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You Can't Have it All: The Challenges of Eating Local
I started the challenge Tuesday morning with a visit to one of the Crescent City Farmer’s Market’s weekly gatherings, conveniently located near my house at 200 Broadway Street Uptown. The entrance to the market is a cheery site. You’re greeted by tables full of budding herbs, multi-colored chalkboard signs listing what’s on offer, and rows of white tents shading each farmers’ fresh-picked goods. Running in the middle of the day, from 9am to 1pm, this market’s customers are mainly college students, young moms and probably other lazy writers like myself.
I had no real purchasing strategy, a mistake I would later learn to correct. Instead I figured I would just scan the market and see what’s cheap and looks good. The bargain hoarder in me immediately snapped up the amazing deals at Monica’s Okra World stand. Three for $1 jumbo cucumbers! Two for $1 large pattypan squash! And yes, I need that 2 lb basket of zucchini for $1! Between Monica’s squash-a-palooza and the other fantastic vendors, I ended up leaving with what felt like 15 pounds of vegetables strapped to my back and jutting out of my bike basket – all for under $10. As I trudged home in the thick heat, I developed a newfound sympathy for those mules that work on South American jungle farms.
It was only after I got home and unloaded my haul that I realized I didn’t actually have enough ingredients for a full meal. Storm clouds clearly rolling in, I begrudgingly got back on my bike and set out for the one-two punch combo of Whole Foods and Rouse’s to stock up on food staples.
My first stop was the Tchoupitoulas branch of Rouse’s, a New Orleans-based grocery store chain with a long-standing emphasis on supporting local vendors and communities. “Buy Local!” signs scattered the aisles, pointing customers to Louisiana-made goods. Their selection for local vegetables was meager – a few boxes of zucchinis and tomatoes. But I was able to stock up on po’ boy bread and Mississippi blueberries on sale, along with proteins for the week, including locally-caught shrimp and sausage and bacon from Amite, Louisiana, thanks to a new partnership between Rouse’s and a small pork and duck producer called Chappapeela Farms. I also made sure to grab the usual suspects like garlic and lemons (not local).
Next up was Whole Foods aka “Whole Paycheck,” a chain I like to hate on as regularly as I shop there. Any store that has a refrigerated case of $4 kombucha at the front door can’t help but feel a little snobby. But if you know where to look there are good deals to be had. Plus I’ll go anywhere for free cheese samples.
Unable to find locally produced dairy within my price range at the farmer’s market, the best I could do in this department was goat cheese from a farm in Austin ($8.99/lb), and Whole Foods’ 365 brand eggs, also from Austin ($1.49 for a six-pack). At over 500 miles from New Orleans, Austin might barely qualify as “local-ish,” but at least its closer than Wisconsin. The store’s bulk section is also great if you need to just buy a little flour or grain at a time.
Just one day into the challenge, I quickly learned that no single grocery store or market – at least that I had found – was able to offer everything I usually cook with at reasonable prices. In order to be a budget locavore, flexibility is key – you never know exactly what will be available at a market, and you might need to make a few stops in order to fill up your pantry without breaking the bank. The current reality is that some things, like flour or sugar, are very hard to find from local producers at grocery store-comparable prices.
At any rate, after two rounds of schlepping groceries in the heat I had enough food booty stockpiled to start cooking, local-style.
Breakfast: Sweet Potato & Zucchini Bread, cost per serving: $.42
Lunch: Kale and Bacon Salad, Side Bread, cost per serving: $4.04
Dinner: Lemony Shrimp and Creole Tomato Over Rice, cost per serving: $2.80
Correction-6:45pm. The Lemony Shrimp Recipe is $2.80 per serving, not $7.28
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