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A big mistake a lot of us make when transitioning to the elimination diet, or even just a healthier, real-food ancestral type of diet, is that we think the only place to buy organic, pastured, and other high-quality ingredients is at an expensive specialty grocer (like Whole Foods).
The truth is that unless you happen to be lucky enough to have an enormous food budget, you might not be able to keep it up for very long (or even be able to get started eating this way in the first place!). Here at Autoimmune Wellness we are all about keeping it real and helping this lifestyle become accessible to everyone who is willing to put in the work to make the changes, not just those who are wealthy.
Today, I am going to share my favorite tips for sourcing the highest quality ingredients for the best price. Indeed, it would be great if we could all shop year-round directly from our farmers, but the reality is that most of us need to be both creative and smart about how we set our budget priorities when it comes to getting this healing food on our tables.
Tip #1: Avoid purchasing meat in small quantities, by the cut, at a specialty store.
Not only is this the most expensive way to purchase meat, but it is often lower in quality. Here are some things I’ve learned about how to source great, affordable meat:
- Purchasing meat in bulk directly from your farmer (like a ¼ or ½ share of an animal) and storing long-term in a deep freezer is hands-down, the most cost-effective way to get high-quality meat on the table. (In my opinion, everyone besides those in tiny apartments should prioritize this if they are serious about these lifestyle changes. Don’t have a farm near you? Check out Eat Wild to find one).
- It is nearly impossible to find high-quality, pastured pork and/or poultry in grocery stores (even the fancy organic ones). Yes, there are a few exceptions, but even specialty stores that carry grass-fed beef and other organic foods rarely carry pork and chicken that have been raised on pasture land. You really should be shopping directly with your farmer either in bulk (the most cost effective way) or at your farmer’s market if you are prioritizing this quality (and for those who need to further prioritize, I suggest buying the free-range chicken at a grocery store and saving some money to go towards the pastured pork from a farmer. Because pork is higher in fat, where animals store their toxins, I believe this is an important thing to consider).
- If you are on a strict budget, don’t forget your organ meats. They are much more affordable than muscle meat cuts (often ½ to ⅓ the price!) both at the grocery store and at the farmer’s market. Heck, some farmers will even give them away with the purchase of other meat because they have such an oversupply. Plus, they are the most nutrient-dense foods you could be eating, and literally provide the most bang for your buck. If you are someone who can’t afford pasture-raised meat, you might find that you can find pasture-raised offal that will suit your budget and fill those gaps with what else you can afford.
- Be on the lookout for sales on meat. This might mean at a big-box store like Costco (which is starting to carry more high-quality, but not the highest-quality meat, like grass-fed ground beef, free-range chicken, and wild-caught salmon), a specialty store that is having a big sale, or a farmer at your local market. This is when having that deep freezer comes in handy, stock up when prices are good! I’ve walked into Whole Foods when they were having a one-day 50% off sale on pasture-raised chickens – and walked out with 15 for the freezer that day.
- Don’t be afraid to purchase meat online. Now, this isn’t always the most affordable choice, but it can be a creative option for those who don’t live in an area where they can find a local farm, or specific types of meat they’d like to include. For instance, Butcher Box is a service that delivers pasture-raised meats to your doorstep in monthly boxes, frozen, for those who don’t have space for a deep freezer. If you can’t find anywhere to find good offal, you might try ordering some from US Wellness Meats or Tropical Traditions. Or, you might live on the East Coast, where there isn’t fresh salmon available and want to order some from Vital Choice. The internet can really help round out your meat choices if you are looking for something specific!
Tip #2: The best place to buy your produce might not be where you think.
This was something I was surprised to learn when moving to the country. At first, I was nervous about being so far from a specialty grocer like Whole Foods or New Seasons (both are about an hour drive from my house). To add to that, I was dismayed to find no organic produce vendors at my local farmer’s market (which is crazy, since so many things grow in my region of Oregon!). I don’t do a CSA subscription both because I travel so much, and because I like to grow some of my own produce during the peak season in the summer. I thought I either needed to get really good at growing my own food, or get used to a long pilgrimage each week to procure my ingredients.
What I found was that in my town, the best place to buy organic fruits and vegetables is actually Fred Meyer (which is like a local version of a Wal-Mart). I’ll be honest I did not want to shop there at first — but what I found really surprised me. They had a larger selection of organics than the big specialty organic grocers down the way — and everything looked fresher, and was cheaper to boot! Over the course of a couple weeks I did my own price investigations, looking at the farms where certain items came from, and found the exact same products at the specialty stores to always be more expensive, sometimes even double. Also, I found that when said specialty stores were out of organic versions of an ingredient (asparagus, for example) and only had conventionally grown, my Fred Meyer had the organic for a great price.
Yes, these big-box stores are part of the industrial organic movement and choosing to spend our dollars with them is not going to support our local farms. I do believe the way we change the food system is by voting with our dollars. I also believe that not everyone has the choice or ability to shop at a local farm, either by location or because of their budget, and requesting these products and purchasing at a big box store does help change the system, even if a little.
All this to say, that just because a store spends a lot of money on their interior design, merchandising, and advertising themselves as the best organic and natural grocer out there, doesn’t mean they are. In fact, you are paying for those big glass windows and pretty arrangements directly with the higher costs of your food. If you aren’t going to buy from a local farm, at least don’t pay the highest price or go far out of your way for it!
Tip #3: Avoid shopping at the same store for everything.
Once you start investigating prices around town you might notice that stores have good prices in some products or areas, and high prices in another. I found this out when I noticed my beloved Dr. Bronner’s was $16 a bottle at my Fred Meyer (turns out they have GREAT prices on produce, but natural personal care and cleaning products are on a high markup) as compared to $9 at Trader Joe’s. Grocery stores sucker us into thinking that because their produce prices are competitive, that we will shop there for everything, and end up getting that margin back on the additional items that end up in our carts.
Note that you pay a high price for convenience for being able to shop for all of your groceries at one store. Also, a single store is unlikely able to provide the highest quality products in all of the areas you are looking. Although it can be hard to get into the rhythm of making lists and shopping around, you will both get the highest-quality food and pay the best price.
But Mickey…. What do you do?
I thought a good way to end this article would be to let you guys see how I source my food.
Now, I’d like to preface this by saying that I heavily prioritize food in my family’s overall budget, and quality is very important to me. This is not only my career, but eating well has impacted my life so much that from the earliest stages of my healing journey, my husband and I allocated money that would have been spent on other things towards our food budget. This was incredibly hard at first and easier over time. I continue to make the best effort I can to save by shopping around, growing/raising my own, and buying in bulk, so that I can afford some more expensive food items, which both enhance my health and bring me joy.
I’d also like to mention that I live over an hour from the nearest large city, which offers some great locations for sourcing great food, but come with a trek. I am by some great meat farms, and have the opportunity to grow/raise some of my own food which in my mind, makes up for some of the sourcing hoops I have to jump through.
- Meat: Beef, pork, lamb, chicken and duck (when I can find it!) come from a local farm (Kookoolan Farms), a neighbor down the street who has cows, or raised at home.
- Fish: Salmon comes from Ilamina Fish Company (a fish CSA we pick up at the end of summer); Other fish and shellfish come from Whole Foods or New Seasons Market.
- Produce: Herbs are lovingly grown at home; seasonal veggies come from the Beaverton Farmer’s Market or Fred Meyer during the winter months or when I can’t make the trek to town.
- Household Supplies: All cleaning supplies and personal care products (minus a couple of specific items) come from Thrive Market (If I’m in a pinch I will grab at Whole Foods).
- Pantry Items: Coconut oil and occasionally other coconut products come from Tropical Traditions, Most spices, fats, oils, and other pantry items come from Thrive Market.
- Occasional Buys: If I am by a Trader Joe’s I will pick up some fresh and frozen organic fruits/veggies, or if I’m with my mom who has a Costco membership I’ll pick up anything we use enough in bulk.
That’s it for my tips on sourcing… I hope you all have learned some interesting and helpful information here! I would love to know… how and where do you source your food?