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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Think Green (Acquisition)

Frugal Kitchens 101
Your additional food costs aside of the actual cost of food can be broken down into four main categories: acquisition, packaging, cooking and storage. I will cover these in four separate Frugal Kitchens 101 posts. All of these factors add to the total cost of your food but these are often overlooked when calculating overall food costs. If you make one 30 mile round trip per week for groceries that cost certainly becomes a factor to be considered. If you use your oven to cook a couple of pieces of chicken and nothing more you need to consider that as well. Essentially every cost incurred for you to get that food on the table is a cost that adds to the overall cost of your food. One easy way to save money on your food bill is to think green in all areas of the actual cost of your food.

Aquisition:

Food costs you money in terms of transportation for that food to get to the grocery store and for you to travel to get it. The average food travels some 1,500 miles from farmer to grocery store. That cost is reflected in the price you pay in the grocery store. Think green to reduce your acquisition costs for food which in essence lowers your overall food costs.

  1. The number one green way of thinking is to buy locally if you do not grow your own. Buying locally reduces transportation costs of that food that in most cases gives you a less expensive product. Supporting local growers and smaller shops like bakeries makes for a stronger community. Locally bought food is often fresher so will keep longer than store bought. Finally locally bought produce does not require costly refrigeration and storage for the producer so that is reflected in the price to the consumer.
  2. Grow whatever you can yourself to eliminate the cost of transportation. The produce is as close as your garden. Growing your own is always a win/win.
  3. Buy produce in season when it is cheapest and at its peak. In northern areas this is not possible year round but you can still follow the produce seasons. For example, tangerines are in season December to mid February so even though they are not grown in Canada this is the best time of the year to buy them in the stores with respect to price.
  4. Shop farmer's markets where a wide variety of produce can be found BUT only if traveling costs makes it cost effective. If you have to travel more than 10 miles one way it likely is not cost effective. If however, you can combine that trip with a few other stops (eg. fish market, grocery store) on the same route then it may be cost effective. It may also be cost effective if you are buying produce in bulk (eg. 200 lb potatoes, several hampers of tomatoes) for the purpose of home preserving.
  5. Plan one large trip with a few stops and shop in succession. For example I travel to the orchards I stop at a couple of fish markets, the mushroom farm, the grain mill, the bulk food store, the organic market, the health food store, the grocery store all pretty much on the same route.
It costs you money to get to the local growers, farmer's markets and grocery stores. Every trip adds to your food costs. For example if you buy $100 in groceries but the trip cost you $10 the total you really spent for that food is $110. That stop at a second grocery store that saves you $2 on a couple of sales may actually cost you more in terms of gas so you are really behind in the game. Trust me the cost of gas is not getting any cheaper. Then if you stop for a snack or a meal while out grocery shopping that adds more to the cost of acquisition. Financially and environmentally it is poor economics to travel further or more often than you have to for food. Ideally in urban areas you would walk, bike or use public transport to get back and forth from grocery stores. In rural areas it's not that easy. Driving is a must but you can still save on this.
  1. The less trips to the grocery store the cheaper acquiring food is and less vehicle emissions go into the air. Less trips to the grocery store greatly reduces impulse buying as well. Aim for a large once a month shopping with picking up only dairy and fresh fruits/vegetables if necessary. If it costs you $10 in gas to make one trip to the grocery store (close estimate for many rural residents) and you shop weekly that effectively works out to $40 just in gas. If you change your shopping to once per month your gas cost goes down to $10 effectively saving you $30. If you find that once a month grocery shopping just doesn't work for you try shopping every two weeks. You will still save money by eliminating two trips. If at all possible always combine grocery shopping trips with other stops instead of making a special trip just to grocery shop.
  2. Team up with a neighbour or family member to car pool or even share the grocery shopping with one shopping one trip and the other shopping the next trip. I often do this for my orchard trips.
  3. Keep a well stocked pantry especially of the basics.
  4. Buy in bulk at the lowest unit price the least number of times per year as possible.
  5. Be well prepared for a stock-up trip, knowing exactly what you need to buy. Make a list then only shop when the list is long enough to warrant spending the gas. Check out the sales online before leaving home.
A common misconception is that if you garden the produce is free. If you buy any seeds, use municipal water, buy soil amendments or buy equipment, gardening costs even at a low level. It is very, very cheap depending on your gardening practices but it is not free. Hunting, fishing, trapping and foraging are not free either although they may be very close to free depending on how you do these activities. There are costs associated with some of these activities but costs can be minimized. While they may be putting food on your table you still need to consider the costs of getting that food. There is often licensing involved along with equipment, bait, transportation costs, processing fees and so much more. So do take that into consideration when factoring in the cost of acquiring these types of foods.

If you think green with respect to acquiring your food you will ultimately be saving on the overall costs of your food.

next week: Thinking Green (Packaging)


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