The Groundwork: Rational Behind Where I Shop and What I Buy

by Laura on February 22, 2010

in Blog

Before I head into this shopping adventure, I think it is important to provide a little insight into why I shop where I shop – Whole Foods. Yes, I can hear many of you let out a collective groan. Whole Foods has been a favorite for many to complain about: Often referred to as “Whole Paycheck,” for its high prices; others claim employees have a nose-up attitude about the products they offer compared to conventional supermarkets; others have challenged the company on its lack of buying local, still others may question the company’s stance on health care.

Bottom line, Whole Foods has been pretty good to me. And, due to lack of convenient alternatives here, it is now my choice for shopping.

(Although, I may change my mind as I experiment with all the different shopping optins available to me.)


Keeping our grocery bill at a reasonable level is important to us. Some may wonder how we can do that shopping at Whole Foods, but I have reined in my spending, and have consistently spent between $200 and $250 a week for our family of six. That number used to reach much higher, but through careful menu planning, and creating a list for shopping (a list that I stick to), I have been able to hit my range week in and week out, without feeling as if we are running out of food.

Granted, the day before we shop, it is noticeable in the fridge, but it is good to know that I am not throwing away as much food as I did a year or two ago. I am fully aware of the fact that if I shopped elsewhere, that I could spend a lot less on groceries, but price isn’t the only issue, I weigh in a variety of other variables.


When I speak of convenience, I am talking about proximity to my home, not the availability of unending array of pre-packaged microwaveable meals, packaged rice and spice blends, juice boxes, snack-sized packaged of cookies and crackers, and similar foods that make time spent in the kitchen minimal. That is just not the way I cook. Sure, growing up our cupboards and fridge were filled with frozen waffles, pop tarts, canned vegetables and fruits, Stouffers frozen pizzas and ‘Nilla Wafers and Oreos for snacks. Although our cupboards may have been filled with all of that, my mom, (and my grandmother who lived with us), cooked on a daily basis, and baked from scratch with great frequency. The idea of the home-cooked meal, from scratch, is one that I am so glad rubbed off on me.

Consequently, when I shop, I spend a lot of time in the produce, bulk foods and at the meat counter. I buy fresh green beans rather than canned, white beans and oatmeal in bulk, talk to the butcher about the cuts I need to make a meal (rather than grabbing a plastic-wrapped version of meat in a cold case). So, I need a store that can provide me with products that meet my lifestyle.

Value Beyond Price

I like to get in and get out of the grocery store as quickly as possible. Rarely will I dilly-dally, but I stay focused, follow my list and get out in under an hour. With this said, I guess I like to interact when I’m at the grocery store. That doesn’t mean I chit-chat with everyone I run into, but I do have a conversation with the butcher, have a short conversation with employees refilling bulk foods, and inquire why my usual choice for dish detergent isn’t found on the shelf. This, conversation with employees has made the shopping experience more pleasant. Since my usual dishwasher detergent wasn’t available, I was given an alternative to try – for free. When the soppresetta was not available at the deli counter, the deli manager took my name and number and called me two days later when it was available. I know that the employees are educated, and if I ask a question, they know the answer, or can find someone (quickly) to respond to my question. It is service like that, which provides me with a value – and that will go a long way in loyalty.

Availability of Items I Need

Finally, I choose where I shop because that is where I can find the foods that fit my lifestyle. Several years ago, Greg and I decided to make the switch to natural and organic meats and poultry. We took to heart Michael Pollan’s ad Eric Schlosse r’s assertions about the conventional methods of meat and poultry ‘production.’

We didn’t like the effect the conventional meat production and use of antibiotics, its dependence on corn, etc. had on our bodies as well as the environment. We made the switch and will never go back.

The same is true with dairy. We opt for dairy (milk cheese, yogurt, etc.) that is made using milk from cows not administered hormones or antibiotics. Admittedly, we would like to support the organic dairy farmer, but am still struggling with the price difference. Perhaps my outward admission of this fact will finally help me make the switch.

Whenever possible, we choose organic over conventional, knowing that our choice is not only better for our bodies, but is better for the environment.

As for my bulk buying, I do so for a variety of reasons. Generally, bulk food is cheaper than packaged versions of the same. By stocking my pantry with a variety of bulk beans, grains and cereals, they are ready for use at any time. If needed, I can add a bit of variety to a meal – whip up a pearl barley salad for lunch, make a split pea soup on a cold day, or offer kids a snack of garbanzo beans and rice all because I have a readily available variety of healthful foods on hand.

Further, by purchasing bulk foods, I don’t have to worry about the potential issues recently brought to light over the BPA in cans. And, the variety can be pretty awesome – I can choose from several different types of brown rice, or decide on whether it will be quinoa, polenta or couscous for dinner – rather than serving up potatoes or white rice, yet again.

With that all spelled out, I’m off to Safeway to start the challenge. I wonder what I can find to feed my family. . .  stay tuned.

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