I don’t exactly remember the first time I read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” by Barbara Kingsolver, but I do know it was prompted by at least two months of insistence from my best friend. Every phone conversation would somehow work its way around to the inevitable question, only to be met with a disappointing answer.
And then I FINALLY read it.
Since then, I’ve read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” at least six times. I’ve pressed my (borrowed from my cousins, will return soon!) copy into other people’s hands, my voice dropping reverently as I asked: “Have you read this book?”
It’s about food and enjoying food, but it’s also about the all-too-American story of not being sure where that food came from. Was it in season? How much oil did it take so I could enjoy my avocado toast and almond milk latte?
But it doesn’t get as didactic as I make it sound, nor does it heap judgement upon the reader. Instead, Barbara Kingsolver frames her questions and thoughts around an experiment: could her family of four grow or trade enough food to sustain themselves for a year?
Whenever I read or think about this book, I get inspired to take on a similar challenge. But that’s near impossible when you live in a city.* However, my city DOES have a beautiful selection of daily farmer’s markets.** The Greenmarket at Union Square is a sight to behold. I’ve always loved walking through it. But despite the fact that I know my money is going straight to the farmers who grew the food, it always felt too expensive for my budget.
But then, a few things happened. I got laid off, and had to take a closer look at my “budget.” As it turns out, I was spending a LOT more on food, restaurants, and random coffee treats than I thought. Next, my friend Valerie of Homespun Botanicals clued me in to one of my new favorite blogs: Root for Food, whose posting about seasonal shopping at farmer’s markets inspired me once again.
So here’s my “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” challenge for myself: with a budget of $200/month***, can I shop exclusively at the farmer’s market?
Some rules and conditions apply, of course.
- I’m allowed to buy dry bulk items (rice, oats, coffee and tea) from places like Fairway or a co-op…so long as I stay within my budget!
- I’m allowed one treat/non-dry bulk/farmer’s market item from store. For this month…ooh. Let me get back to you on that.
- I will buy with a mind to meal prep, and especially plan one-two recipe meals per week.
- I will not beat myself up if I buy more than one item from a regular grocery store.
- I will do my best to do low-waste, (get additional inspo from Valerie here! Love this post.) BUT recognize it’s a process, and that I’m adjusting to a lot right now.****
*Windowsill gardens, community gardens, rooftop gardens, Brooklyn backyard chickens! I recognize these are all options. They are not options for me, at this moment.
**This might seem high for a household of one/occasionally two when my boyfriend has dinner with me. It works out to $50/week, which equals roughly $7/day. This is what I’m trying for the month of August. If I can whittle it down as I go, that’d be fab. For now, I’m sticking to $200/month.
***CSA’s are a wonderful, and MUCH less expensive option in the long run (they cost more upfront)! However, I constantly miss the deadline to apply, and this summer I did so much traveling it was hard to justify the upfront cost.
****Because I got laid off, I’ve been temping. So just sticking to this budget and challenge feels like enough as I continue to job-search.
The experience and results:
I started at Fairway, and picked up some white flour ($5.55. I already had some yeast in my pantry; decided I’d try making bread again) and some farro ($4.81) at the dry bulk section. Total: $10.36
Next, I took the subway down to the Greenmarket. It was…overwhelming, to say the least. I spent a fair amount of time wandering in the heat, trying to figure out exactly where I should get my items. I picked as best as I could, trying to remember the recipes I’d picked out from the various cookbooks I’d looked at before I left.
Realization of the day: cheese isn’t necessarily cheap anyway, but it is a luxury item at the farmer’s market. I’m really going to have to plan better next week. Also, I wrote absolutely none of the prices down, so the below list is just from memory. I know I hit my budget limit ($50.00), but the math might be a little hazy here.
- squash blossoms: $6.00/a box (very excited about these).
- 1 lb grab-bag crimini mushrooms: $5.00
- 1 cucumber: $1.00
- 1 lb shishito peppers: $3.00
- 1 dozen large eggs: $6.00
- 2 squash: $2.00
- 1 lb small-medium tomatoes: $2.50
- 1 lb Romano beans: $4.25
- 6 Yukon Gold potatoes: $4.81
This doesn’t exactly equal $50.00, but I ran out of cash, so I know I did, somehow…