You're Doing It Right: Grocery Shopping

You're Doing It Right: Grocery Shopping

(Image credit: Cheryl Sternman Rule)

Picture this:

It’s late-ish Sunday, and the workweek looms. The fridge offers little, save a few wilted greens and a glug or two of milk. Depending on where you live, what your budget is, how much time you’ve got, how much you enjoy cooking, and how many people you’ve got to feed, plus a long, long list of other factors, you may do several things:

  • a) Hit the computer and order a week’s worth of food online
  • b) Drive to a warehouse store and buy a bunch of stuff in bulk
  • c) Walk to the corner store and pick up a few items to get you through Monday, vowing to stock up later in the week
  • d) Bike to a nearby market and buy a backpack’s worth of fresh and packaged food
  • e) Scrounge in your pantry for tuna, dried beans, bulk grains, pasta
  • f) a and b; b and e; d and c; a,b and e; a,c, and e; all of the above; none of the above.

Look, my life doesn’t look like yours. I’ve got two teens, live in the ‘burbs, and work from home. I don’t have to pack lunches for myself or anyone else. I’ve got access to farmers markets and a week-to-week CSA. There’s no reason my shopping habits should resemble yours, and they probably don’t.

If you support stores you believe in, buy food that fits your budget, meal plan when you can, and manage to get yourself and your family fed, you’re doing it right.

Does this mean I advocate a free-for-all when it comes to sourcing food? That I don’t support buy-local, buy-seasonal efforts? That I don’t promote family farmers? Don’t care about workers’ rights? Of course not. I just know we’re all in different circumstances, and that a mom who’s in Target buying diapers should be able to pick up a basket of strawberries without feeling like she’s failing if she doesn’t wait for her weekend greenmarket. Judgments like this serve no one well.

I know which stores near me sell wild Alaskan salmon (hello, Costco!). I know my preferred Indian market is family-owned. I know the butchers at Lunardi’s will break down whole chickens with a smile. I have the geographic and fiscal means to source different foods from different spots and a flexible schedule to make it all happen. Not everyone does.

If I lived in a city center, I’d pop into mom-and-pop shops. If I lived in a small town, I’d visit the general store. If I lived rurally, I’d buy from neighboring farmers. If I had more kids, I might hit Walmart. If I worked nights, I’d shop stores with longer hours. If I had unlimited funds, who knows what I’d do?

It’s easy to cast aspersions on those whose habits don’t reinforce our own, and since we all feed ourselves three times a day, food shopping is an area particularly rife with judgment.

Food choices are political, emotional, cultural, and heated, and with good reason. Educate yourself around food. Read up. Take a stand. But acknowledge that one size doesn’t fit all. If you get food on the table, shop with intention, and spend your funds thoughtfully, all while accommodating the realities of your own personal lifestyle, schedule, food preferences, priorities, challenges, and budget: high five. You’re doing it right.

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