Urban Living: The Urbanite's Guide to Grocery Shopping

by Jessica Brita-Segyde

Need food? There comes a day in every grown-up’s domestic journey when they open the fridge to the realization that no one else does their shopping anymore. If you’re an urban-dweller staring into the dark cavern of an empty cupboard, this guide’s for you.

LET’S BEGIN WITH TWO CAVEATS:

First, let go of the perception that city folk pay more for their food. Some urban groceries are individually-branded and some may be chains, but there are deals to be had! Find out if your store of choice takes coupons, runs specials, or operates a customer loyalty program. Larger chains, like Whole Foods, even have app’s offering digital coupons and list-makers.

Second, know that there is a thing called the “urban food desert.” It’s a term defined by the USDA as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods.” (source: www.americannutritionassociation.org) The situation seems to be improving, but if your area is devoid of nutritious options, consider forming a community action network to brainstorm ways to attract a grocery retailer. Some entrepreneurs are just looking for the perfect spot to open a business!

 BACK TO THE SHOPPING

Once you’ve got your list in-hand, it’s time to consider transportation. Parking may or may not be available in urban zones, or it might cost more than the groceries. Walk if you’re able and bring large-insulated bags for carrying your loot home. If the bounty’s too heavy to carry, consider walking to the grocery and taking a cab or Uber home.

Biking is also an option. If you’re a two-wheel shopper, consider outfitting your bicycle with a basket for carrying groceries home. For smaller trips, you can also wear an insulated backpack (that’s what I do). If you’re planning to bike for larger grocery trips, purchase or borrow a baby trailer. A double-sized baby bike trailer can hold a LOT of groceries.

If you need a car for this trip but don’t own one, find out if there’s a car-sharing service in your area. My blog on car- and bike-sharing explains how this growing industry works.

If your grocery list is really, REALLY big, you might want to head out to the ‘burbs for this one. I’m a strong proponent for city life, but a road trip to suburbia is sometimes your best option. An occasional tangle with one of the big-box stores might remind you of why you urbaned-up in the first place. 

 DELIVERY IS GAINING IN POPULARITY

If you really want to live the good life, maybe it’s time to call in the professionals. Grocery-shopping pro’s are available for hire when you need people to do the serious shopping for you. And they deliver. Some deliver all the way to your home and some will bring it out to your car while you wait in the NO PARKING lane. Following are four examples of delivery and/or car-drop grocery services:

  • Hire A Personal Shopper: Shopping service Shipt partners with grocery stores of various sizes and specialties. The service is available in many locations and they’re expanding. If you’re looking for extra cash, Shipt is currently hiring shoppers. They will deliver to your home or office.
  • Online Shopping: Amazon Fresh is a nice online source grocery delivery, but it’s only available in select locations. Amazon Fresh is basically the internet’s equivalent of shopping at a mega-store. The options are many and the service features a substantial organic section. Purchases are shipped directly to you.
  • Meal-planning and shopping in one: Hello Fresh will sell you a recipe along with a box of goodies, mostly prepped, to bring your recipe to fruition. The service has received an abundance of positive reviews on third-party site ConsumerAffairs.com. Purchases are shipped directly to you.
  • Grocery Valet: Meijer, the ginormous mega-retailer, now offers curbside pickup. Customers shop online first, initiate payment, then stop by the store where an employee delivers the goods to their vehicle. The service is surprisingly customizable. You can even ask for green bananas.

BUY THESE AT THE FARMER’S MARKET

The urban food desert I mentioned earlier is sometimes graced by a pop-up oasis: The Farmer’s Market. Farmer’s Markets are typically a weekly occurrence and may be held indoors or outdoors, depending on the season. Attending your nearest farmer’s market will add an extra errand, but the payoff is twofold: you can treat yourself to the benefits of farm-to-fork goodness while also encouraging healthy commerce in your locale.

Which grocery items are best-purchased at market? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of seasonal items that taste and feel best straight from the vendors:

Winter – Many farmers and urban homesteaders utilize greenhouse growing during the colder months. Lettuce, cabbage, herbs, and other greens are a great market item this time of year. Also, look for all-natural bath & beauty products featuring ginger, cinnamon, plum, and clover.

Spring – Many vendors sell fresh flowers, seeds, and starter bulbs in the spring. Some vegetables may be ready for harvest, including peas, asparagus, kale, and some onion varieties.

Summer – Summer is when harvest season begins. Look for sweet corn, tomatoes, and peppers. Most grains are harvested and processed for sale from late spring through midsummer. According to the blog OrganicGardening.com, it takes about two weeks to dry, thresh, and winnow wheat and other grasses, so June is probably your first chance to purchase farm-fresh grains.

Fall – Root vegetables reign supreme in Autumn. This is the time to shop for parsnips, kohlrabi, and all the colors of carrots. Look for tubers (potatoes) in early Fall. Pumpkin, butternut, spaghetti and other squashes are harvested later in the season.

Whether your next stock-up is at the corner store, national retailer, or farmer’s market, don’t forget to enjoy the experience. Plan your transportation, list, and coupons ahead of time. That way you can spend time perusing the produce, chatting with neighbors, and seeing food for what it is: the substance of real life.

Free Home Shopping Guide

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