Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bang for your buck

After we were first married and I was I trying to create healthy meals for Eric and I, one thing became incredibly clear: healthy food, unlike it's overly-processed lifespan-shortening counterpart (otherwise known as Twinkies...), is EXPENSIVE! Now really America, we want our people healthy, even the first-lady is on a health mission, but we charge $5.00 for a head of cauliflower but you can buy Lay's potato chips 3/$1.00 on Super Bowl Sunday. I firmly believe in a grocery budget (I am a teacher, enough said), but I also firmly believe in living past 40. Hence my dilemma...

Enter the salvation of the fruit and veggie world (no offense to Jesus)... Bountiful Baskets. The most excellent food co-op in the WORLD (i.e. the western USA). Now, when I discovered BB, I was hesitant at first... Food Co-op, I thought? I think you have to live in Portland, wear Birkenstocks, drive a Subaru station-wagon and be one of those, Produce-So-Much-Energy-From-The-Solar-Panels-On-Your-Roof-That-Oregon-Buys-It-Back-From-You kind of people, to be involved in a food co-op... But, I decided to check out the website anyway.

WARNING: For those who are novices at internet surfing, give yourself at least 30 minutes to figure the BB website out on your first try. Or recruit an internet surfing expert (i.e. any 13 year old who you see texting and walking). Even though the program is EXCELLENT, the website is.... horrid, to put it nicely.

Here's the jist: There are people in your area (If you live in WA, OR, CA, ID, UT, or AZ) who are volunteers, and weekly purchase produce in bulk and then sell it for cost to people who sign up for the co-op (that's you!). You have the opportunity to buy produce on a weekly basis-you don't have to buy every week or set up a schedule, just buy on the weeks you choose (i do every other week, sometimes every 3 weeks). It's produce on your schedule- really this is the netflix of produce, if you think about it... For those who live in the areas they serve, they provide a list of pick up sites that you can browse. Find the one nearest your home (usually a park), and sign up. You MUST, (I repeat) MUST pick up your produce on the date/time listed for your pickup site (usually at some horrible hour on a Saturday morning - 7AMish), or it will be donated to a local fire house. You have the option of signing up every Tuesday and Wednesday for a Saturday pick up (see the site's FAQ page for more info), and what you get will amaze you!

You must bring your own container in which to take home your food (like a laundry basket), to your pick up location at the listed time, and you will receive a TON of fresh/delicious produce! You will get 1/2 fruit and 1/2 veggies and a whole lot of nutrition in one big basket! I was skeptical at first regarding the amount of food I would get for the price (basic basket runs $15, certified organic basket is $25), but I was a believer after my first pick up. I received the following in my basket, on my first week:

1 head of cabbage
12 red Russet potatoes
1 head of fennel (I KNOW! Amazing!)
1 head of red-leaf lettuce
1 head of romaine lettuce
1 small crate of grape tomatoes
6 yellow squash
10 (YES, 10!) zucchini stalks
1 bunch of celery
10 apples (Pink Ladies, my FAVE!)
1 bunch of 8 bananas
3 avocados
1 pineapple
2 small crates of blueberries (it just keeps getting better!)
4 pears
And... 3 cartons of strawberries!

And I repeat: ALL FOR $15!!!! Despite the fact that I despised myself a little for being up so early in the morning and not yet retirement age, I found myself thinking on the way home from my first pick-up... Alert the media! Call everyone! Shout it from the roof-tops.... I FOUND CHEAP, HEALTHY FOOD!

The reality is that many, many people were there that morning... all sleepy-eyed and droopy-faced (clearly the honeymoon phase of cheap produce has worn off for them...). BB is clearly no secret, but how do so, so, so many people not know about this service? Hence this post (since this brand new blog must reach so many, haha!).

Now that you are incredibly stoked about BB and you feel the warm happy feeling of bargain-finding/healthy-eating all rolled into one starting to rush over you... here are a few things you should know/tips for using BB.

1. I said it before, but the website SUCKS. Give yourself a while to figure it out - visit the FAQ page... a few times

2. Know that they generally offer additional options to their weekly baskets. These range from a 5 loaf pack of bread, to a Mexican meal pack (think jalapenos, cumin, etc.), to an entire flat (yes! a FLAT) of seasonal fruits. These options are extra, but extremely economical, and will change from week to week. It's a nice little surprise.

3. You don't choose what comes in your basket. What you get is what you get, but it has some perks... you will learn (because you have to) how to fix all kinds of obscure foods in different ways.

4. If, for some reason, you are unable to pick up your produce, it will be donated to the local firehouse. In other words: Be there or be square... and nobody likes a square.

5. Volunteer! The co-ops are run by people just like you, so they ask that you give an hour of service (usually directly before pick up time) every once in a while to say "thanks!"

6. Buy a bigger freezer. No, seriously. These veggies/fruits are an incredible bargain, but unless you are a veritable bottomless-pit, or your last name is Duggar, you will never (I repeat, NEVER) be able to finish them all before they spoil. Get creative... make apple preserves, boil your Swiss chard (Yes! Swiss Chard, hallelujah!) and freeze it as a spinach-substitute for later recipes. Bottom line, clear out the fridge/freezer and prepare for overwhelming awesomeness in veggie form.

7. Don't see a co-op in your area? Start one! Anyone can - just email Sally and Tanya (the founders) and they'll get ya all set up.

I have found that since becoming a convert to the BB religion (joking... kind of...), all I ever buy at the store is chicken, ground turkey, fish, quinoa (look out for a future post!), and brown rice. Unless I go to Costco (another future post coming!), which mandates spending at least $100 before leaving, churro-in-hand. Needless to say, BB and planning all meals in advance (another future post!), has cut my healthy grocery budget in HALF. Thank God, because it was getting outrageous (i.e. I could buy a lot, Lot, LOT of BCBG/JCrew clothing for myself... and for everyone else on earth).

And finally, what you've all been waiting for... the website!! *insert angels singing here*

Check it out (when you have a free 1/2 hour), and let me know what you think! All silliness aside, I hope it changes your life like it has mine. In a world where we are bombarded by garbage in every arena (terrible television, terrible food, terrible food being advertised terribly on television...), it was a little slice of purity for me.

And that's what's on our Table for Two today!

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