Make it at home instead of buying it at the store

Aug. 24, 2012 at 10:19 AM ET

Like many an American, I want to eat healthily and shop locally. But, so often, life gets in the way and I wind up not doing either. However, a few weeks ago, I resolved to change that. I joined the 30-Day No Grocery Store Challenge. For a full month, I’m trying to shop at small, locally owned businesses and purchase as much fresh, healthy and locally produced foods as I can. 

The hope is that I can learn some new shopping and eating habits that I’ll carry with me once the challenge is over. I know that not everything I consume will be locally grown, but much of it has been. I know I can’t be a purist, so even if some of the foods I buy aren’t local, they are at least bought at small, local businesses, which I want to support. 

While the challenge started off with a bang, by week two, my family and I were floundering a bit. 

The third week of the challenge started off at a pretty low point. In the interest of a full confession, I admit I caved and shopped at a supermarket. I was running late to a potluck and realized I’d forgotten the food I was supposed to bring. All of the challenge-friendly stores were far away. So, feeling like a bit of a failure, I slunk in and bought one thing. 

Just as I was about ready to call the whole challenge off, I saw that there was a recall of pre-sliced, packaged apples due to a listeria scare. Suddenly, I was back on track. 

Over the past several weeks, readers have left helpful tips and ideas. One of the major recurring themes of those comments has been about embracing a do-it-yourself way of life. This week, I decided to try just that. It’s a bit late in the season to plant vegetables and one look at my near-death geranium out front tells me gardening isn’t my thing, so that’s out. But, I do grow a few herbs like basil, mint and rosemary in small pots. I’ve found them to be low-maintenance and economical compared to buying those “fresh” packets at the supermarket. 

This week, I also embraced bread making. I borrowed a friend’s bread maker so I could test it out. I made two wonderful-smelling doorstops, which is a bit embarrassing, since I thought those machines were foolproof. In my defense, I didn’t have the instruction manual… I love to bake though, and found a recipe that used an actual oven. Success! It was a thing of beauty and tasted good to boot. Baking is my go-to rainy day activity and living in Seattle that means it’s something I do quite a bit.  This winter, I’ll be baking fewer red velvet cupcakes and more bread. That’s at least one small step in the right direction. 

This week, I also enlisted the help of my most homesteader-ish friend who taught me how to make mozzarella. Let’s just say that in the future, when I buy artisanal cheese, I’ll have a newfound appreciation for the prices and efforts that go into making them. Still on the subject of delicious, Italian foodstuffs, the other thing I attempted this week was making my own pasta. Using a pasta maker, I made spaghetti, which my kids loved helping with. Even preschoolers can turn the crank, while someone feeds the dough through. I froze some and, if that turns out all right, I’ll be doing more of that in the future also. 

Prior to this challenge, all I knew about canning is that I’m pretty sure Ma in Little House on the Prairie did it. But, I’ve learned I’m way behind the times on this. I’ve been invited to a canning party and am going to give it a try. The hostess travels to local farms and gets discounts on “seconds” of fruits like pears and peaches from local farmers. Generally, these are fruits that are just too small or misshapen to be sold at grocery stores but are perfect for canning. We’ll see. 

Ordering beef from a local rancher was another healthy, local option I wanted to try. I found a rancher who sells people a quarter of a grass-fed cow, butchered to their preference and ready for deep-freeze. A friend of mine does this and it feeds her family of four for a year. Alas, we don’t have a separate freezer and there’s no way that much cow is fitting in our regular fridge/freezer. 

Once again I’m enjoying the challenge. It’s been an adventure trying different ways of both buying and making foods. As I go, I’m discovering new things, some of which I’ll keep up with and others that are a one-time deal. 

Dana Macario is a Seattle-area writer who is terrified, yet determined to eat healthy and local for a full month.


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