Whole Foods Market Food Stamp Challenge: Post Mortem

| October 4, 2013 | 2 Comments

The day after my Whole Foods Market Food Stamp Challenge ended, I found myself standing at the counter at my favorite coffee joint,  The Bean Cycle in Fort Collins, waiting for my 2% latte with an extra shot of espresso.  I noticed on the counter a stack of chocolate bars – not just any good chocolate, but Ritual Chocolate, one of Colorado’s craft chocolatiers, its bars made of “…single origin chocolate …. made entirely under one roof using traditional, European methods with ethically-sourced cacao.”  For $6.75 a pop. Gulp.

Yes, I did.

And it was amazing.  But we ate it one tiny square at a time, doled out over three days.  (Every time with eyes closed)

This is one way that our Food Stamp Challenge month manifested itself: Deep appreciation of food.  Not just “Oooh, this tastes good, let’s have another bite,” but almost a holy ritual, where every food once again became important, where  flavors weren’t muted by forty more bites of the same cheap mass-produced junk, where we once again felt appreciation for all parts of what we were eating.  We could TASTE the exotic dash of allspice in the soup.  We could SMELL the sharp muskiness of the smallest sprinkle of parmesan.  Black beans were again something that had once been a green, growing plant somewhere, and had been painstakingly dried and brought to us so we could make chili with their creamy goodness.

Food became multi-dimensional again, and had real value.  And it felt damned good.

There were a ton of other benefits, though, and I’m noticing more every day. A few that have come up so far:

Good habits

Having four weeks of mindful food planning behind me, I find that those habits don’t die easily.  Over the weekend, I realized that I hadn’t thought about what we were going to eat in the coming week at all — and it was a strange, gnawing discomfort.  When I sat down and planned out several meals, and made a shopping list (and put on a crockpot of beans and a loaf of bread) I felt a lot more relaxed.

Good medicine for my body

I slept better.  Perhaps it had something to do with the sodium levels in processed food, which tend to contribute to bouts of insomnia for me. Or maybe it is the cost of a less mindful life, which bites into our budget every month and creates stress. No matter what it was, it worked.

I’m also stuck on the Dirty Dozen these days, and not only have it memorized (does that make me a geek?)  but I really can’t bring myself to buy produce from that pesticide-laden list if it isn’t organic, even if I have to change up what I’d planned to cook.  I come from a family where cancer visits regularly; if I can keep at least SOME of those chemicals out of my body, I’ll be happy.

Good medicine for my wallet

Of course, one of the pluses was that we stayed within our food budget (not counting the unfortunate tax). That meant our checking account didn’t need any additional infusions of cash, much to our surprise.

But we also saved money in other areas.

We saved on gasoline, shaving those zillion shopping trips down to three. We adjusted recipes to fit what we had on hand — instead of adjusting our day/driving to fit a recipe’s needs.

We created less trash, even less recycling.  Very little discarded packaging, except for the odd cheese wrapper or empty olive jar. Dealing with items in bulk meant we could keep bringing the same containers back to re-fill them, rather than adding to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We both kept getting the nagging feeling that we needed to take out the trash, but it just didn’t fill up.  We ended up discarding the equivalent of a plastic shopping bag, possibly two, of trash over the course of a month.  It would be very easy to eliminate trash service if we kept up that pattern (another $20.00/month).

We saved by not wasting.   Waste became a big deal. Over the course of the month, only one thing went bad — a batch of salad greens that had silently migrated to the back of the fridge.  In a normal month, I would’ve felt bad.  I hate wasting things.   But in this particular month, I felt bad AND my eyes flashed dollar signs: OMG, that was just $2.50 worth of salad dumped into the compost bin.  It is oh so easy to forget the dollar value of our wasted leftovers, “gone over” produce, even burned toast, until your dollars to replace it are very limited.

Kicking up the let’s-have-fun-O-meter

Mr. GH and I enjoyed more time together, cooking and eating real food instead of the quickest thing we could toss together.  We’d find ourselves hanging out in the kitchen, talking over our days while stirring pasta sauce or loading up the bread machine.  The electronic devices largely stayed in other rooms, and there was a lot of loud music, laughing and dancing in between those cooking sprees.  And the food was great to eat. Cold processed cereal versus eggs and toasted homemade bread?  Or loaded oatmeal with dried fruit, toasted walnuts, and coconut milk?   No contest. In short, hanging out in the kitchen was a blast.

Deep appreciation of food

Probably the best aftereffect was the realization of how valuable some things are to us, like:

  • Coffee: Even just one perfect cup a day felt like a small luxury to my unemployed persona.
  • Cheese – the savory, creamy pleasure of real cheese, as opposed to larger quantities of cheap cheese. It truly is a wonderful thing.
  • Spices and Additions – A dash of cinnamon, a few shavings of really good cheese, some roasted poblano pepper – the small things made the difference between utilitarian calories and hedonistic pleasure.

Re-awakening resourcefulness

When we received gifts from friends (zucchini), picked something from the “allowed” garden (some windowbox basil, a handful of greens)  or were able to trade for good things (eggs), it was a real score, a spike of delight.  They weren’t forgotten as soon as they were eaten — I can still remember the big smile on my face.   A big zucchini became zucchini bread for lunches/dessert.  Eggs became a frittata. A bunch of basil from our potted plant became a batch of pesto to toss with pasta. All of these things were like found treasure. Bliss.

Commitment to eat better AND closer to the line from now on

Probably the most important thing imprinted on us this month was the promise of being able to do better from here on out in “regular life.”  In all honesty, there’s no reason whatsoever why we can’t eat very well EVERY month on $367/month, especially by finding the best sources for everything.  Here’s an example:

  • Loaf of Organic Whole Wheat Bread (purchased):   $4.99
  • Loaf of Homemade Organic Whole Wheat Bread, flour purchased at Whole Foods at $0.99/pound:  $1.07  (average)
  • Loaf of Homemade Organic Whole Wheat Bread, Colorado-milled flour purchased in bulk from Golden Organics at $0.79/pound:  $0.91

Or this comparison:

Organic US-grown black beans (a staple here):

  • Whole Foods:  $1.55/lb
  • Natural Grocers:  $1.33/lb
  • Golden Organics:  $1.13/lb

There are some things that Whole Foods Market will always be the best source for (bulk spices comes to mind, as well as a large variety of organic produce) and judicious shopping there will always be a pleasure.  But by branching out on some items, always buying them from the best sources, and doing just a little bit of scratch cooking, we can save a ton AND eat really well.

A very good month of my life.  A great experiment.  And a lot of fun. You should try it!



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Category: Cooking, Food, Money Saving, Whole Foods Challenge

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  1. Stacy McDonald says:

    Sprouts is great for bulk spices too! They aren’t organic, but I don’t think WF is either. Great and inspiring post!

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