En Español | Linda Watson enjoys organic strawberries and asparagus quiche. The 56-year-old author of Wildly Affordable Organic shops nearly every week at a farmers market near her Raleigh, N.C., home. Her food budget for a full day's worth of meals? Less than $5.
Watson's economical eats defy the elitist aura around foodie buzzwords like organic, local and sustainable. It's true that pesticide-free peaches and grass-fed filets mignons don't come cheap. But home cooks who shop smart can eat more "clean" foods — those that are better for their health and for the environment — without running up a huge bill.
"You don't have to be snooty," says Watson, "You don't have to use fiddlehead ferns." (She prefers snap peas to these wild-harvested ferns, which easily run $20 per pound.)
Advocates for locally produced food, or "locavores," argue that cheap food is no bargain if you add the costs of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related maladies. "We are paying way more for drugs and medical care than we used to, and less for food, and that is not a coincidence," says Erin Barnett, director of LocalHarvest, which connects consumers to small farms.
And going locavore can cost less than you think. Here's how to save and still satisfy a taste for the good stuff.
Make a beeline for the bulk bins
Even at high-end natural grocers like Whole Foods Market, you can find budget-friendly deals in the bulk bins for spices, grains, beans and pasta. A Washington State store, for example, sells organic bay leaves for $1.75 per ounce in bulk, compared with $42.78 per ounce for a small container.
Rely on the range
Store-bought staples can be made for less money and effort than you'd guess. Author Jennifer Reese chronicles the cost-to-hassle ratio in her book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. Homemade hummus involves little more than turning on the blender, she says, and costs 85 cents per cup, compared with up to $4.45 per cup for national brands. And baked goods? "Never buy muffins at Starbucks. It's pennies on the dollar if you bake from scratch," says Reese.
Buy part of the farm
When you have a community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscription, farmers deliver a weekly selection, or "share," from their current harvests to pickup points nearby. Paying up front for a season's worth of produce can run roughly $400 to $800, but that works out to a reasonable $20 to $40 per week, and you'll expand your culinary horizons with exotic ingredients like garlic scapes. To find a CSA, visit LocalHarvest.org.