My Foray into the 99¢ Store: Juggling Finances and Nutrition

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

January 16th, 2010 • Nutrition for Natural Pain ReliefPrint Print

Launching a new business is not for the faint of heart. Especially during a recession. (Or can we officially call this a depression yet?) During this time of transition, I have had to completely hack out of my life whatever I have been able to scrape by without.

Which is what brought me to the 99¢ Store. While my mom loved it for years, I’d always stayed away from it. I thought that with my anti-inflammatory, organic, and otherwise highly nutritious food standards, there could not possibly be anything there for me. I was a Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s gal, thank you very much.

But my mom recently told me the store started carrying organic foods, and my best friend was living off the stuff there and loving it; so off I went to have a look-see for myself. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

1. The products vary from store to store and week to week.

2. There is a whole lot of crap in the store – really bad-quality and bad-tasting food, but if you look long and hard, you can find some first-rate items – which you end up getting for up about 33% of what you would pay elsewhere.

3. Every store I’ve been to, every time, has had some kind of Earthbound Organics produce, including pre-washed, pre-packaged spinach. So I now count on getting some, if not all, of my greens for a buck a piece.

4. There are a number of other organic goods at various chain locations – most importantly, organic beans, which are totally convenient to stock up on (for daily use as well as emergency) and are a terrific source of protein that can be eaten hot or cold.

5. There are a whole lot of terrific fish options – frozen wild salmon, salmon in brine (in a foil bag, which can be stored like a can), and sardines with all kinds of natural and yummy sauces.

6. There is a large selection of products that are not organic but that do not have preservatives or added sugar either — including fresh peeled garlic, roasted peppers in a jar, and a variety of sauces.

7. All the dairy I have tried (and mind you, I have been selective) has been pretty scary in terms of taste and questionable healthiness (apparently using those nasty growth hormones).

8. You can kiss your free-range and fair trade options goodbye at this place.

9. The ground coffee I got stunk to high heaven when I opened it. My coffee shall not be fucked with. So I gave it one shot and one shot only, and I am now loyal to the cheapest organic, fair trade, dark roast coffee at Trader Joe’s.

10.  There are a whole lot of amazing non-food items for super cheap – spatulas, plastic storage containers, tea candles, cotton balls, you name it.

For three weeks, I lived off of 99¢ Store items, with the exception of dairy and egg white products. Each week, I paid $50 for bags and bags of food at the 99¢ Store, then $25 for milk, cheese, and egg whites at Whole Foods. At $75/week, I’d cut down my food bill by half.

But I wasn’t feeling good about the non-organic veggies and fruits, so I decided this week to see what would happen if I went all organic – first shopping at the 99¢ Store and then at a Trader Joe’s location nearby. My food bill came to $25 at the 99¢ Store and $100 at Trader Joe’s. Quite a difference.

Then again, I did buy kosher chicken and beef at Trader Joe’s. Even the cheapest variety is still about $6 each.

At any rate, even as critical as my financial situation is at the moment, I am still privileged relative to most people in this country. My time-out from by Yuppie shopping habits not only has been an exercise in creativity and shrewd shopping, but also has been an eye-opener in terms of first-hand experience with America’s food offerings to the poor. Not only are scores of Americans denied access to health care because it is a profit-driven system, but they also are denied access to basic nutrition – ie, preventative care that can keep them out of the doctor’s office.

With crap-ass white bread, pesticide-sprayed produce, dairy jacked up with Bovine Growth Hormones, and the bulk of canned and bottled goods chock full of preservatives and high fructose corn syrup, America’s poor are fighting an uphill battle to stay in good health. And the less money one has, and the more jobs one is working to stay afloat, the less time and luxury one has to heal from illness.

It is, in effect, a death trap. And that is just plain fucking infuriating.

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