How To Eat In A Food Desert
The term 'food desert' keeps springing up lately. According to the USDA, a food desert is anywhere that is more than one mile (in the city) or ten miles (in rural areas) without a supermarket or other whole food retailer like farmers' markets or food coops.
But there's compelling evidence that despite the USDA pumping half a billion dollars into programs to decrease food deserts, it turns out that given a choice, people still eat junk food as opposed to whole foods. As Reason Magazine said in this article, "You can lead human beings to Whole Foods, but you can't make them buy organic kale there."
Technically, Greg and I live in a food desert. The nearest grocery store is twenty minutes away by car, thirty minutes if I go to my preferred grocery store. It's an inconvenience, but I hardly feel neglected. After all, we chose to live out in the boonies. A lack of grocery stores (or any stores for that matter) is in an ironic twist, the reason we chose this location.
Less retail means less population density. I like my space. I like people too. But I don't like them in my space. :D
Still that leaves us in a lurch when it comes to food shopping. During severe weather, impassable roads, or a broken car, we can be trapped at home.
There are many ways to stay ahead of the rat race though.
Grow Your Own: This isn't for everyone. It takes practice, and lots of work. It's a great feeling knowing you can grow your own food, but it's not easy. In the early days of learning how to grow food, I think we would've starved if we had relied on our own efforts. All hail the successful pioneers! The bravest people who ever lived.
Make Pilgrimages: Aside from growing our own produce (and raising our own meat), we try to grocery shop once a week for food that we either can't grow or won't grow where we live. For example, we don't raise cows, so beef has to be bought. I used to limit our shopping to every two weeks or longer, but I like going out just to see how the rest of the world is doing.
Do The COOP: There are food coops everywhere. Just Google for the nearest one. You never really know what you'll get, but you're sure to get a good assortment.
Do Farmer's Markets: This to me has the same problem as grocery stores. Most farmer's markets are not close or convenient. and most are seasonal, but if you can hitch a ride with a neighbor, it's worth it.
Speaking of Neighbors: We have the best neighbors. A few regularly check on us if we've had bad weather that keeps most people housebound. Everyone reciprocates too. If the roads are flooded, and one of us is going to make the trek to the outside world, we call around to see if anyone needs anything while we're out.
Grocery Delivery: This is becoming more and more common. I haven't quite decided if that's a good thing. I know it's not for me. I like choosing my own produce. It's definitely more expensive.
Make Your Work Commute Do Double Duty: If you're going to work anyway, include your grocery shopping on your way home. Saves time and money if you don't have to make a special trip.
Buy In Bulk: I know people think I'm crazy to keep such an overly stocked pantry, but I hate, hate, hate having to run out of ingredients. My motto is "One to serve, one in reserve".
Learn To Cook Real Food: Don't give me that face! You are talking to someone who dislikes cooking intensely. If I can suck it up, so can you. Besides, once you get the hang of it, you're going to find your cooking is way superior to all that processed stuff. Trust me on this. If you cook, you're automatically ahead of the pack in terms of saving money and eating better to boot.
Learn To Preserve Your Food: As long as you're cooking, you might as well try preserving some food. Prepare whole meals and freeze them, make jams, pickle or ferment food, make dried jerky, or bake and freeze your buns. Time savers all.
Food deserts are real, but they're not the real problem. The real problem is that even when given a choice we like to fall back on processed food. So first, let's get our priorities in order. Let's relearn to eat whole foods like our parents and grandparents ate (and at one time taught us to eat).
Do you live in a food desert? When do you do most of your grocery shopping? How often do you shop?