Friday, August 31, 2012

Week 3 - Local Food Only, Anyone?

Friends of mine, when I told them about this experiment, gave me a puzzled look asking "don't you eat 100% local all the time?" I wish. The reality is that, as good as the local food scene is in Charlotte, it's actually pretty hard to eat 100% local all the time. Add to that how much I love to try restaurants, see friends, and not cook every single meal and no, we don't eat local food all the time. If I had to do the math, I'd say we spend 50% of our food budget on local food with the other half comprised of staples from the grocery store and eating out.

That being said, this was the easiest week of the three of our experiment. Instead of eating out, I just doubled up on our usual farmers market take. We tried a couple new products like pizza dough from the pasta guy at the market which was pretty good.

Total cost: $120
Garbage: 1 bag
Compost: Overflowing

Great meals of the week:
  • Tomato sandwich from the Roots food truck. This sandwich combined three of my favorite things: heirloom tomatoes, Nova's bread and aioli (this one with fresh herbs). Yes, please, I will have another.
  • Oven roasted tomato and garlic pizza. I got wholewheat dough from the pasta guy at the market along with red and yellow tomatoes, garlic and fresh basil.
  • Breakfast for dinner. One of our favorite things is to make potatoes and onions, pour whisked eggs, tomatoes and cheese over top, and eat with whatever else we had. In this case, we had some Polish link sausage from Windy Hill which was delicious.
  • Homemade Tomato Sandwiches on Duke's Gorgonzola Bread. We brought this and some of our homemade pickles to the park one night and had a picnic. 

Observations of note:
  • I missed cereal like woah. After two weeks of bagels, toast and eggs, all I wanted the day after this experiment ended was a bowl of cereal. I woke up 30 minutes earlier than my alarm and was literally giddy about cereal. 
  • This wasn't that different or more expensive than eating from the grocery store. I admit I expected to spend a lot more money this week but we really didn't and we ate much better.
  • If it was possible, I thought more about food this week than I usually do. This was the only downside other than no cereal - it took much more planning because of the far fewer hours the market is open when I'm also not at work.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Week 2 - Eating out

When we first started this week of only eating out, I was stoked. Not only did I not have to worry about cooking all week, think of all the options! For a whole week I wouldn't just be eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at my desk at noon but actually leaving the office to seek out exciting options. There would be no dishes after dinner or snacks in the cupboard beckoning me in the evening! Sadly, I think the abundance of options in Uptown Charlotte was too overwhelming for me. On Day 1, instead of going to get a burrito or exciting soup and sandwich, I just went across the road to the Federal Reserve building dining room and got whatever veggies they had grilled up and a soda. But that's the thing about eating out when you don't do it every day - it seems really exciting until you actually have to make a decision and then poof! it's just too stressful and you end up eating an eggroll.

For about half of this week, Russell and I were on the road to a wedding of good friends in D.C. Despite being in one of the more expensive cities on the east coast, we found some reasonable meal prices while there thanks to some local help. We also stopped to have lunch with some college professors in Roanoke, VA, and then in Durham/Chapel Hill, NC, on the way home to see family.

Total cost: $307
Garbage: Only one bag at home but the take-out containers definitely built up at my office and we were out of town most of the week so who knows.
Weight: Good question. Being out of town meant we never made it to the gym just before or just after our eating out week. However, we both feel flabbier though that could be due to less exercise and more sitting in a car over the last week.

General observations:
  • Being vegetarian, let alone vegan, isn't easy when you eat out. I've written about this numerous times before but when you're limiting yourself to eating out, being vegan is nearly impossible. Non-meat options almost always include cheese or cream of some sort.
  • My stomach can't take restaurant food 7 days in a row. Though we were able to stay close to vegetarianism, eating at restaurants means heavier food and more preservatives than our standard diet which meant more bellyaches.
  • Eating out is not cheap. I'm sure there's some way you could translate the amount of time I didn't spend cooking or procuring ingredients into money but just looking at the totals, my pocketbook took a hit this week.
  • We saw a lot more of our friends, at least for dinner. Eating lunch out was still a solitary activity but we ended up sharing many a meal both in Charlotte and D.C. with friends we don't see often.
  • Soda comes with everything. Taking a page from Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, I bought a soda every time a restaurant cashier suggested adding it to my meal. This meant that I drank a lot more than my once a week non-water drink.
Meal highlights:
  • Pizza. We ate pizza both at a great restaurant in Charlotte, the Pizza Peel, and one in the Eastern Market neighborhood in D.C. called Matchbox. Both were far better than your average Domino's but, of course, we paid for it.
  • Woodlands Pure Vegetarian Indian. Trying to maintain our vegetarianism, we took some friends to our favorite Indian restaurant in Charlotte, Woodlands. They specialize in vegetarian and vegan options and it was, as always, absolutely delicious.
  • K.O. Sushi. This is a restaurant in Uptown that does take out/delivery only and they have a mean vegetarian udon soup. Spicy, but delicious, and only $7 including tax.
Sounds pretty delicious right? It was but I'm not sure if it was three-times-the-price-of-grocery-store delicious. Next week: eating only what we find at the farmers market or local bakeries and restaurants.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Week 1: Grocery Store only

For week 1 of this little experiment, we ate food only from the grocery store. This probably doesn't sound like much of an experiment for most people but for our household, we get over 50% of what we eat from the farmers market and go out to eat 2 or 3 times a week (between lunch and dinner) so we could easily only get cereal and milk from the store any given week. Needless to say, walking out of the grocery store with a full cart of food isn't something I've done for years but it was interesting. 

  • Beginning weight: Sarah: 142 lbs, Russell: 191 lbs
  • Ending weight: Sarah: 142 lbs, Russell: 191 lbs
  • Total cost: $114
  • Plastic bags used: 6 brown, 4 clear for produce (we took a lot just loose and used some reusable bags)
  • Times kitchen trash emptied: 2
  • Compost bucket fullness: VERY (by the end of week the lid wouldn't close)
  1. Grocery store produce < farmers market produce. From tasteless peaches to mealy tomatoes, it is just so disappointing to get fruit and vegetables from the store. Here we are in the middle of tomato and peach country and the ones you get from Harris Teeter pale in comparison. 
  2. Variety. When you're use to eating whatever is available at the market, the variety of the grocery store can be daunting. You can get whatever you need (and lots you don't) to cook pretty much anything.
  3. Abundance. We ended up using Harris Teeter over Trader Joe's because it's more similar to a typical grocery store. This meant that we had SO many choices in produce, meat, carbs and so on that it's almost hard to chose.
  4. Boooooring. Sure you can get anything you need from Harris Teeter but I find their products to lack the excitement or uniqueness of farmers market or locally-made food. You won't find spices like those at Savory Spice Shop or bread like Duke's makes.
Meal highlights:
  • Spaghetti and meatballs. We broke our no-meat rule to try to be at least somewhat realistic for those that do eat meat. We got pre-made turkey meatballs and made them with jar sauce and boxed noodles. The later isn't weird for us but the turkey meatballs made us both a little sick. Never again.
  • Tofu with hoisin sauce, mung bean sprouts and onions. Delicious but at what cost? The sauce we got from a jar in the international section and you don't want to know what was in it.
  • Pasta tossed with seasonal vegetables (mushrooms, tomatoes, brocoli). Pretty good but the vegetables lacked a lot of their natural flavor.
  • Lunch: PB&J or leftovers. Nothing exciting here but that's what we eat normally. We usually get peanut butter, jam and bread from local producers so going back to Jiff was quite a change.
  • Mexican night splurge. I haven't made guacamole in probably 18 months because there are no avocados grown around here so we splurged a bit and got a couple to make guac. It was, admittedly, delicious but, again, I don't want to know from how far away those avocados came.
All in all, it was an interesting week. I felt like we had so much food around compared to normally we only buy what we need from the market and go from there. Next week: eating out for 7 days straight!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Late Summer/Fall Project

One of the most common arguments against eating locally that I hear is that it's too expensive. Friends tell me all the time that they just can't afford to eat everything from the farmers market or spend $1 more a loaf on bread from a real bakery. With this in mind, I have decided to embark on a little experiment. For one week each, my boyfriend and I will do nothing but either eat out, eat locally or eat only food from a grocery store. We'll save all receipts from each week and determine what the most cost effective way to eat is. Along the way, I'll also try to capture some other metrics including our weight, amount of garbage produced, and overall health.

Both my boyfriend and I are in training for a triathlon in early October so we will be doing a lot of exercising between now and then. This will make our weight decrease somewhat over the weeks so we'll capture a pre-week weight and a post-week weight. If we keep our amounts of exercise consistent, this should be a relatively good measure.

Week 1 will be grocery store food only. We mostly shop at Trader Joe's since we can walk there from our home but there are many items you can't find there so Harris Teeter will be our back up. Eating out will be the second week which will correspond with a four day trip to our close friends' wedding in D.C. Finally, we will spend Week 3 eating only what we can get from the market, our favorite local bakery, Nova's, and locally-sourced restaurants like Luna's Living Kitchen and Fern. We have some farmers market produce frozen in our fridge so if we use that, we'll calculate the costs and include. For Weeks 1 and 3 I won't count items like spices, flour sugar because we get those from a mix of local and non-local sources. We debated including coffee but since there are three coffee options in our neighborhood (local roasters at the market, grocery store-bought coffee and then Starbucks and Caribou), we might as well include that too.

Have suggestions? Let me know in the comments or email them to!