestone peaches (2 white, 3 yellow)
- 3 lbs HUGE tomatoes
- 3/4 lb cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 assorted fresh Thai chiles
- 5 ripe Haas avocados
- 10 squash blossoms
- 3 oz. fresh goat cheese w/Herbes de Provence (my one "splurge" at $5 b/c it was ohsotasty)
- 1 evil apple & cream cheese pastry (I really need to stop buying these but they're so good they're impossible to resist!)
I'm positive that the same shopping list at a regular grocery store would have cost me about 1.5 to 2x more than I paid. There is no way in hell I'd even be able to get the tomatoes for less than $7-8 these days, not to mention the avocados!
My point, dear people, is that you get better food for what it's SUPPOSED to cost you, not for what big business says it should. Your veggies will taste delicious without any seasoning (which most grocery store produce begs for...... ever have a real heirloom tomato straight off the vine? Not even salt is needed!), your fruit will be ripe right now, not 5 days later because you put it in a paper bag. AND you're supporting the local farmers that work so hard to bring this food to your table. No matter how you look at it, you win. For those of us on a strict budget who just can't afford what a regular grocery bill would be, you will go absolutely nuts at not just the savings, but the quality of what you will buy from your local farmers.
Now, I know there are many places that do not have farmers markets available to them, nor the variety of produce that is always so plentiful here in California (I have to admit that living here spoils you, foodwise). If you're unable to find such a gem, or even a flea market that features fresh produce, your next best bet will be a natural foods co-operative (Co-op). Yes, they will mark up the food a bit more than you would pay for at a farmers market, but you have the advantage of getting less commercial produce, and the added advantage of an organization owned by regular people (you), NOT big business. For a list of natural foods co-ops nationwide, visit http://www.coopdirectory.org/directory.htmLastly, let's not forget the fun you can have at one of these markets! People from all over flock to these and you'll find some sort of local performer or political activists nearby, so if anything, you'll be entertained AND well-fed. :)