Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

I'm a huge believer in localism. I talk about it, I write about it, I think I live it.

Well, I try to at least. I really try to live in ways that are consistent with my beliefs.

Sometimes, though, I run smack into the wall dividing good intentions from how I actually live my life at times. When that happens, I ruefully rub my forehead and conscience and try to do better.

Today was one of those days. Today was the day I realized it was time to connect my beliefs in localism with my checkbook a little more closely when it comes to groceries.

Delaware is served by three grocery chains: Kroger, Meijer, and Buehler's. (A fourth chain, ALDI, is coming to town this spring.) Meijer is a Midwest chain with 180 stores in five states. ALDI has a larger range, with over 1000 stores in 29 states (and has a large international presence as well). Kroger is the national behemoth, owning a number of store chains (Ralphs, Fred Meyer, Fry's, to name a few) and doing over $76 billion dollars in sales annually.

Buehler's? Buehler's is a regional chain of 13 stores, all but ours located in northeast Ohio. (For the record, Delaware is squarely in the middle of the state.)

I stopped at Buehler's this afternoon to grab some soy milk as Liz was over tonight and she doesn't drink cow's milk. It was after 5 p.m., when grocery stores around here are starting to hum with folks heading home after work and stopping for bread or cheese or soap or something.

Buehler's was very quiet. And while there are a number of reasons to shrug that quietness off, including the cold and snow, I've heard enough through local grapevines to know that Buehler's is concerned about their Delaware numbers.

I picked up my two items, I checked out quickly, and as I drove home, I thought about the quiet store. And about what a commitment to localism means. Or looks like. Or costs.

I don't often shop at Buehler's because the food items I tend to buy - mostly staples - seem a little higher there. I say "seem" because I have never compared across store lines the prices of the 10 or 15 most common items we buy. I haven't thought about the other side of the equation, which is spending my dollars in large, out of the area corporations. True, Buehler's is not a locally owned grocery, but it is as close as it comes to one in this town.

As Warren and I ate supper, I commented on the emptiness of the store and then said, slowly, "I felt like I ought to be giving them more of my business." Warren nodded immediately. He said "and they buy a lot of their produce locally."

I don't kid myself that we will shop solely at Buehler's from here on out, although I can safely say we will try to do most of our shopping there. I don't kid myself that shopping there will be the ideal solution or that Buehler's is free from the evils of the corporate food structure. And I don't kid myself that our shopping at Buehler's will have anything more than a small effect on the store's profit margin. Given that we spend less than $200 a month on groceries most months, we're talking a very small pebble tossed into a very large body of water in terms of impact. But it is a pebble that I feel I need to toss.

As a kid, I grew up a block away from the Olentangy river, which cuts through Delaware from north to south. It was a great playground for me and my brothers and cousins. One of the more popular pastimes was seeing how many times you could skip a small piece of shale or other flat rock across the slow moving surface. One or two skips marked you as a rank amateur; five or more skips marked you as a serious contender.

I hoping for five or more on this one.


Sharon said...

" Given that we spend less than $200 a month on groceries most months" stopped me right in my tracks. You only spend $200 a month on food? Wow. Okay, April, you are holding out on me...that is a very frugal amount...what do you cook to keep your costs so low?

April said...

Sharon: Hmmn. What do I cook? We don't eat a lot of meat--red, chicken, or otherwise. Probably less than once a week. So there is a big $$ saver right there. I cook a lot with pasta. I make a lot of soups (bean soups, split pea) and chili, freezing most of it. This winter we are eating the vegetables I canned and froze last summer. We don't buy a lot of processed foods or "convenience" foods; we don't drink coffee; we don't drink alcohol. (All huge budget drains.)We rarely buy soda (I don't care much for it.) I bake almost everything from scratch, especially desserts. Warren brownbags lunch; the rare days when I am not at home I often do too. We don't eat out a lot because our schedule is often so full that there is no time for that; when we do, we often split an entree. We also don't hesitate to buy marked down food when it is something we like and can use or freeze; tonight we bought two huge boxes (banana packing boxes) of culled apples for $7 total which we will peel, cut, freeze and I will use to make apple pies. I rarely use coupons, mostly because they tend to be for processed food items that we don't eat! This month I am tracking our food expenses: grocery, eat out, etc. So far, almost halfway through the month, we have spent $57.87.

The only thing I would point out is that there are usually only 2 of us here. Warren's daughter, when she is here, is not a huge eater, other than she drinks soy milk and that is pricey! When we have guests for dinner, I always start with what I have in my freezer or in the cupboards, and then build from there.

Ellen said...

The above comments make another great subject for you to cover sometime. You clearly have a lot of home economic skills to share. And those tactics free up funds for you to use for worthy causes, like helping out your sons--and taking care of yourself medically. But that's all really a separate issue.

I wrote a post a bit ago that's really a regurgitation of something I read somewhere--but the fact that it made enough of an imprint on me to repeat it says something, and I think it states clearly the reasons for going local.

Read it here:


April said...

One clarification and further note. Warren read my comment and said we probably eat meat a few more times a week and as I think about it, he is right. I probably cook meat less than once a week but we may use anything I cook in several different dishes. The other thing Warren pointed out, that is important is note, is that we don't "work" to eat this way nor are we vegetarians; this is just how we happen to eat.