Sunday, September 11, 2016

99 Centember

If I had my way I would shop at Trader Joe's for just about everything. If they don't carry it, I've come to believe it isn't really necessary for life. 

I also shop for groceries in the regular grocery store, at a little Mom and Pop produce place down the way and (when I feel like walking into the giant chiller that leaves me shivering), I pick up veggies and fruit at Costco. I should get up on Saturday mornings and hit the farmers market in the neighborhood, but I don't. My favorite way to acquire produce is when someone says "Hey Jessica, do you want a boat load of _________ from our tree/yard/garden?" Sure, I say, bring it on.

My husband is a bit more adventurous than I am when it comes to shopping for food. He loves popping in the 99 Cent Store to see what he can grab for a buck. I must say I'm pretty impressed with some of the items he picks up. It's not all Cheese Doodles and Nuclear Pink Punch at these dollar stores, you can find healthy choices if you look. Some of the brands are out of the mainstream, but for a dollar they're worth trying.

There is a 99 Cent Store about a mile to the east of us, in one of Sacramento's food deserts. You know, those parts of town that are abundant in liquor stores and gas station mini marts, but sorely lacking in real grocery stores. This got us thinking - could a person who lives in a food desert that contains a dollar store be able to shop and prepare healthy food for themselves? Not farm-to-fork, but more like store-to-spork?

In our case the question gets even dicier - can two plant-based adults live for a month solely on vegan food purchased from a 99 Cent Store? We don't eat meat or fish or eggs or milk and we don't eat any extracted oils. We eat abundant amounts of fruits and vegetables, rice and beans, whole-grain breads and cereals. legumes and once in a while we eat from the all-important food group of chocolate.

We figured it wouldn't hurt to try, so we picked a month. 99 Cents + September = 99Centember! The month was chosen, and the hashtag #99Centember was mine for the posting. 

A jury summons, some work days, lots of quilting, an assembly and that was it!
An easy and carefree month for our great food experiment. 

August became a game of trying to use up as much food on hand as possible. I made salads and casseroles, soups and stews, some better tasting than others. We used up bits and pieces of this, dabs of that, bottles and jars were getting dumped in left and right, leaving the refrigerator and cupboards looking quite pathetic.

Poor pathetic empty produce bins.

Mother Hubbard would be shocked. 

Because a contest of any kind needs rules, here they were:
  • Everything we ate in September, within reason, was to be from the 99 Cent Store
  • Spices and the random sprinkle of flour or splash of condiments doesn't count
  • Homemade jam or cider is OK
  • If someone gives us a boat load of produce from their yard, we say of course!
  • Produce from our garden is welcome, although we're only left with pumpkins
  • We'll track all expenses to see how much (or hopefully how little) we spend

The end of August came down to some interesting meals around here, but we managed. I set August 31st for my big shopping day at the 99 Cent Store. I was going to fill the veggie bins, load up on lentils and we would have canned goods and frozen foods once again.

That last day of August we got an early morning call from my family back east, I needed to get on a plane fast to go out and see my Mom in the hospital. I threw some clothes in a suitcase and made it to the airport for a last minute flight. After some scary days, my Mom is better and settled into a routine to get her strength back. The last thing on my mind was our silly little food plan for September, but I did feel really bad that I left Ernst with his own little food desert right in the middle of his work week. I assumed 99Centember was a bust.

Never letting a challenge pass him by, Ernst went ahead with the challenge without me. I came home to a surprisingly clean house and a refrigerator that had food in it. So here we are, a third of the way into the experiment, and I'm the one that needs to get on board with it.  I spent the morning getting caught up on what was on hand and making a few things to munch on for the next few days. I have yet to forage for vittles in the 99 Cent Store myself, but there's plenty of month left for that.

The vegetables are not exactly prizewinners, but they will do.

Pea pods!
Some were a bit sketchy, but they were peas in a pod.

Not worthy of Pinterest, but this salad had a bit of interest.

I made a huge pot of spicy soup for $4.75.
Our food budget is liking this September just fine.