potayto potahto

Tonight I went out into the back hall, our cold storage area, and filled a basket with potatoes from this past summer’s garden.

We revel in the pleasure of eating food we’ve grown as we pull things from the back hall or the freezer. We feel connected to the earth knowing we are eating all that loving labor (much of the labor done by my parents, I’ll freely admit). I wish everyone could feel that way.

In 2004, I got a bumper sticker you’ve surely seen in many cars, “Eat More Kale.” I always thought the bumper sticker implies more people should grow and eat their own food, too.

Hands in the soil, feeling the rhythms of nature, tasting fresh produce, the list of benefits of growing our own food is endless.

no groceries challenge, rebooting

A friend on Facebook recently messaged me to thank me for my “no groceries challenge” posts. Her family was out of money so she couldn’t buy food. She told me she remembered the no groceries challenge and it helped her find a way to look at what food she had on hand so they could get by. My heart is full that she took the time to thank me, that she found my writing helpful, and that she was able to find cook-able food in her shelves.

I told her that maybe I’m due for another “no groceries challenge.” When I did it the first time, in May of 2013, I did it because I had to. We were in serious financial trouble and I had to find a way to spend less. Doing a challenge like this when I don’t have to feels fake and shallow on many levels. But, it’s true that money is still very tight (relatively speaking). More importantly, I’ve paused and paid attention: I’m spending more and being more wasteful than I need to be. I’m not helping the earth or my bank account.

My heart started racing a little, in that not-good way, when I thought of doing a no groceries challenge. I immediately thought about taking stock of everything I have, making a shopping list, filling up my shelves so I can make it for a long time. I felt worried. Nervous about getting back to that kind of thinking — don’t let leftovers go to waste, do plan meals, do appreciate everything we have — because it reminds me of how scary it was then.

This morning, I didn’t want to do my meditation. My 8 year old said, “You might feel glad you did it if you do it.” She was right this morning. I bet the same is true about embarking on another no-groceries challenge again, even without any “prep work.” So, here I go…

beginning again, another “no groceries challenge”

There’s no crisis here; work is steady and strong so my cash flow should continue improving. That said, as so many Americans are, I’m one bad tooth or broken down car away from not having enough money to pay bills [side note: That link is to a Forbes piece that’s saying a Salon piece is wrong about Americans not having enough in savings. The Forbes guy says “most have credit for emergencies.” I won’t discuss here why that’s a terrible argument, but it is surely terrible.].

In the name of paying off my new debt that I gained and to rebuild my savings that I lost last year—due to oral health needs and a car repair, no less—I’m going to start another no groceries challenge.

A pattern has emerged as I choose to take on these challenges: At first, I use what I have on hand more efficiently. I have more of a tolerance for leftovers. And, I do more meal planning. Staying away from the supermarket entirely brings me to ask frequently, “do I really need that, or do I just want it?” After a time, as I begin going back to the market for fruit or fresh veggies, I start picking up one or two things that would be handy to have. A jar of tomato sauce for when I’m out of my supply of freezer sauces, fancy cookies for school lunches because it’d just be “nice for the girls.”

I slip down the slope until I’m back where I was before. I don’t really use what’s in my pantry, I forget to keep track of what’s in the freezer that’s usable, and I don’t “let myself take the time” for meal planning because it feels too decadent.

The decision to do this latest challenge — for those of you unfamiliar with it, I see how long I can go without going to the grocery store at all — was a bit impulsive. I haven’t done any planning. It’s a little bit more like the “real” one I faced a few years ago when I simply didn’t have the money for groceries, although it’s really not at all like that because I’m not terrified.

Posting about it on my blog seems to be part of my ritual for these challenges, so, here we are. I’m posting about it. Now I’m going to put the extra cabbages I got into cold storage, put the extra cheese into the freezer, and “let myself” figure out meals for the next week or so. Ta-dah!

groceries (no groceries) lessons as I’m learning them

Just some notes from the time I was doing the no groceries challenge. The influence of the challenge is still with me, though I wouldn’t consider myself in a challenge right now.

  • Playing this game is nothing like actually not having enough money to buy groceries. Nothing at all. Knowing if I really “had to” I could get anything I needed makes the experience a personal growth exercise unrelated to poverty. I wrote about this in my newspaper column.
  • Homemade whole wheat tortillas are *really* easy and so much better than store-bought they are worth the effort. I can keep the dough frozen if I don’t have time to cook them all up at once. I used the breadmaker to mix the dough, which made it feel even easier.
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  • Friends are supportive and generous when they know about the challenge.
  • My grocery shopping is much more cost-efficient. I recognize impulse buys for what they are, for example, and don’t succumb.
  • Ordering take out pizza or Chinese food is CHEATING and it started seeming like a reasonable option after a few weeks.
  • The creativity I force myself to tap into has helped me work on time management skills. I don’t do it as much as would be helpful, but meal planning and pre-prep work make being so tired takeout seems like a good option a relatively rare experience.
  • I’ll do one of these no groceries challenges again soon.

no groceries challenge (October-November) update

In October, I spent $150.02 on groceries. Some people will see this as not much money, some will think it’s a lot. Regardless, my “no groceries challenge” has been successful thus far for a lot of reasons. Most important to me, beyond the money savings, is my return to awareness of and appreciations for the freedoms that come with having “enough” money.

Every time I think about this voluntary activity, I’m reminded of what it was like when I literally—and I mean literally—had less than $10 to my name. No credit. No cash. That level of financial crisis didn’t last very long for me, but it made an impression. Part of why I do these “no groceries challenges” is so I’ll remember what that was like; when there was no choice.

I spent $70 at the start of October to stock up so my no groceries challenge would last longer. A few bags of flour, for example, and bags of dry beans, and milk, and bacon, and almond milk, and chocolate…

What I hadn’t thought about was the impact being “without” money for groceries can have on our social life. We had friends visit us at my parents’ summer place and I wanted to feed our friends. They all chipped in, too, and my parents were fine with my using stuff they already had on hand. But what about people who don’t have the money to buy food for friends? My friend is coming from out of town tonight, and I’ve talked to her about this no groceries challenge. She knows about it, but I got upset and anxious because I wanted to try and keep going — how can I be a good host if I need to use only what I have on hand?

Of course, I could do it. I’ve been feeding my children just fine, thanks to the freezer, the pantry, and a lot of talent and creativity in the kitchen. My friend also understands and asked if I’d mind if she got herself some things in support of my decision to avoid grocery shopping.

Over the course of the month, I got cider and cinnamon sticks (for the Halloween gathering with friends) and I got milk and yoghurt. I must have gotten other items, made other “exceptions” beyond fruits and/or fresh veggies? to have a balance as “high” as $150.

shopping listI’ve decided to stock up again, today. I’m still considering it a no-groceries challenge because after this I will go back to not going at all. I’ll buy the items on this list, which includes some green tea and heavy cream for my friend, and then we’ll hunker back down again and not go to the grocery store for as long as possible. I’ll get a small turkey, or maybe even a chicken, and some cranberries for our Thanksgiving — I can make the rest of the meal with what we have.

It’s now an intellectual exercise borne of necessity, but avoiding “grocery shopping” like this continues to open my eyes to many issues: efficient use of our food, the impact of poverty on social lives, what are our family’s values? So, it’s not truly “no groceries,” but it’s still a challenge from which I’m learning a lot.