This past week the New York Times had an interesting interview with a local Ohio grocer who offered his tips on buying high-quality food on the cheap. His tips tended toward the obvious, the silly, and the self-serving: Buying prewashed and premade food because we'll waste less doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me.
But in these days of shrinking buying power, rapidly rising food prices, and economic insecurity, which we've all felt in one way or another, it does make sense for all of us to think about saving money while eating right and doing right.
I write this knowing full well that absolute costs of food are pretty difficult to figure out, but we've got to at least try, don't we?
So what should a person with a food conscience do who wants to eat right and do right by the earth and the farmers and still save money? Serious eaters want to know. Here are some ideas that might make some sense.
10 Ways to Live Locally and Sustainably on a Budget
1. I'm all for supporting local artisanal cheesemakers, but lately I've been buying machine-made Montrachet goat cheese to use in salads and sandwiches. It's less than half the price of my local cheesemakers' admittedly superior chèvre, and it tastes pretty goaty, but it will do you just fine.
2. If organic is important to you, buy those items where they're cheapest, at places like Wal-Mart and Trader Joe's. It may not be as good as your local organic market, but it will do just fine.
3. Buy local at the peak of the season. Local strawberries in the New York area are incredibly plentiful at the moment, and that means they are cheap, cheap, cheap, right now. The same is true for apples in September and early October, at least in my neck of the woods.
4. Use eggs as the protein at dinner. The Oeufs Meurette recipe from yesterday's Sunday Brunch would make a great dinner, and it won't cost you a fortune. Just make sure you use a really cheap red wine.
5. Buy at your local farmers' market at the end of the day. Farmers at farmers' markets really don't want to schlep their produce back to the farm after a long day in the city. I have found that many of them offer great prices after 4 p.m. to encourage budget-minded consumers to take stuff off their hands.
6. Find the "Value Guru" at your local Whole Foods and make him or her your new best friend. Until I read the Times piece, I didn't know such a person existed at Whole Foods.
7. Support your local sausage-maker. In New York, at least, I can buy amazing Chinese and Thai sausage in Chinatown, Polish sausage in Greenpoint, and Italian sausage in many neighborhoods at low, low costs.
8. Shop in ethnic markets in general. Again, I buy locally made tortillas, Asian foodstuffs, and a whole lot of other delicious stuff in ethnic groceries and markets and save money in the process.
9. Buying day-old artisanally baked bread and freezing or making toast out of it is also a way to save money and maximize deliciousness.
10. It's really hard to save money on high-quality meat and fish, so I have adopted the Michael Pollan ethos of eating less meat. Saving money on fish requires buying more fish like porgy and whiting, but those are both mighty tasty fish when cooked properly.
Let's keep a Serious Eats Master List of ways to eat right and do right on the cheap.