The Real World Real Food Challenge

For the past two years, I’ve had the most excellent hook-up: I was part of community-supported agriculture (CSA). My CSA was especially rad because the farmer charged ~$400/year, and delivered fresh fruit and veggies to my door every Tuesday. There were some things I loved, and some things I didn’t love so much, but regardless, having the seasonal fresh food at my dinner table helped me eat better and live more neutrally.

A friend of mine recently signed up for Door to Door Organics, which although isn’t entirely local, it is entirely organic. She gets weekly deliveries to her doorstep for around $40/week. She posted this photo on Twitter of this week’s delivery, posing the question:

This is what $38 in Organic veg delivered to your doorstep gets you from Door to Door Organics, thoughts?

and that got me thinking…

What would all this cost from my local grocery store? Certainly I could spend much less than $38, I thought. And, if I want it all organic, I’ll probably have the best luck at Whole Foods… (or as some people so aptly name it: Whole Paycheck- but for me, being gluten free, it doesn’t make a difference where I shop!). Then I thought about this: I live in a different metropolitan area than Sonja. Would the price of this real food be that much different city-to-city?

So I challenged her.

@goSonja hmm… they grow kiwi and avocado in CO? I am curious if it wouldn’t be cheaper to get it yourself from @wholefoods

@megankillian d2d organics is not local. It’s only local when it can be. I think it’s a tad cheaper than WF.

@gosonja which sounds like a challenge/contest to me. Send me the list of veggies and I’ll see if StLouis is cheaper, too πŸ˜‰

@megankillian will do, I think I’m going to do the same, send ya an email in a sec, k?

@goSonja word.

And so it began: The Real World Real Food Challenge. Sonja sent me the list, and five minutes later I set off to match her grocery list and check out without going over my budget of $38.

Here’s the rules:

  • Everything must come from the same store, during the same shopping trip
  • Everything must be organic. If you can get it local organic, that’s even better
  • Buy only what is on the list, in the same quantities
  • Keep the receipt

The List

With my list in hand, I headed to Whole Foods Galleria, which is one of two Whole Foods in the St Louis area (and the only one in the city limits, I think). I chose Whole Foods because I really like Whole Foods, and I guessed that they would be the most likely store to have everything on the list in the organic variety. As a plus, I just love the atmosphere of the store, the smell of the deli and the bakery. Plus, the variety always compels me to explore my taste buds and try something a little exotic. But tonight, I had a plan.

I felt like I was on a secret mission. The Hunt for Red October, only it was the Hunt for Red Roma Tomatoes. I didn’t have to wander too far, because everything I needed was in the front produce section. Duh. The zucchini squash, the fennel, even the collard greens (of which I’m not a fan… yet) found their way into my cart. But I was careful to grab the right amount (4 zucchini squash, one fennel with at least 4 stems, etc). I hit a speedbump, though, when it came to golden sweet potatoes. What are golden sweet potatoes, anyway? I am glad I had my Android, because I Google-Imaged that. And all I saw was a regular, ol’ sweet potato. So I grabbed three of the smallest sweet potatoes they had (organic) and moved along the list. In hindsight, it looks like I was a little off with that one, because my sweet potatoes don’t look the same… but anyway, I digress.

Moving along- breezily counting squash and kiwi and knocking on pomegranates, and then I hit the apples: pinova. What is that? Google phone to the rescue: It’s a cross between golden delicious, Cox’s orange pippin, and Duchess of Oldenburg. Never heard of it. And I couldn’t find them next to the braeburns or red delicious. So I asked the produce guy working and he told me they don’t have pinovas at this time. They had them a few weeks ago, and might get them again… but today, no goose. Dang. I asked him what would be the closest thing to a pinova, and he said the braeburn tastes similar. So I made an exception and grabbed two of these.

There also weren’t any organic bean sprouts. I had bought them at Trader Joe’s, but Whole Foods just had “naturally grown” quasi-local (from Chicago) sprouts. So I grabbed a bag of what they had, and shrugged.

Then I finally got to last thing on my list: limes. I found five organic lemons easily, but limes? Well, there were limes from Mexico, but they weren’t organic. There were key limes, but those weren’t organic either. Turns out, no organic limes at the Galleria Whole Foods on this trip. Uh-oh. This was a problem. I grabbed the regular old pesticide full limes and threw them into a bag.

I made it to the checkout, thinking that I had no idea how I faired. Produce is hard to shop for if you’re on a budget, because you really can’t tell how much things cost unless you weigh everything out and allocate a certain percentage of your budget to purchasing it. And some things I expected to be cheap while others more expensive, but it always surprised me. Take the zucchini, for example. I would have guessed it to be a less expensive item, since it was marginally still in season and they grow like weeds. But it was the most expensive item on my receipt, coming in at $5.60 for 4. And the pomegranates, I assumed, would be redonkulously expensive, but they came in at $2.50 a pop.

The check-out total?

A whopping $51.18.

Ouch. I didn’t even come close to Sonja‘s $38, and I had to leave the house to get it. Not to mention I didn’t even get everything organic, and the receipt is a billion times long! I certainly accrued penalty points for not getting the limes and sprouts organic ($5 extra each), but it didn’t really matter in the end. She had this one in the bag… but not literally, since she got hers in the box and I got mine in the bag. I wonder if the difference was because we lived in different regions of the US…

That’s the other unfortunate thing about my produce-obtaining experience compared to hers. I had bags, lots and lots of bags. The collard greens and the fennel had just been sprayed, so I put that in their own bags (because one was by weight and the other was not); the lemons were rolling all over the place, so they went in a bag. Eventually, everything that came in pairs or more went into a bag. So, yeah. Everything went into a bag (except the pomegranates and the avocados. I don’t care if their skins get all yuckied up). I had so many bags, I decided to dedicate a photo to my teammate, Jamie

…although it looks more like a tutu than a hula skirt.

It was quite the gorgeous shopping experience, though, I have to admit. I got all these beautiful, colorful, healthy, whole foods, just ready for me to eat them.

And I don’t think I’ve ever bought five lemons at one time before. Or fennel. Or collard greens (someone please help me to like them).

Sonja went out to price the stuff at her local Whole Foods in Denver, and her grand total came to $41.53. There is a discrepency between cities, so it appears. Although not everything from her list at Whole Foods was organic, she was well below my check-out total. I wonder why? I would have assumed things would be more expensive in the mile-hight city.

So… now that you’ve seen all the fun I’ve had, do you wanna be a part of the Real World Real Food Challenge, too? Because you can! It’s super fun and exciting. Just make sure you have $50 to spend on produce, and make sure that you’ll put it to good use (um, by eating it, silly! Not feeding it to your neighbor’s goats).

Here’s what you gotta do:

  • Take the shopping list and head to your favorite grocery store where you can buy lots of organic and/or locally-grown vegetables and fruits.
  • Buy only organic, and only what’s on the list.
  • Keep your receipt.
  • Share it with us! (If you scan or take a photo of our receipt, just black out all the private info, k?)

Sonja and I will even have a points system to determine who and where has the best real food available. Wanna try it but don’t wanna shell out for organic? That’s cool, too! We’re interested in how much it costs for regular-ol’ produce, too. Just remember, some things are healthier for you when they are organic than others (like apples, pears, tomatoes, and anything that you eat what is on the outside where the pesticides can soak in).

Once you’ve done the shopping, share your story on your own blog, and make sure to tell one of us (or both!) the name of the store you shopped at and what city/metro area you live in. Share the link to your blog post with us, too (in the comments of our posts). We’ll use the honor system, but share your grand total and any modifications (if you made any).

Of course, if your grocery store that you choose doesn’t have an organic fruit or veggie on Sonja‘s list, you’ll be fined. How does $5 plus what my St Louis price of that same food cost sound? This could get expensive really fast…

Why do this? Because it’s fun! Interesting! A learning experience!

Why else? Well, if you really want more motivation, we can give you a little incentive. How about a big ol’ blast of Justin’s Nut Butter? We’ll giveaway a big, sweet and tasty supply of our favorite nut butters to the person with the best blog post. We will be deciding the winner on December 20th, so you have a little over a week to get your groceries and post your blog.

Good luck!


About megankillian

Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. I love biomechanics!

Posted on December 11, 2010, in contest, Food, health. Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. COOL Challenge!! Holisticguru and I get our fruits and veg from Urban Organic here in NYC. Weekly delivery for $35. Same thing as Sonja. All organic, local when it can be. So much easier than Whole Foods. PLus I get more variety and forced to eat stuff i’d never buy for myself.

  2. wow~so interesting. CSA’s are tough in Maine because it is such a limited growing season.
    I will def give this a whirl~lucky me–I have a local asian market with lots of organic produce at great prices but the selection is very limited. I usually make 2-3 trips out during the week at different places just to save $$$

  3. I love the produce bag hula skirt!! πŸ˜€ I’d be interested to see how Atlanta stacks up.

  4. I’m definitely in for this, but I already know that there are several items on the list that I won’t be able to get organic at my grocery store. I might trek across town to the bigger Wegmans to see if I fare better.

  5. I am quite certain I could NOT find all items organic at one store around here (organic stuff hasn’t hit the mainstream hard here like it has other places).. I might not even be able to find all of that stuff (organic or not) at one place.

    Girl you need some reusable produce bags! πŸ™‚

  6. That is really sad that ended up costing you more at Whole Foods! I’m sure that if the weather was nicer and you went to a farmer’s market you might be able to get everything you needed for cheaper.

    I don’t live anywhere near a whole foods, but I live near a Huckeberrys (imagine Whole foods but more expensive). We are hoping to start growing a lot of our own veggies this next year. πŸ˜‰

  7. I like this challenge. I get my boxes delivered too in the UK, from Abel & Cole. I have written quite a few blog posts of recipes which were spurred on by my search for ideas of what to do with, say, a lot of cabbage, too many carrots, or lots of kale! Collard greens… Well I am sure they could be subbed for my kale entry.

    Now seeing as I live abroad, and shop online, could I do the challenge, but perhaps not with the specific amounts listed?

    And do I have to click “check out” and get a real delivery, or can I just screen shot the across the pond comparison? I have a US address though in case I am a winner πŸ™‚

  8. Yeah! What an awesome blog post! I always knew that we beat the competition but, independent research? You’re the best, and I love the hula skirt too.

  9. This is an AWSOME recipe for collards and kale. Really. You will love it. I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t.

  10. I love this. I am in Michigan and have done a fair amount of spot-checking my door-to-door organics delivery prices against the Trader Joe’s and the Hiller’s groceries near me. Often there is no organic option available.

    Also, I got collard greens this week, and about half of them were baked with olive oil and salt in the oven until they were crispy. I ate some of them as “chips” like you do kale, and then the rest got crumbled and tossed over roasted potatoes. The flavor is different – You might light that even if you don’t like collards (or kale).

  11. I’m so glad people are responding to your post. I have 3 comments and was wondering if this was a bust. Looks like it’s going strong over here! Yip!

  12. Also from MI (linked from the D2D post) – The only time I can beat their prices is in the prime of farmer’s market season in Detroit (not always organic) or my back yard (can’t grow nearly the variety).

    I really only like collard greens in smoothies – some frozen strawberries and whatever other fruits I have on hand, a little juice or water and a handful of clean collard greens. You can’t taste them – just the fruit – and you get all the health benefits. The color is kind of gross – lol – but again, delicious.

  13. This was tons of fun! Thanks for putting me up to it; I see a lot of smoothies and fun recipes in my future!

    • PS…I HATE fennel due to an overdose on it this summer…maybe this will be some much needed rehab?!

      • I have the perfect fennel recipe, like a slow braise. Basically, chop fennel bulb into large hunks. Sautee in butter (caramelising the outside a bit – browning it is not a problem). Add some white wine, and reduce (like you do with risotto). Then add stock and sliced lemon, and simmer on low for about 30 minutes (fennel gets soft, and the stock reduces to a gravy like consistency). Serve fennel and sauce, topping with parmesan. It is the perfect side for roast chicken (if you are not vegetarian that is). And is simply awesome. Originally a Nigel Slater recipe.

  14. Great post- I forget about the door-to-door organic produce dropoffs. I’m hoping to post something about organic foods on my blog soon.


  15. bah, this is something that frustrates me to no end here in Myrtle Beach. NO local farmers (that I’ve been able to find), NO Whole foods, trader joes, or anything even remotely similar. If I want organic, I have to buy what random, small, incredibly over priced selection they have at our local grocery stores, and the way we go through food in my house with 2 growing boys and 2 grown up athletes, and one real income, we just can’t afford organic. I hate to think about what chemicals are possibly going into our bodies with all of the produce we do eat. I think I need to start a garden this spring…hmmm….

    • heather,
      dont give up! i had to search long and hard to find a delivery of organics when i lived in florida and then again when i moved to colorado…i wish there was a website that compiled all the door to door organic places out there! if you dont find it- it will find you…thats how it worked for me and i am hooked again!

  16. Well, here’s my post – from across the pond! I used 3 different online sites, explain the winner, and you will see that none beat Sonja’s $38, but all beat your $51!

    Interesting idea that really got me thinking…

  17. Great post! I often wondered the same about my wonderful CSA, which provides a bag or two of fresh produce for about $13 per week during the spring, summer and fall. Our grocery bills definitely go up in the winter months!

  18. I would be curious to see how the Whole Food in Town and Country stacks up to the one in Brentwood. I am guessing that prices would be the same but you never can tell. My wife and I shop at the Town and Country WF and it is quite a bit bigger than the other location and tend to have a larger selection.

  19. What a cool contest.

    I would love to do this, but the closest Whole Foods is in Portland – 3 hrs away…do I pay a fine for travel?

    There are a few health food stores along the way, but I would definitely have to stop at 3 or more stores to knock off that list…Hmmm I LOVE the deal Sonja gets for sure!

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