Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Nervous Return to Car-Free Shopping... Or is It?

I was really nervous.

It was time to call John Pentecost, the Grocery Manager of the Faribault location of Fareway.  Why in the world would I be nervous about something like that?  

Well, I really loved Nelson's, the market that used to be housed at that location.  All of my car free grocery shopping was done there.  Since it closed its doors in mid-May, I've been having to get into my car and drive to get my groceries. Ugh.

Fareway is going to be opening a low and competitively priced grocery in the same spot, but in the meantime, my legs are turning into unworked mush.

And I loved Nelson's.  I loved the people, I loved the products, and I loved the price.  Could Fareway possibly compare to it?

Naturally, I poured through the Fareway website.  I wanted to know everything, and I wasn't getting nearly enough information to keep myself happy.  There were so many unanswered questions.

I didn't know what the new location near my home would be like.  I didn't know if it would even be worth the time to visit this new business.  Would there be enough organic produce to make me happy?  Organics are a necessity in my home.  Is their definition of 'local' the same as mine?  'Local' doesn't always mean what we think it does, after all.

That's where John came in.

I have to admit, I was impressed. He not only gave me information, but he seemed to enjoy answering my questions.  And he had a lot of answers.... the kind of answers that I like.  Bonus!

He really did a lot to allay my fears.  One important thing that I got from our conversation is that Fareway places a lot of emphasis on community.  Aside from basic research into what the community tends to buy (which is research that any decent company will do), it goes a step further.  It invests within the community.

What I mean by that is that if there is produce available from local farms, Fareway will purchase from them before going somewhere else for goods.  This is something that I needed further explanation about.  

See, 'local' means different things to different companies.  

It can be a horribly misleading term.  One company will define 'local' as produce that is gathered within a 250 mile radius.  Others will define local as being from the same state, as well as any states directly bordering it.  There is no set definition of the word local, so companies have a lot of leeway.

According to John, however, in Fareways' eyes, local means exactly what local should mean.  Local means Faribault.  It means the towns right next door.  It does not mean a farm in a bordering state that is so far away that only a crazy person would consider driving to it, in order to acquire their produce.  Indeed, he pointed out to me that when you see the word 'local' on a shelf in the afternoon, it's very likely that the produce was picked that very morning.  Score!

That brings me to the subject of organic produce.

Organic shopping is responsible shopping.  Sure, it costs a little more, but the health and environmental benefits far outweigh the cost.  I wanted to know what the organic selection at Fareway would be like.  Nelson's had a small selection of organics, but it was a good selection.  Whenever I needed to buy produce that was on the Dirty Dozen list, I could find it in their organic section.

Fareway will have plenty of organics, as well as gluten-free selections.

One thing I didn't know, was that according to law, organic produce needs to be placed a certain distance away from non-organic produce.  No doubt, this is in order to reduce the possibility of chemical contamination.  A bag of organic apples, for instance, should not be seen sitting beside its non-organic equivalent.

 This was pointed out to me in order to ensure I knew that organics would be safely displayed apart from the GM and chemically treated fruits and vegetables.

Speaking of chemically treated messes...

I've had a hard time finding meat that I approve of in this area.  The only way I've been able to eat good meat that has not been chemically treated in some way is if I buy organic.  Even then, the meat is pre-packaged, so that I can't buy the exact amount I want.

Even the local butcher that I was pointed to throws things like MSG (!!!) into his beef jerky, causing me to turn tail and run.  If he does that, after all, it's very likely that his standard cuts of meat are chemically treated.  As you can imagine, I miss my butcher in the desert southwest very much!

Fareway takes pride in selling clean meat.

By clean, I mean untarnished by chemicals.  They do not inject their meat with fillers in order to make it more juicy and tender.  They do not use sodium nitrite (commonly used in beef) in order to cure the meat and also make it look 'pretty'.  Nor do they use sodium nitrate (commonly used in pork for the same purpose).

Furthermore, the meat at the counter is not treated with Carbon dioxide.  Gassing meat with CO2 is another way of preserving meat that we buy daily, as well as to making it look more appealing.

Now, call me crazy, but I couldn't care less about pretty meat.  Quality is what I look for, and if you spend time and money on making meat look good for the consumer, it stands to reason that the quality isn't what it should be.  Same with preservation.  If the meat is truly fresh, it shouldn't need any extra help to make it look that way.

When you buy meat from Fareway's meat counter, you get clean meat wrapped in butcher paper, just as it should be.  Finally, I'll get what I've been looking for!

Now, rather than being nervous about this new grocery, I'm rather excited.

I'm looking forward to doing more car-free shopping!  Aside from finally giving my legs the exercise that they deserve again, it looks like this is going to be well worth the weekly trip.  While it's possible that John is just very good at his job of selling the company, I think this is more likely a case of a great store.  I'm more than willing to give it a try.

I've seen most of what I've mentioned at other groceries, but not at a store marked as low-cost.  

Further, this is the first time I've seen such emphasis placed on chemically untreated meat at the counter.  I'm originally from a city whose population is over half a million, and this is something that I'd only run across at a small meat market.  Coming to a town of under 30,000 people on the opposite side of the country, nothing has changed in that department.

Until now.  Fareway should be opening its doors next month (I hope), and I'm eagerly awaiting that, so that I can finally return to car-free shopping.

Do you have any grocery stores in your area that have truly fresh meat departments?  Is this common where you live, or it is just as hard to find for you as it is for me?

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