You might want to chug a Red Bull before reading this post, just FYI.
So, I saved all the receipts from the Eat Local Challenge. However, when I went to compare them to our regular food budget, I remembered that I had stopped tracking our family budget two years ago when the numbers started getting scary. Which is always the right strategy. To back away from cold, hard prudence and retreat into the cozy but precariously perched nest of ignorance.
Without those figures, it’s hard to give a fully accurate reading of how our spending changed last month. Still, I was able to make a few observations based on the numbers I had:
- Local dairy is expensive. Local milk and butter are about double the price of the generic brand at the local supermarket. Apparently growth hormones really keep costs down. Fortunately, I figured out early on that Russo’s carries Cabot butter at $1 per pound cheaper ($3.69!!!) than the same exact thing at Shaw’s ($4.69?). Russo’s also sells local milk at $4.49 per gallon (compared to $3.99 for a gallon of regular milk at Shaw’s), which seems quite reasonable. No wonder it’s always so effing crowded at Russo's. Local cheese is more expensive, too, but that’s a whole different animal and so I’m not even going to make comparisons between Westfield Farm goat cheese and Kraft singles.
- Local meat is expensive. Especially the kind raised like this:
- Local sweeteners are expensive. Like honey and maple products (we used no cane sugar or corn syrup all month). We spent about $60 to more or less maintain the same level of sweetness we’ve come to expect in our lives. Can you believe that? Sixty dollars! We didn’t even have dessert every night. On a strict budget, we’d be lucky to have dessert once a week. Oh, how we take for granted the sweet stuff in our daily lives. (Pass the Halloween candy.)
- Vegetables are cheap. I’m still convinced that a vegetable CSA, depending on how well it’s run and the weather, is a good value. We paid about $30/week for two huge grocery bags full of vegetables, though share size ebbs and flows with the season, obviously. According to the Drumlin Summer CSA’s end-of-season cost summary, which tallies up how much of each fruit/vegetable we got, assigns it a value (comparable to regular supermarket prices), adds it up, and then subtracts that number from what we paid in the beginning of the season, we saved $200 over the whole summer. Plus, consider that the quality is way better than trucked-in produce, and by getting inundated with vegetables, you end up spending less money on more expensive foods you would have otherwise bought. CSAs are good.
- Riding a bike is fun. Though it's maybe not the most efficient way to grocery shop. We saved maybe $5 in gas all month. That’s not even really accurate because I made twice as many trips to the store due to the small storage capacity. Maybe $2? However, I did save on a gym membership that I would have paid for and then never used, so there’s that. And can you really put a price on a smile?
In total, subtracting my $2 bicycle credit and the $20 we saved through Drumlin’s CSA, we spent just under $1,000 on local food here in Massachusetts in October for a family of four (two adults, two small kids). We normally budget about $850. It should be noted that $200 went toward restaurants and emergency takeout and $75 went toward booze. Normally, we don’t consume that much alcohol or go out to eat that much, so I’m tempted to subtract that all out to make it look like a normal month. Then we would have actually come in under budget. But that also would have meant more cooking for me and perhaps checking myself into a psychiatric facility, so let's just keep it.
I have a more detailed breakdown of the numbers (amount spent on vegetables vs. meat, etc.), but I can’t bring myself to believe that you care. So, that’s it. You can wake up now. Dismissed.