Feb 16, 201710:54 AM
Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene
Markets and Me
How to Survive on a Moderate Budget
I do not grow most of the food my family eats. I have a garden, but it is in the back yard of a house in Broadmoor, and while it’s a nice backyard, it’s not enough space to actually sustain us. So I grow herbs, and, in season, tomatoes, squash, okra, peas and a few other crops.
At the moment I have some mustard greens in my garden. I planted some seeds last year, but I didn’t get much of a harvest. The greens were largely fodder for insects. They persisted, however, and I’m reaping the benefit.
Which is why when I saw a bunch of essentially the same greens on sale at a local market for something along the lines of $5.99, I was a bit put off. This was a local market, and the greens were organic and undoubtedly local, but I’m willing to bet they weren’t better than what I could pull out of the ground in my (local) backyard.
Greens are not all that expensive, as things go. A bunch generally costs around $1.50 at the chains, and up to $2.99 for organic bunches at Whole Foods. The same goes for carrots, which at the local market in question cost, I believe, $4.99/lb. The carrots were organic, and they were pretty. I do not believe they were worth $1/carrot, though I did not actually taste them. Perhaps I missed the carrot of a lifetime.
Convenience is certainly worth something. I do not know what it is worth to you, but I know that we have let our membership at a large retailer whose initials rhyme with BostBo lapse. We didn’t use the membership enough to justify renewing it, even though on the times we went, we saved money on things we would otherwise have bought elsewhere. But when you add the cost of the time it takes to trundle through the warehouse at BostBo, the cost of membership and the time it takes to negotiate the checkout lines, the savings weren’t worth it.
There is middle ground between local markets and big box stores. I shop at three local Rouse’s and two Whole Foods on a fairly regular basis. Now and again I hit Langenstein’s, Dorignac’s and Walmart, too. I visit the Crescent City Farmer’s Market and the Hollygrove Market on the weekends. I have a pretty good idea what staples cost at each.
I know organic, pasture-raised and gluten-free things are in demand, but when I see the local market charging almost $7 for a 12-pack of flavored soda water that you’d pay $5 (at most) for anywhere else? I wonder, who is shopping here? Are they buying the delicious-looking $15 roasted chickens? Are people paying $10 more to shop here than they would if they went to Winn-Dixie or Rouse’s?
Is, “it’s as organic as Whole Foods, but more expensive!” a legitimate business model? I have no idea. Perhaps it is. It does not seem like a profit engine to me, but, to quote Lou Reed, "I guess that I just don’t know."
I am pulling for the local market, because the folks behind it have clearly given some thought and effort in to what products they’ll carry. It’s “curated,” as the kids say. I am also pulling for them because most of what I saw that was prepared on-site looked delicious.
But I fear I’m pulling for them the way I pulled for the Saints in 1980: with hope tempered by the near certainty that Archie Manning was going to be decapitated at some point during the season. Archie was not, in fact, decapitated, and his acrobatic ability to avoid same is one of the few positive memories I have from that season. Maybe local market will pull the same trick off. Let’s hope.