Buy local open thread

Last month a new Iowa Food Cooperative opened at Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines. People who join the coop can buy lots of different food produced sustainably in Iowa.

Sustainable Table and Oxfam give you more details on the economic and environmental benefits of buying local food instead of food that’s traveled thousands of miles to your grocery store.

Speaking of which, if you’re lucky, you live in a community with a locally-owned grocery store. These have been on the decline for decades, and they are being squeezed even more now as consumers look for every way to cut costs.

I saw this diary yesterday about a much-loved grocery store closing in Reading, Massachusetts, and it reminded me that I heard Grinnell lost its independent grocer earlier this fall. Can any Bleeding Heartland readers in the Grinnell area confirm?

We are lucky to have several locally-owned grocery stores in the Des Moines area. I like Campbell’s, New City Market and the Gateway Market. Although those stores have a reputation for being expensive, you can save money by buying whole ingredients and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Highly-processed items like frozen dinners or just-add-water side dishes are usually more expensive than cooking from scratch.

You can also save money by cooking with meat less often (or never). Many independent grocers have sections where you can buy grains, beans, pasta and other items in bulk.

Even if you buy high-quality ingredients, cooking at home is usually cheaper than fast food. Via Jill Richardson’s community blog La Vida Locavore I learned that Iowa City’s own chef Kurt Michael Friese recently proved that he can cook a family meal of fried chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy for less than $10–thereby beating KFC’s “family meal” challenge:

The fast-food joint argues in its latest commercial that you cannot “create a family meal for less than $10.” Their example is the “seven-piece meal deal,” which includes seven pieces of fried chicken, four biscuits, and a side dish — in this case, mashed potatoes with gravy. This is meant to serve a family of four. [..]

I compared commodity products and organic ones, and calculated for each. The market had only one kind of chicken. It was far from the free-range, organic, local chicken I would normally use, but it was hormone-free from a network of family farms and faced nowhere near the cruel conditions suffered by KFC’s chickens. One of the latter would have been even cheaper than the $4.76 I paid for this one. In fairness I should note that the little girl in KFC’s ad asks the butcher for seven pieces, already cut up, but I have faith that a home cook can cut up a whole chicken. I should also note that KFC cuts chicken breasts in half, so there are 10 pieces in a whole bird (four breast halves, two legs, two thighs, two wings).

I rounded up everything I needed for chicken, biscuits, and mashed potatoes with gravy and totaled my costs, accounting for ingredients that were a fraction of a cent (small amounts of spices, for example) by rounding up to $0.01. I must admit I don’t know the seven secret herbs and spices, but as a professional chef, I know you can do an awful lot with salt and pepper. The bottom line? The KFC meal, including Iowa state sales tax of 6 percent, is $10.58. I made the same meal (chicken, four biscuits, mashed potatoes, and gravy) for $7.94 — and I got three extra pieces of chicken and a carcass to use for soup.

Even allowing for the whole batch of 24 biscuits, the meal still comes in at $8.45. In fact, using organic or other high-end items where the market carried them (flour, grapeseed oil, butter, milk), my total bill for the meal came to $10.62.

Click the link to find a GoogleDocs spreadsheet for people who want to check Friese’s math.

If you can afford to eat out, it’s nice to support locally-owned restaurants rather than national chains. Spending your money at local businesses will keep more wealth in your community. I also notice quite a few local restaurants sponsoring charity events or school activities.

The latest issue of the Washington Monthly has a good article by Phillip Longman and T.A. Frank on the resiliency and benefits of old-fashioned community banks. It turns out that

According to FDIC data, the failure rate among big banks (those with assets of $1 billion or more) is seven times greater than among small banks. Moreover, banks with less than $1 billion in assets-what are typically called community banks-are outperforming larger banks on most key measures, such as return on assets, charge-offs for bad loans, and net profit margin.

Small banks are also

a critical source of lending to small businesses. (Community banks make nearly three times as many small business loans on a dollar-for-dollar basis as do large banks, according to the Federal Reserve.)

Mr. desmoinesdem and I ditched Wells Fargo six or seven years ago in favor of a small Iowa-based bank and have gotten better service there. Several small business owners I know are also customers of community banks.

This thread is for any comments related to eating, buying or shopping locally.

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