I have broken down and bought a copy of In Defense of Food: A Eater’s Manifesto. I’ll take it off my Amazon wish list in a minute; in the event that someone’s bought it as a birthday gift for me as suggested earlier: thanks – I’ll make sure it finds a good home.
On first reading, there are some things in the book that I’m skeptical about, particularly when it comes to his own unexamined assumptions regarding the so-called obesity epidemic. I also noticed that writer Michael Pollan’s working relationship with nutritionism is much more ambivalent than you can tell from the summaries, reviews and promotional excerpts. Still, on the whole, it’s a valuable, mostly well-argued book with some practical tips for enjoying food and staying healthy (beyond the big one: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants).
One of Pollan’s tips is to shop the periphery of the supermarket, and another is to avoid the supermarket alltogether. I’m going to try that last one for a week, to see if it’s possible to get everything I need just from the farmer’s market in Groningen. Note that while I say “Farmer’s market”, the stalls located on the Vismarkt do not form a true farmer’s market: about a third of them are fishmongers and many of the others are run by grocery and dairy merchants, not farmers. But a lot of the produce on offer is local, and there are some farm-oriented businesses selling their wears there every day the market is open.
As part of the experiment, I’m going to bore you with my shopping list, because I need to write it down somewhere and then be able to find it again later. Here’s what I got:
2 kilograms of tomatoes, from the organic produce stall, for snacking on and cooking with. These are a bit pricy but well worth it for their flavour.
1 cauliflower, also from the organic produce stall.
1 kg potatoes (cultivar Andijker Muizen) from the potato farmer.
1 sliced Waldkorn bread from a bakery stall;
1 1/2 kg bag of gingerbread drops (kruidnoten) from the same bakery stall. These are strongly associated with St. Nicolas’ Day (December 5) in the Netherlands and people will grumble about them being on sale so early. I don’t care – I’d eat them year-round.
3 bananas from one of the fruit sellers.
1 1/2 kg box of strawberries from the same fruit seller. This time around, I managed to get them home undamaged, which was partly due to this lot being better quality to start with.
1 250-gram box of wasabi peanuts from a nut stall.
1 1/2 kg bag of party mix (peanuts, cashews, raisins and some other things) from another nut stall.
2 bell peppers from a vegetable seller.
1 broccoli from the same vegetable seller.
200 grams of sun-dried tomatoes from Moritz the food snob (easily the priciest indulgence on the list, but worth every penny)
1 liter of buttermilk from a dairy stall.
1 liter of yoghurt from same.
1 kg red peppers, to snack on.
Total budget: € 40. Still in my wallet after the visit: €10. Clearly, if frugality was my only motivation to shop at the market, I might as well not bother. I do save money on stapels (and would save more if I were buying for a household of more than one person) but it gets canceled out by upgrades to organic produce or pricy yum-yums. Also, the large number of separate transactions makes budgeting more difficult.
I did get all my shopping done reasonably fast and with money left over to get more bread later in the week. I could get nearly everything I wanted: the only exceptions were milk, durable crispbread and potato chips, and I don’t really need the latter two anyway. Because I was puzzled by the absense of milk, I asked at the dairy stall; they said they do offer it early in the week, but there’s little demand and no structural supply chain as everyone gets it from the supermarket. That’s why I got the buttermilk instead, but the lack of milk may turn out to be the factor driving me back into the supermarket later this week.