Shopping the Big Boxes

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | September 20th, 2007 | No Comments
topic: Conscious Living News, Eco Decorating, Green Living, Healthy Home

I’ve always been a little skeeved by the idea of being able to buy tennis shoes, beebee guns, and throw pillows at the same place I buy my milk and bananas, but I decided to check out the food centers within Wal-Mart and Super Target to see how their selection measured up to my typical grocery shopping options.

Armed with my weekly shopping list, I started out at Wal-Mart. I’ve always marveled at the fact that Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest retailer of groceries, and I’ve been following with interest Wal-Mart’s push into the organic market. However, we never shop there, mainly because my husband considers the retailer to be evil. In fact, he prides himself on the fact that until a month or so ago, he had never set foot inside a store.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked, when he saw me putting some groceries into my cart.

“We need bananas,” I told him. I knew from our last visit that he did not want to buy anything here, but I had to do our weekly shop, and I was interested to see how my grocery bill would differ compared to Publix or Whole Foods.

“You’re not buying anything here,” he said firmly. “Wal-Mart is the definition of a soulless, evil corporation. Do you want to support all they stand for?” He meant Wal-Mart’s way of putting local merchants out of business, contributing to our nation’s urban sprawl, and mistreating its employees, among other infractions.

Reluctantly, I put back my groceries, but for the purpose of reporting back to you, my loyal readers, I did a quick run-through of the store to check out their organic and healthy options.

In the fresh produce section, there was very little organic produce to be had. I was surprised to see plums, kiwi, and peaches from brands like Newman’s Own and Melissa’s, which I didn’t know marketed fresh produce. But what was a little distressing was that pretty much all the organic produce was wrapped in plastic or packaged in hard plastic clamshell containers. Not only is this wasteful from an environmental standpoint, but I prefer to choose my plums individually.

In the grocery aisles, I spied some bargains—Newman’s Own salsa, for which I usually pay around $3, was only $1.93, and Kashi TLC bars were $2.66. Frozen meals and meatless products were also well priced, such as Kashi frozen meals, a onetime favorite lunch option for Chip, for $3.00, and Morningstar and Boca burgers and meat substitutes were $2.18 to $3.32.

The big shocker, however, was in the milk section, which I usually consider a barometer of whether a store has good prices. Half gallon cartons of Horizon organic milk was six dollars. I looked closer—maybe that price was for a two-pack? Nope.

Our shopping cart empty, we headed over to the Super-Target, where Chip had agreed I could actually buy stuff. Again, I was a little nonplussed by the display of fresh bananas (39 cents a pound!) at the entrance, incongruously situated right by cute Isaac Mizrahi party frocks. But in the grocery section, on the other side of the store, it was surprisingly just like my regular supermarket, right down to the signage with a ersatz-handwritten font.

Like at Wal-Mart, the organic selection in the produce aisle was lacking. I wasn’t about to pay $5.99 for a shrink-wrapped package of two green peppers, even if they are on the “Dirty Dozen” list. But organic avocados were $3.99 for a mesh sack of four, the price I normally pay at Whole Foods. And organic spinach under the Target private label brand was $2.99, which seemed reasonable.

I found some great buys in the grocery aisles. Muir Glen soups, which I’d never seen before, were $1.82 for a generous 19-ounce can. And did you know that Wolfgang Puck makes organic soups? Granted, they were $2.99 for a regular-sized can, but that’s a small price to pay for something created by the original celebrity chef. An old standby soup brand, Amy’s, meanwhile, was $1.82 a can.

I saw other eco-responsible products, including organic steaks and burgers, sold frozen, from a company called Sommers Organic, as well as wild-caught fish under the Archer Farms brand. Most surprising was a line of fresh refrigerated baby foods called Homemade Baby. Although I generally make Sadie’s food myself, I couldn’t help buying her a couple of containers of “Baby Tex Mex.”

But once again, the milk disappointed-those half-gallons of Horizon brand organic milk were $5.99. Archer Farms to the rescue—that brand of organic milk was $2.74, not much more than what I pay at Costco, and far less than what I pay at Publix or Whole Foods.

I scored some great deals, but I left with plenty of stuff remaining on my list, particularly fresh produce and reasonably priced Arborio rice (I wasn’t about to pay $4.99 for a bag!). There’s nothing I hate more than having to make multiple trips to the supermarket

In My Kitchen
Every week, I tally my grocery bill, and give you a peek at what’s on the dinner table at our house.

Groceries: $102.87

  • Vegetable risotto, spinach salad
  • Beef stroganoff, mashed broccoli
  • Grilled tilapia, grilled summer squash

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