After getting home from more than 5 weeks away, it was nice to find enough in the pantry for a few days of eating without having to go to the store. When I did finally go, I brought lots of produce bags and a few glass jars with me and came home with two bags of goods. Looking at it all made me ponder just how hard it is to balance all the considerations that go into food choices. And what a pretty picture my haul from PCC made!

So here’s the question: how do you rank the following considerations when you go to the store?

Julia went shoppingFrugal, Thrifty Eating

There have been times in my life when being frugal was of very high importance. But I’ve always been lucky enough not to have to make cost my #1 consideration. Still, it always feels good to spend less on food, especially if there are frugal choices that hit some other criteria at the same time. Dry beans, for example, are often cheaper than canned, and they require less packaging and weight to be shipped around. I bought just as many mushrooms as I needed today, and brought my own bag for them. So that was a nice way to save both money and packaging as opposed to buying the container of sliced shrooms. (Of course, growing my own would be the best! I’ve never tried growing shiitake…someday soon?)

It killed me to pay for bay leaves today, though they were not especially expensive. I know I have neighbors who grow bay leaves, so I just need to find the time to connect with them. Then there’s the question of how many stores I really want to visit just to save a buck, and what my time is worth. Soymilk is cheaper at Trader Joe’s, but that’s a bit far from me and I have little other reason to go there. Grocery Outlet is great for deals, and I’ll probably take a walk through one soon. But I wasn’t about to spend all day driving around for deals during my first week back in town.

Zero Waste

It made me a bit sad to look at this photo and see how far I still am from a real Zero Waste lifestyle. I’m doing okay avoiding plastic — I pick mostly glass or paper containers, re-use produce bags, bring some containers for buying in bulk, and bring sturdy shopping bags for carrying it all home. But I still use certain convenience foods, and I’m certainly not making my own soymilk from beans in the backyard yet.

I know it’s a process and a frame of mind, so it’s okay. I’m working towards reducing my waste to zero. Reducing energy use is part of it, too, so

How can I keep moving along this path? I want to get more into farm-to-pantry processing habits like making applesauce and canning soups. Hopefully I’ll find ways to do so with neighbors, so that it’s social time too, and not just hours of peeling and cooking that I’ll resent. Since our second kitchen is now free, maybe I can turn that into a community space…

Allergen-free Eating

Kiddo has food allergies, and hubby breaks out when he eats too many simple carbs, so this is on my list, too. Companies like Hilary’s make it easier to avoid common allergens, which is great! But buying simple ingredients in bulk is another way to know what’s in your food and avoid the things you don’t want. It just involves more time spent cooking.

Low-Meat, Organic or Otherwise Good for the Earth

I’ve written about how much water and land is used in meat production, especially when it comes to large animals like cattle. I haven’t gone totally veg, but I’m definitely eating much less meat than I did years ago. I also go for easy options that let me feed meat to the finicky, food-allergic child without having to prepare tons for the whole family (see breakfast sausages above!).

Buying organic food is really about preventing pesticides and other toxins from being poured on our lands and waters. I know there’s not very strong evidence that eating organic is healthier for an individual person, but supporting organic farms is important to me. For those who can afford to do so, I think it’s great to buy organic (and wear organic!) as much as possible.

I was going to include “nutritious eating” as a category, but that goes without saying, right? I’m curious to hear how others rank these considerations, and what really goes through our minds when we shop for food. Thanks, as usual, for your thoughts!

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