Thursday, October 6, 2011

Organic in Edmonton: Cheap! Readily Available Local Food Sources & Natural Cleaners

One of the local stores I count on for retail supplies.

I am often asked how we can afford to eat so organically on about $50 per person per week, or $800 a month for a family of four.  (With purchased lunches and the occasional pizza delivery, it's a bit closer to $1000, but those do add up...)  As a Global Peasant, it is not only possible, but we eat like kings!  As it were..

Though the list of suppliers and individual foods in the second half of this post was written specifically with Edmonton in mind, there are many immediate actions you can do every day to increase the quality and nutrition of your food, while still lowering the cost. I go into just a few here.

Pre-prepared foods are of course the most expensive with all their value added.  If you have little time during the week, learning how to prepare meals yourself to store for later consumption will save you up to half your food budget, depending on how much you rely on them.  So most of the items suggested here will be fresh, frozen, canned or prepared organic food that you can use as ingredients in meals to store for the rest of the week.

For a refresher course on what third party organically certified means, what you should be looking for, and why, see my blog post on the subject.

Don't forget:  In Europe, and many other places in the world, food shopping is done throughout the week, not twice a month for a $500 bill.  More frequent, less expensive, small bundle shopping means that you can take your bike or walk, rather than stuff your car to bursting.  It also means that you can get fresher food more often, instead of prepared foods that can survive a month's storage.  Shopping more often can lead to a smaller food bill, fresher food, and more exercise.  It's really worth changing habits for, and far more in the spirit of the Global Peasant.

You may notice a lack of candies, desserts, snacks, prepared meals, organic and fair trade teas, or spices in my listings here.  That's not because we don't use them; it's because we make so many things in the Abbey StillRoom ourselves!  And often what we can't make, we order wholesale.  We are always expanding our operation, our sources, and what products we can order. Yes, we are always happy to include extra for others, and we are now have our own direct-to-home wholesale organic co-op.

You'll also notice a lack of meat and dairy products.  Peasants the world over have rarely eaten flesh, except for feast days.  Meat is expensive!  Even the cheap cuts. Which is only fair when a creature sacrifices its life and the lives of all its future descendants for your consumption.  It costs alot to raise those animals, you know, and after you kill them, they don't make any more.  So it's rather wasteful. You'll find that you can reduce your food budget sometimes by half if you limit or cut out your meat consumption.  And then when you do purchase it, you can afford to get the very best organically grown food for yourself and your family.  The animals lead better lives, and you don't get hormones and antibiotics, with the added bonus of a far superior flavour.  It will also help you appreciate it more.

Organic food does not in fact have to be more expensive. It is a myth perpetuated by some health food or whole food stores, and other kinds of grocers; sometimes to gouge their customers, sometimes to discourage or discredit organics, sometimes just because the people bringing them in don't know how to price grocery items. (Here's a hint: basic food stuffs shouldn't have the same markup as supplements and clothing.) For those of you who want to increase your organic consumption and help support the rise of organic foods, practices, and sustainability, as well as decrease your food spending, here are some ways to do it in Edmonton.

Old Strathcona and Downtown Farmer's Markets:

Only open on Saturdays from 8 AM to 3 PM, these are some of the largest gatherings for local and inexpensive food.  I don't feel like we have fresh food in the house if we don't go to visit them every week.  We are totally car-free, but we get our bikes, panniers, and trailers down there as a matter of course for our weekly food supply.  In winter, it's a bit more of a trial, but that's what backpacks are made for... From the lowly potato to free range meat and eggs to unusual eggplant, fresh honey and exotic mushrooms, fresh and local food abounds.  Not every vendor is organic, though, so do check.  (The hydroponic people aren't technically organic, since hydroponic can't be, but they are as close as you can get, and their produce is exquisite!) There really is a very palatable difference in farm fresh, grain fed, free range eggs from the ones in the supermarket.  Not only are they better for you, they are better for the chickens themselves.  So come early.  They sell out fast...


A division of Overwaitea Foods out of BC, they came naturally to the integrated organic scene early, and have many organic foods hidden amongst their conventional offerings.  Though each Save-on can order any of the items that any other does, it is a choice of the mangers to bring certain products in.  Soy sauce, organic chocolate, tinned organic tomato paste... Your best best is to check the bulk bins first.  I love the organic popcorn, cashews, and fair trade organic chocolate coated almonds.  Remember: prepared foods and treats are always more expensive, so purchase sparingly.  But be sure to look for the organic broccoli, tofu, and even organic tortellini, burritos, and rice cream in the frozen section.  Since each Save-on is different, check with your local store and ask to have your favourites included.  My local Save-on is the source of this current list. Save-on is one of the retailers that boosts the price on organic foodstuffs for no good reason that I can see, other than to perpetuate the myth that it has to cost more, or to discourage consumption.  I know this because I have a pretty good idea how much they are paying wholesale for those items, and there is no need for them to retail for that much, especially when small health food stores sell the exact same items for less.  So watch what you buy!  Spectrum oils, which I love, are about 25% more expensive at Save-on than Safeway, so don't do all your shopping in one place!  They draw you in with the great organic taco chips, salsa and snacks, but get you with the oil and soya sauce.


Again, my local Safeway is the one I source. Your mileage may vary in your neighbourhood. It still pisses me off, though.  The latest trend of Safeway is to create their own third party certified organic line, the "O" brand certified by QAI, which is comparable in price to conventional.  In some cases, cheaper! However, each Safeway manager still chooses what customers they want, and my local Safeway has decided that our neighbourhood doesn't want that uppity stuff, and they are slowly removing organic from my shelves.  So I have to complain to the national phone line again, soon...  Organic pasta, oils, and other staples are some of the cheapest in the city, but like Save-on, you have to watch the prices and select only those items that are worth it to get from this retailer.  They will often have fresh produce, but at my local Safeway, their "always fresh" guarantee doesn't apply to organic.  Rummaging through the piles of rotting food to get to the new ones at the bottom makes me feel like an organic raccoon.  I'm sure they are hoping that we all just go away...

Earth's General Store:

Since the demise of giant version of Organic Roots, this is the best place to get all of the items you couldn't find anywhere else.  He's expanded, and now has a much bigger store on the other side of Calgary Trail.  And so convenient!  You can see the store first thing as you come out of the bike trail in the Mill Creek Ravine!  His food staples tend to be on the pricey side, so we usually just get our treats there, but it's our main source of toiletries and cleaners, so we still visit at least once a month.  Be prepared to stay for the literature and community connections!  You'll go in for organic ginger but hang out for the sustainable housing lecture...

Polar Bear Health:

One of my other stops for vital toiletries and cleaners, Polar Bear offers all it's products, including sale items, for 10% off to members. They never gouge, even on their supplements. Not really large enough for everyday food and beverage (sigh), they have a good selection of cosmetics, soaps, and other necessities that, including the discount, are the cheapest retail in the city.  Start talking to the friendly, wise staff and you may never get out of there!  One of the few independent health food stores left in the city, they value and invest in knowledge, and are certainly worth the trip.

Italian Centre:

Limited selection, but they are bringing in more organic food locally and from Europe all the time, and it's the cheapest of its kind in the city.  Tomato paste and sauces, vinegars, olive and speciality oils, pastas, and many are gluten free!  Independently owned, they are far more responsive to order requests than more grocers, so let them know what you need.

Our Organic Shopping List:

To give you some idea of how this all works and how we can take such good care of our family on such little money, here's most of our organic staples, presented according to type, with sources in abbreviation, and general frequency.  I won't include the prices, unless they are off the top of my head, 'cause that seems like way too much like work.


potatoes - FM, EGS if we miss the FM that week
sweet peppers - FM, Safeway has them every few months but from Mexico.  I usually pass...
eggplant - FM.  I'm surprised how much a staple this has become.  I never used to like it, but we have at least one eggplant dish a week now.  No eggplant in the fridge makes me sad...
tofu - Safeway, Save-On. Safeway only has the organic in pressed, which isn't our preference.  Save-On often has the softer version.  If you can't find organic tofu, make do without.  Soybeans are notorious for GMO contamination, and there is much to indicate that even small amounts are hazardous to your health. Organic Roots used to have fresh, locally made organic tofu.  Sigh...
onions, green onions - FM, Safeway.  I need them for nearly everything I cook.
apple juice - Safeway, frozen at Save-On. We still dilute this for our 3yo, which is great, because he goes though alot of it...
garlic - Safeway, FM.  Fresh. Though they are rarely at the Market..
mushrooms - Downtown FM for exotics, Safeway for local button, white, portabella.  The mushroom guy downtown is my husband's new best friend...
carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery - Safeway, Save-On, FM in season.

Monthly necessities or indulgences:

organic, fair trade coffee - Safeway, Save-On, EGS.  It's everywhere these days, so there really is no excuse not to look for it.  There is almost no difference in price, but do watch out for greenwashing with less-than-credible labels like Rainforest Alliance.  EGS freshly roasts it own organic, fair trade coffee, so I occasionally splurge...
soya milk - Safeway.  So Nice is one of the only brands that is certified organic, and therefore GMO free, but there are others.  Yes, I do have organic soya milk lattes every morning, thank you, and at about 10% of the price at a coffee bar...
cane sugar - Safeway, Save-On, EGS.  Save-On carries the organic, fair trade from Cocoa Camino in the bulk bins and in bags, but if you must, Safeway has two organic brands, though not fair trade...  When organic, cane sugar is a whole food, so don't be shy with it!
olive oil - Safeway.  Save-On also carries Spectrum oils, my personal favourite, since they are organic and cold-pressed, but they are much more expensive there. Now that Safeway's O brand is comparable in price with conventional, I usually just get that one.
basmati and jasmine rice - Safeway, cheapest in the bulk bins at Save-On.  I still can't get into brown rice, but there is nothing to compete with the smell of organic rice. Like organic flour, organic rice needs more moisture to cook properly, so don't forget to compensate.  Lundberg's Nutru-Farmed used to be the best you could get at both those stores, but now the true certified organics are in.  However, my husband picked this one up instead of our usual Lundberg, and I admit that I have had a conversion.  Safeway's O brand is literally the best basmati I have ever worked with.  The. Best. Ever.  It's obviously a very specific species, with a nutty smell, and each grain just falls apart from all the others.  My cooking has gone to the next level with this one...
hot peppers - FM.  I just don't bother anywhere else.  They aren't fresh or local enough...
eggs - FM, Safeway, Save-On.  Organic, free range. My husband loves them, and tries to get to Strathcona as soon as he can to get them, since they sell out so fast.  I still use them very rarely in baking and cooking that I just can't substitute for, but they kind of ooge me out.
tamari/soya sauce - Save-on, EGS. If you can't find a real, traditional brewed tamari or soya sauce, Asian Family will do in a pinch.  Why they don't make it more prominent on the label is beyond me, but their Light and Dark Soya sauces are made with organic soybeans.
dried pasta - Safeway, Save-On, EGS, IC.  Almost the same price as conventional, and so easy to find.
cream - Save-On.  My husband has to have cream for his tea, and organic makes me feel so much better about it...
peanut butter - Safeway, Save-On.  They have organic brands, but all have sea salt added, which isn't to our taste.  I'm not too worried about GMO's with peanuts so we get the "natural" kinds, which are just ground peanuts.
spinach - Safeway, FM.  Fresh in baby spinach leaves and frozen in chopped form.  Great for so many dishes!
peas - Safeway, frozen.  Shelled.
ketchup - Safeway, Save-On.  The latter doesn't carry the Muir Glen anymore, which is the next best thing to homemade, but the other house brands will do, even if they are a bit sweet...
edemame - Safeway, frozen. Soy beans in their shells.  Steam without defrosting, and shell as you eat them similar to fresh peas. Mmm...
taco chips, salsa - Save-On. Their in-house brand or my favourite from Que Pasa (BC.) Corn, like soy, is particularly contaminated with GMO, so if you can't find certified organic corn snacks, go without.  The risk just isn't worth it.
sesame oil - Safeway. Unrefined, low heat, from Spectrum.
canned chickpeas, kidney, and other beans - Safeway, Save-on.  It's terribly lazy, but soaking beans overnight means that you have to cook them the next day, and I just don't plan well enough for that.  Even if you can find dried organic beans to soak...  These are all ready to go, and cook in minutes! 
bananas - Safeway.  Bananas are one of the Dirty Dozen: a fruit that is highly contaminated with pesticides and herbicides when conventionally grown, so we don't get them unless we can buy organic.  We will often pick them up if Safeway is carrying them when we pop by...
strawberries, grapes, apples - Safeway, Save-On.  Usually in much nastier shape than their conventional counterparts, they are still worth the effort to sort through for the value of the extra vits and minerals, not to mention not ingesting the undesirable chemicals..
cheese - Safeway.  Since there are ethical parameters for animals required in organic certifications, I feel better supporting organic cheese.  But I sometimes wish I didn't like it so much...
corn flakes, corn pops - Safeway.  Not really, of course. Those are Kellogg's brand names.  The organic versions from Nature's Path are much tastier, more nutritious, and don't give you the cuts on the top of your mouth.  We all fight over 'em...
chocolate - EGS, Save-On.  Fair trade, organic. Eatin' and bakin'.  My husband has standing orders to get it whenever he stops in places that carry it.  The baking chocolate I use to make vegan truffles.  When it lasts long enough...
cocoa - Save-On, EGS. Fair trade, organic. Cocoa Camino, naturally.  Remember that you will need less of this in your recipes than conventional cocoa, since it's much richer and stronger.
chocolate chips - Save-On, Safeway, EGS.  Cocoa Camino makes great fair trade, organic, dairy free chocolate chips, but if I can't get there, the organic ones from Safeway will do...
icing sugar, light / dark brown sugar - EGS, Save-On.  Fair trade, organic.  Cocoa Camino makes everything...
tomatoes - FM. Hydroponic.  Almost as cheap as wholesale.  The only limit is how much you can carry!
honey - FM. It's so cheap by the pound, we can cook with it!  And make mead! Many of the local apiaries will even fill up your old containers for a bit off the price.  Don't forget to put some into a smaller container for daily use, and remember that it crystallizes after awhile.  Just reheat in small batches and it melts back to liquid. 3 pounds is about $20.
popcorn - microwave bags at Safeway, bulk bins at Save-On.  I prefer the loose in bulk bins, of course, for my old fashioned hot air popper.  It's so cheap!  You'll get used to making it every night again. Get lots.
tomato paste, tomato sauce, canned chopped tomatoes- Save-On, IC.  I'm making lots of my own pasta sauces now, and the cans make it much more convenient.  But I still buy pre-made pasta sauce in jars, in case I'm really short on time.  And I can re-use the jars...
pasta sauce - Safeway, Save-On, IC.  Local Prairie Harvest is so tasty, and there is no place cheaper for it than the Italian Centre.  Just wish they'd carry more of these organic pastas again...
wheat flour - Safeway (Sunny Boy: unbleached and whole grain, from Alberta), FM.  Organic wheat flour, even white, needs more water than conventional in recipes, possibly due to the higher mineral and vitamin content, so keep that in mind when you use it.
grape juice - Safeway, frozen at Save-On.  It's so strong that we dilute it for everyone in the house.  Lasts a week.
lemon concentrate - Safeway, Save-On, EGS.  From Santa Cruz.  You can use less, since it's extra potent, but with none of that weird aftertaste..
ginger - EGS. Fresh.
oatmeal - Save-On bulk bins.  Regular and instant.  Cheap as dirt.  Cheaper, these days...
maple syrup - Safeway, Save-On, Strathcona FM.
balsamic vinegar - Safeway, IC.
fresh pasta - Strathcona FM. Not many organic selections, but still fresh and locally made.
chocolate syrup - EGS.  When I don't make it myself, this is very nice to have on hand.  One of my favourites from Santa Cruz.
pearl barley, lentils - Save-On bulk bins, PB
mung beans - PB.  For growing your own organic bean sprouts!

Infrequent or In-Season Purchases:

coconut - PB. Shredded, non-sulfured.
molasses, rice syrup - EGS
vanilla extract - EGS.  Fair trade, organic. Giant bottle for $24.
baking powder - Save-On. Also has no alum.
rice wine vinegar - EGS. Really what our Asian sauces was missing.  No substitute.
peas, corn, turnips - FM. Fresh, in shell or in husk.  Nothing like it.
waffles - Save-On. Frozen. When I don't make them to freeze myself, we'll occasionally treat ourselves to these ones. But not too often, because of the gougy retail price. Again, from Nature's Path.
crackers - Save-On. My kids still love those things, and although the price is too high for where they are selling them, I will still pick them up sometimes.
cashews - Save-On bulk bins. Roasted or non-, whole or in pieces.  Still too pricey, but my husband loves them, especially in mushroom dishes.
licorice - Save-On, PB. Sticks or pieces.  The best licorice candy you will ever put in your mouth. Ever. I need to learn how to make it this good, but until I do, I'll just have to lust after Panda...
yogurt - Safeway. Nearly all store bought yogurt is just a tasty pudding, and doesn't you any good at all.  Organic contains live bacterial cultures, so I can use it for leavening, esp. in naan.
sour cream - Safeway, Save-On. Since organic has ethical standards for animal treatment, it's worth the few extra pennies to help them out, while also not consuming antibiotics and hormones...
sesame butter - Save-On, EGS. Main ingredient for tahini sauce, can also usually be used just like peanut butter for those with peanut allergies, and very high in calcium!
Patel's Indian prepared pouches - Save-on.  I admit it.  This is one of the only prepared meals I indulge in, but I really have to stop myself buying as many or as often as I want.  Microwavable in 2 min, stove for 3-5. No refrigeration needed. Even their conventional versions just contain... food.  Real spices.  No soyabean oil. No preservatives.  And tastes better than most restaurants!  Prepared foods always cost more than we think, though, so you'll have to exert some discipline to keep them only for emergencies, or you'll be tempted to live on them.  I use them when guests come over and I don't have time to make more than a few dishes, or with some pita bread after a hard day and I can't cook, or traveling and can't find food easily...  Things like that.  Mmmmm.... I know you`re looking at me, Channa Masala. Oh, yes you are...

Natural Cleaners, Toiletries:

Toilet paper - Safeway, Save-on.  Save-on has it's own brand of recycled, unbleached, and Safeway carries two.  Woohoo!  Unless it says recycled, it's not. It's virgin wood cut down just for fibre just to make paper products like your TP.  There is absolutely no excuse for not using recycled paper, and you can't possibly bitch about forest destruction if you use anything else.  Since you are wiping your ass with virgin rainforest...
Borax - Safeway, EGS. I can't clean if there isn't any borax in the house.  It disinfects with very hot water as well as bleach, without the nastiness; it softens water for whiter laundry, deodorises, and kills any bugs or eggs like fleas, tics, bedbugs, and there is no better scratchless cleanser for tubs, porcelain and chrome.  I use it in my handwashing to disinfect my wood utensils. Only dissolves in warm or hot water, so don't use it in your cold wash!
White wine vinegar - Handy Bakery, Superstore. Not organic. I don't encourage the use of the lab-created vinegars for so many reasons, so even in cleaning, I'll use only the real brewed vinegars.  Less harsh, too.
Hydrogen peroxide - PB. Not the woosy, expensive, small version you get at pharmacies, this industrial strength version (over 30%) is lab quality.  It will kill just about anything, and bubble like mad doing it.  And the bugs don't build up a resistance, either!  It's so much fun!  I put it in my delicate laundry to disinfect and deodorize, I dilute it and add it to the orange cleanser to make a truly fine cleaning cocktail that disinfects, degreases, whitens, and is completely non-toxic.  Don't let that fool you into complacency, though.  Strong H202 will eat through your skin, so always dilute, wear gloves, and rinse or wipe the surface thoroughly after cleaning.  Left-over residue can be potent enough to irritate the skin.
orange cleaner - EGS, though some Save-Ons might still have it.  It's concentrated, so it will last you awhile.  Cleans and smells great, with no fumes or allergens.  Doesn't smell like orange: it IS orange, made from the rind.  I wouldn't recommend eating it, though...
Big jug of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap - PB, refillable at EGS.  Organic, all natural, biodegradable. You can dilute it for hand soap, making it anti-bac with the addition of a small amount of GSE, you can use it for shaving soap or laundry or washing floors in a pinch...  It's highly recommended for your delicates, wools and silks!  Exactly the same stuff as those "speciality" soaps, only less toxic. It's an all in one cleaner, and buying the big jug means I don't purchase soap for about six months. ~ $70 for the largest jug.  Smaller quantities are much less and can last months.
GSE - PB.  Organic grapefruit seed extract.  Anti-bac, anti-viral, anti-fungal, preservative. Highly concentrated, it has some advantages over tea tree oil.  I use it in my liquid hand soap mix for disinfecting as well as keeping it available for pimples, boils, and other hard-to-cure skin conditions.
Shampoo, conditioner - EGS, PB.  I can't make either of those myself yet, so I still just pick them up.  Avalon is my current favourite, despite the smear campaign that USDA Organic tried to create about their organic certification.
oral hygiene products - PB, EGS.  Fluoride free, sugar free, SLS free toothpaste; natural bristle, biodegradable, or changeable head toothbrushes...  There are far more choices available to you than the same boxes, different names you see at your pharmacy...
Laundry detergent, dishwasher powder, dish soap - EGS, Vitamin Farm downtown in an emergency. All from Biovert (Quebec) or Ecover.  They clean better than all conventional chemical products I've tried, and they are both biodegradable, sustainably made, non-toxic, hypo-allergenic, phosphate-free, and mostly organic.  The Seventh Generation and NatureClean versions I won't use now even when I'm desperate.  They just don't work very well.
toilet cleaner, BBQ cleaner - EGS.  The first goes without saying.  The second works great on baked-on carbon and grease on stoves, without the fumes or toxins.  For those, I will use the NatureClean versions, but only because I haven't been able to find another brand locally.

This is not even close to everything that's available in Edmonton, since it's just our family's usual organic purchases, but it does give you some idea of how you can fit your personal preferences into the inexpensive, organic life.  If you're still not sure, or if you're really keen and want to save more on your budget while eating better than you ever have before, we offer very reasonable classes on the subject, or the slightly more expensive one-on-one personal expertise, helping you relearn how to shop the organic and healthy way.  It will save you so much money in long run, you'll wonder what to do with it all.  Or why you ever spent that much on that other stuff in the first place...