I loved my daily living experiences in Japan, especially shopping at the open-air markets. Around the corner from our tiny apartment was an ichiba, or market, with the various vendors in a row that a Japanese housewife needs for her daily shopping. I put [my daughter] Emi in her stroller every week and went shopping in our neighborhood. At that time, I managed our finances without credit cards or checking accounts, so all of my transactions were done in cash. Before shopping, I budgeted and planned, because I had no wiggle room when using cash.
I went to small shops for produce, tofu, fish, flowers, and beer. To save time, I shopped weekly and had the yaoya-san, or produce shopkeeper, deliver my fresh vegetables and fruits to our family’s apartment. She was surprised at my method, because Japanese women usually shopped daily for produce to get the freshest vegetables and fruits for cooking. However, she just nodded and said, “Hai.” I imagined that she was thinking, “Why does this gaijin (foreigner) eat vegetables that are a week old, instead of shopping daily for fresh produce?” At this busy time of my life, the trade-off was worthwhile.
Family farms are not as plentiful as they once were in the United States, but over the past decade, there has been a notable increase and interest in local tailgate or farmers’ markets. Fresh, local food tastes better and has more nutrients and vitality than produce from large-scale growers. A local market usually has a friendly ambiance, with a chance to interact with the farmers who grew the food. If you take your baby shopping, you can introduce her to the sights and smells of fresh produce, baked goods, and plants. As she gets older, she can help choose vegetables and fruits and interact with the vendors.
Another convenient option for local, seasonal food is to purchase a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. This usually means that you pay the farmer in advance, like a subscription, and each week you pick up a box of fresh produce at the farm or a market. Participating in a CSA can be an efficient way to buy seasonal and local produce, if your time is limited.
Getting to know your local farmers, bakers, and others in your community who are committed to high-quality food can increase your gratitude for food, and you can experience a closer connection to its source. Buying locally keeps money in your community, supports farmers, and continues family traditions. You may also find a sense of community amongst like-minded people.
Natural products stores and most grocery chains now offer options for healthy eating. They usually have organic produce and sometimes carry locally grown produce. Encouraged by the FDA, they are now labeling produce with the state and country in which it was grown. In addition to giving you information about food miles, it is interesting to know where vegetables and fruits were grown and to consider their growing conditions.
Although it requires extra time to measure and bag food yourself, buying dried foods in bulk saves money. If you are shopping for the whole family, the volume of ingredients may make it worth your extra time and energy. However, prepackaged staples are convenient, and sometimes they can be the most reasonable option if you are buying ingredients just for your baby’s food and need only a small amount.
By shopping the perimeter of the grocery store, you can easily find the fresh ingredients, while the interior aisles have the packaged and processed items. Shopping early in the morning or late at night, when there are fewer shoppers, can be more efficient. If you eat before you shop, unnecessary extras will be less likely to appear in your cart. Allow time to read labels, so you can be sure to get the best-quality foods without additives. Also, it is fun to leave some room in the budget for surprise impulse buys, such as seasonal vegetables or fruits, a fresh catch of fish, or a new brand of natural snacks.
A principle in organization that works for me for running my business, as well as running my kitchen, is to think in terms of categories. Food groups—Grains, Vegetables, Protein-Rich Foods, Fruits, Fermented Foods, Seasonings, and Beverages, can be used for planning menus and shopping lists. If you check your cupboard and refrigerator for existing food, and make your shopping list in these groupings, then your list will be in sync with the aisles of the grocery store. With a menu plan and shopping list, you can provide a variety of balanced foods, and also reduce waste and save money, so that you know which ingredients you need, rather than from just shopping impulsively.