May 01, 2006

Eat Local Challenge - To market, to market...

Day one of the Eat Local Challenge finds your heroine headed to Whole Foods -- for perhaps the very first time without a shopping list -- on a quest for foods produced locally.

First stop, produce. Here I'm in luck. Unlike Safeway, Whole Foods clearly labels virtually everything that's grown in California with exactly where in California it hails from, complete with a nifty little state map. And if I have any questions, the friendly produce guy is more than willing to help me out. I choose a hearty head of lettuce to use as the base of this week's salads. Since I've still got some goodies from last week's CSA delivery (and the promise of another delivery on Wednesday) I wander off to...

The fish counter, where I encounter perhaps the biggest surprise of my trip. I engage the eager young man behind the counter, explaining the challenge and learning, much to my dismay, that he's not terribly versant on where the fish he's selling came from. Again, the signs help both of us determine that the salmon is farmed on the east coast, and several other varieties come from Oregon and Washington. My only "local" choices are black cod and crab -- and my buddy can't define where exactly in the greater bay area "local" is. Hmm... Since I'm feeding just me this week and cleaning crab is more effort than I'm likely to have time or energy for after work, I opt for the black cod, thank the man for his help and move on to...

the meat counter. One of the things I love about Whole Foods is the meat counter. It's the next best thing to a real, old-fashioned butcher shop like the ones my grandfather would take us to on Mondays after school when we were kids. Red meat, poultry, pork, lamb and sausage lovingly displayed in refrigerated cases. Not shrink-wrapped meat in styrofoam containers and a buzzer to push if you can't find what you're looking for. I wait my turn and again explain my challenge to the man who offers to assist me. I'm looking for locally-raised chicken. He suggests Petaluma Poultry as a reasonable source and, chicken breasts in cart, I move on to...

the "grocery" portion of the store, where I simply wander the aisles getting a feel for what's locally produced (not much) and what's trucked in (a fair amount). This is the education I was looking for. I'm of a generation that's pretty much always read nutrition labels, but never paid attention to the information beneath them -- about where the product was made and by whom. Finally, I wander into...

the dairy section. I've been looking forward to this challenge specifically for the opportunity to try unpasteurized, unprocessed milk. Yes, of course I've had the opportunity before. But I've always weighed it against "but I can buy milk cheaper at Safeway." This month, it's not about cheaper -- I will find other ways to stay within my food budget (knocking out purchased lunches should certainly help).

And finally it's time to hit the checkout stand. I feel like the contestant on a cheesy 1970's supermarket game show... How did I do in the 45 minutes I allotted to "shop locally"...?
The Shopping List:
Mustard from Mendocino Mustard in Fort Bragg
Granolafrom Galaxy Granola in San Rafael
Lowfat Milk, Unsalted Butter and Ice Cream from the Strauss Family Creamery in Marshall
Lowfat Yogurt from Pavel's Yogurt in Oakland
Sprouted Whole Grain Sourdough Bread from Alvarado Street Bakery in Rohnert Park
Organic Green Leaf Lettuce from the Sacramento valley
Artisan cheeses from the Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station
Sablefish/Black Cod fished locally (according to the fishmonger)
Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast from Petaluma Poultry in Petaluma

The Tab: $79.36

The cheese is clearly specialty and I bought a fair number of locally produced "staples" -- but apart from the cheese, I can expect the list above to feed me -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- for about 10 days. Shopping around, planning ahead, and I think I could make the local approach fit my budget. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the month plays out... whether I have to stretch my budget to make eating local work for me, or if in shifting my choices, the whole thing will balance out...