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Living in San Francisco, things are always a little more complicated than they need to be. I am looking for my warmest sweater at 7:30 on an August morning because the fog is so thick out there that the chilly dampness will cling to my clothes and cloud over my glasses during the brief walk from the car to the elementary school.* Later on, if the sun shows through or if I travel toward downtown or across a bridge where it’s sunny, I’ll need lighter clothes and have to think about whether to shed the socks. It gets so a person here gets used to changing clothes several times a day or having shed-able layers dangling from your arms without thinking much about it.

Shopping for groceries is an equally fussy proposition if you care about product quality, food safety and cost. Nowhere else I’ve ever lived required a person to make the rounds of half a dozen stores to get all the things you need. If you make Whole Foods your one stop place, chances are you will not be able to tolerate buying the non-food staples like cleaners and paper products there. To those who’ve got the money for that, I say vaya con dios. I can’t countenance paying $2.95 for a pepper when I can get it for $0.44 around the corner, no matter what its pedigree. When you know that you can pay half the typical five dollar asking price for a loaf of Oroweat bread if you go to Smart and Final or Costco, for me it’s hard to not do that. But really, if you are making steps toward eating better and will no longer buy the meat and produce at the major grocery store chains, then you’ve automatically made your shopping logistics exquisitely complicated.

Of course I’m fussier now than I used to be and have a child to cater to with her lowbrow tastes. On a day when I need to stock up on fruits and vegetables, cereal and fresh meat for the next couple of dinners I will seriously consider going to a total of three stores in a day. When more recently in that dilemma, I whittled it down to two stores by buying a fancy health food store brand cereal on sale at Whole Foods – not something I want to get into the habit of, and my family probably won’t thank me – but hopefully it’ll taste at least as good as the General Mills brand it’s trying to be.

Lately a bag of groceries at basic grocery retailers or specialty stores in SF will run about $25.00 and that average is only rising. I get my fruit and veggies at local greengrocers just a block or two from where I live and average about $7.00 per bag of groceries, so it’s foolish not to weigh heavily on the produce side of things. Fortunately, the produce market is the easiest of stops and one I try to do a couple of times a week so I won’t be tempted to pay more for produce at bigger, pricier stores. This weekend I walked out of my neighborhood place and got two bags of stuff for $10.92 and felt very good about that. If you can get used to the extra steps that making veggies from scratch brings, even if simply prepared, it eventually becomes a comfort and not an annoyance like having to hang a sweater over your arm.

California is blessed with great year round produce choices and it is important to take advantage of it. I am too far from the big Farmer’s Markets like Alemany or at the Ferry Building to make them work for me but here is a good website to use to find one in your area, nationwide:

http://www.simplesteps.org/eat-local/farmers-markets-search?z=94121&r=5

It’s from the Smart Living Section of the National Resources Defense Council website and it looks like my kind of thing, so I will look at it more later and report back.

There are a couple of places closer to me than Whole Foods, (which is way out of my way) to buy good, non-industrial-complex chicken and other meats.  Some of them carry grassfed beef too, though the cuts there are limited. The high-end grocers with a separate meat counter, like Cal-Mart or Bryans or Guerra’s on Taraval, are worth the money. Mary’s brand of chicken, from Pittman Family Farms, is available at all three of these specialty meat counters, and is my favorite. When you say ‘tastes like chicken’ it really does! As long as you don’t fall into the trap of buying other prepared items or jars of jam or pasta sauce which are highly marked up, you may get out of there with change from your twenty dollar bill.

I know meal planning is important for saving time, fuel, and money but why is it so hard? I have a typed-up a list of my basic repertoire of meals bunched according to easy/moderate effort and even as I stared at it at breakfast this morning and am still unable to decide what to fix tonight. I am decisive in other areas, really I am.  You might say meal planning is a lovely thought, do-able for people who work from home, but the best meal planners I know (one living in LA and the other in Minnesota) both work full time and fill their freezers on alternate weekends. I am in awe.

Well, I need visual aids. I am off to my quality meat counter down the road to get something TBD for today and perhaps chicken for tomorrow?

– Janice

* we live one block away from a public elementary school that we are not able to have my child attend, but that is another story of complication San Francisco-style that I will not get into right now!

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