Money Where Your Mouth Is: March-May 2012


I’ve done a really bang-up job of giving a monthly update on my food budget, haven’t I? I started in January, updated in February, and then… got busy. And it’s not that I haven’t posted other things. I have! I really wanted to tell you about this. And these. And my progress on this. Firsts of months came, and I thought, I should write a budget post, and then before I knew it, Fifteenths came by and it was no longer relevant.

If you’re new here, to ring in the new year I started meticulously tracking my food expenses, both for groceries and for restaurants, to get a sense of just how much of my money was going to local food sources rather than corporate, distant ones. Despite my lack of updates, I have managed to continue this tracking. You can check out my first post on the subject to see how I distinguish one type of purchase from another.

So without further ado, here’s a three-month update.

On the Grocery Dollars front, I’m making some interesting progress. Interestingly, the purple wedge (the one I’m trying to get rid of) has only reduced a little since January, about 3%. The convenience of a 24-hour store SO close to my apartment is, I confess, challenging to overcome sometimes. And oddly, there are some items I simply cannot find at the co-op. Brad’s preferred pickle relish. Instant tapioca. Our favorite sandwich bread. But look at the blue and red! Up from about a third to over HALF! Not surprisingly, I’ve got a lot more produce out of my garden in the spring months than I did in January, and the variety of food available at the farmer’s market has increased as well. Exciting!

And to the restaurants…

PROGRESS MAJOR. The chain restaurant wedge that currently occupies 20% of my food dollars? It was 68% in January. It helps that May, in particular, included two trips to new cities where we focused on exploring local dining options rather than chains we recognized. But in general, since I saw the glaring discrepancy in January between my chain restaurant expenses and my local restaurants, I have been trying very hard to choose the latter when I can. And yes: I realize that the ideal, blue wedge of local restaurants serving primarily local food is still small. It’s something I struggle with. At least here, a huge number of the restaurants that focus on local cuisine are, let’s face it, really pricy. There are only so many nights a month when I can afford to dine at them. And these next three, while I’m spending the summer solo? Even more of a challenge.

Now nearly half-way through my year of tracking, I’ve learned a few things about myself and my food-buying habits. The first is that there are some non-local ingredients I’m simply not willing to give up (yet?). Olive oil. Lemons, and more importantly, lemon juice. Sugar. Brummel & Brown. Unless I decide to completely up-end my cooking and baking habits, some of these things will always be in my pantry. On the other hand, I do pretty well with meat and produce, and rarely have them in my cart any more at the store. But I do grab the occasional avocado, a bag of sweet cherries, which most unfortunately, do not seem favored by growers in the Durham area, or a grapefruit.

The second thing I’ve learned, however, is that in most instances, it is even more satisfying to wait until something I want is in season.  The clamor that ensues the first day of asparagus is well deserved. Same for strawberries. My favorite vegetable of all, shelling peas, have a phenomenally short season, but I figure out ways to savor these tiny veggies every day of that time.

The more of my produce I buy locally and in season, the more I find I’m less interested in fruits out of their element and their time. I don’t need to buy apples when berries, melons, and peaches are nearby. I love celebrating the food that I have and arriving at the farmers market with a sense of anticipation about what might be there to surprise me.