And with all of that, here are my general tips for making informed decisions at the grocery store:
If you eat meat, fish, and eggs, prioritize your budget for those items. Choosing high quality animal protein sources should never be something you debate with yourself. You either buy organic, wild, and pastured or you don't buy it. Period. Yes, it's THAT serious. Especially when it comes to beef and chicken. Beef is in such high demand in our country that companies are willing to do whatever it takes to capitalize. They raise the animals in cramped conditions to save space, they feed them GMO corn and grains to save money and land, they inject them with growth hormones so they can be ready for slaughter sooner, and they pump them with antibiotics so they don't get sick in their disgusting, inhumane environment. It is a sad, sad life for those animals and the people who allow this are sick, sick people. Do NOT support that with your hard-earned money. For meat, seafood, and eggs these are the factors of most importance, in my opinion, in the order of priority from top to bottom.
- humanely & sustainably raised
- wild-caught (seafood)
- processed meat products should be kept to a MINIMUM (bacon, deli meat, sausage, etc.) but should definitely still be purchased organic at the very least. Also, make sure the product is free of nitrates, preservatives, and questionable ingredients (anything you can't pronounce or identify).
Do not be afraid to ask questions at the grocery store. My butcher knows me, and I know him. We talk every time I buy from him. I ask him about what's available because animals are kinda seasonal too...sometimes there's just not a lot of beef or chicken available, so I go with lamb or pork. I ask him about the farms that the meat comes from. I ask about the butchering process. I ask about the storage process. I ask about transportation. I ask because I care and it's important that I know. Why is all of this important? Choosing quality meats, eggs, and seafood means you are concerned about environmentally sustainable farming practices. You want food with the highest nutritional value possible. You care about the fertility of the soil and the welfare of animals. You understand biodiversity and you would rather not ingest synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, fungicides, additives, GMO, hormones, antibiotics, vaccines or contribute to soil erosion, irradiation, or water pollution. I think that's more than enough reason.
No food is worse than conventionally raised, factory farmed meat. So, after you've secured your quality animal proteins, produce should be your next consideration. My priority is always vegetables over fruit. They are generally more satisfying, without a doubt more versatile for cooking and preparing, and usually more affordable. Sometimes, I go an entire month and have maybe 4 or 5 pieces of fruit. Frozen is always an option as well and almost always more affordable! Here is what you should be looking for when it comes to vegetables and fruits:
- organic: use the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen list to help prioritize which fruits and veggies are safe to buy non-organic...I don't think I've ever purchased an organic avocado or onion and my general rule-of-thumb is that if the skin gets discarded, I don't buy it organic.
- seasonal: yes strawberries can be purchased year round, but they are in peak season and therefore more nutritious April-June. I almost never eat fruits or vegetables that are not in season because they are always more expensive, and never taste as good.
- local: zucchini grows just fine in CA, we don't need to encourage the transportation of foods from outside of our own country!
Fats & Oils
If you eat dairy, you must absolutely choose quality products just as with meat, eggs, and seafood. Your milk, cheese, yogurt, butter/ghee should be:
- organic: means that the milk is free of growth hormones and antibiotics.
- whole fat: there is NO GOOD REASON to buy non fat or low fat dairy products. None. Dairy products are already processed as is but removing the fat alters the milk even more, strips the nutrients away, and leaves room for additives!
And let's not forget cooking oils! Coconut oil and olive oil is really all you could ever need:
- virgin or extra virgin
As far as nuts and seeds go, you don't want to rely too heavily on them as it's quite easy to overdo it. The good news is that they don't need to be organic!
- coconut: dried, fresh, shredded, milk, etc. Coconut is generally inexpensive but loaded with healthy fat! It's easily a primary source of fat in my diet.
- all nuts and seeds should be raw or dry roasted. Sprouted is an option as well but you can save yourself a lot of money by sprouting them at home if you want to, same with roasting. And...same with nut and seed butters. You are much better off making these at home.
Here's another infographic I created about oils. Animal fats are super easy to render at home. You can make your own lard, tallow, duck fat, and ghee right in your own kitchen! The other oils are easier for most people to purchase.