Friday, August 10, 2012

"Sorry honey, we can't afford asparagus" (and other things I never thought I'd say)

Note: An extremely long post on the cost of food/groceries.

With the rise in media attention in the months leading up to our move to Nunavut, we had an idea going into it that food was going to be expensive. We took the advice of many people and packed as much food as possible in addition to our things, and our new house is outfitted with an over-abundance of storage space which we are using to our full advantage.

There are two stores in town that sell groceries:
  1. the Co-Op is a newer store that is community-owned and seems to have a much better produce selection, but a smaller variety of all other items.
  2. the Northern is the original store that is bigger, has much more variety, and fresh meat - but the fruits and vegetables don't look great all the time
The two stores are side by side, and the Northern is typically much busier than the Co-Op. The Northern also has the Quick-Stop, which is the KFC and Pizza Hut, as well as the post office. We assume it's busier because people just want to make the one stop for convenience rather than going back and forth for price comparison. To give you an idea of the prices we are facing are, here is a breakdown of what we've been paying based on type of food:

I don't necessarily trust frozen meat, and prefer to see what it looks like without freezer burn, so we have been going to the Northern for fresh meat. The meat prices are actually not horrible (or it's all relative, I suppose). Most of the prices seem comparable to the South, or maybe a few dollars more. Beef is the most expensive meat, and it's a Grade A quality (no AAA steaks here). Chicken is okay, if you like dark meat - white meat is considerably more expensive. If it's prepared in the rotisserie, you can get a whole roasted chicken for about double what you'd pay for in Ontario. We have been buying fresh quarter portions (drumstick and thigh attached) and we can get two decent-sized pieces for about $6. I have been seasoning and roasting it in our own oven and not to toot my own horn, but it's better than any rotisserie chicken I've bought from a grocery store before! Pork has been our favourite meat so far because it's the freshest, leanest and cheapest option for fresh meat that we have found. I have been buying a 4-pack of tenderloin for about $11 and that feeds us for 2 meals. We haven't found fresh fish, but you can get a variety of frozen "fresh" fish. We can buy a bag of haddock, cod, tilapia or sole fillets (about 6 portions) for anywhere between $6 and $9. Or, you can buy a big Arctic Char fillet for about $60. We're going to hold off on that and see if we can make friends with someone with fishing gear and try to catch some fresh ones.

The produce at the Co-Op is fresher and cheaper than the Northern. The variety is the same at both stores, but some of the fruits at the Northern have seen better days. We have learned to touch/feel every item we buy just in case it's on its way out. Bananas are a safe choice and $3.95/kg but they last a while since they come in green. Apples and oranges typically come in sealed bags so we haven't been brave enough to try them, but it's about $12 for a 3-pound bag of either. Cherries seem to be the most expensive fruit that we've found at $17/kg. Vegetables are actually pretty decent in price. (Again, it's all relative.) The Co-Op sells salad kits that include the greens, dressing, a topping (ie. dried fruit and/or croutons), etc. for $3 each. We can get 3 heads of romaine lettuce for $9, or a small container of mushrooms for $5. Potatoes are a whopping $12 for a small bag - so we've been avoiding those as well. Jeff really likes asparagus, but at $20/kg, a small handful of spears was about $10 and we had to forego the asparagus craving. However, I was really excited to get a bunch of celery for $3 from the Co-Op the other day, and then we came home and made "ants on a log" for a snack. It's the small things!

Neither store carries bags of milk here - I suppose it is too dangerous to ship flimsy bags. The gallon plastic jugs are about $9 at the Northern and $7.89 at the Co-Op. I was also super excited to see that the Co-Op also sells skim milk! You can buy the two litre cartons, but it's about $7, so it's better bang for your buck if you go big. Cheese isn't cheap, and we haven't manned up enough/craved it enough to want it just yet. A bag of shredded cheese is just over $10, a small tub of cream cheese is about $6 and a block of 500g of cheese is $16. We have been buying yogurt though, and an 8pack of Activia is about $8. Ouch.

I could go on and on for days about the price comparison of food between Ontario and Nunavut, but at the end of the day, we need food and we just have to suck it up. Yes, we can be frugal and not buy things that are "luxuries" but at the end of the day, if we really want it, we're going to buy it and treat ourselves, or we'll probably go bonkers. It absolutely helps that we brought up as much dry food as possible, because it will be a painful day when we are buying $10 boxes of cereal for breakfast.

We have learned to be super careful about looking at the expiration date for items. Bread, for one, doesn't have a long expiration once it hits the shelves - presumably because it took time to get shipped up. We have seen bread with an expiration date of a few days prior to the date we were shopping, so we just put it back. You will also find "sale" prices on items that have expired as they are trying to clear out the shelves - I was excited to see soup was only $1/can - but then noticed that it expired earlier this year. Worse, we saw jam for significantly lower than the regular $8/jar - but it had expired beginning of 2011. Just have to be careful and read labels, dates, etc. thoroughly!

To end this very long post, I wanted to show you what our first shopping trip looked like. We were trying to find food that would last us a few days. I needed a few items (ie. forks and dish soap) that wasn't food, but we needed it as we waited for our things. This is what $135 looks like - most of it was gone in 5 days:
Enough meat to last us 5 days, 3 salad kits, mushrooms, carrots, 3 nectarines, eggs, a gallon of milk, 2 frozen vegetables, 1 small frozen pizza, margarine, 3 kraft dinners (they were on sale!) 2 sidekicks, a box of Minute Rice, 1 box of scalloped potatoes, 1 package of Activia, 1 Mrs. Dash, 2 forks and a bottle of dish soap. I'm pretty sure if we did the exact same list in Ontario, it would have been maybe half the price. But! It is what it is, and this is what we had for our first meal in Nunavut:
Not bad for having a completely empty kitchen, if I do say so myself!

I figure we'll be spending around $150 per week on groceries here. It's more than what we were spending in Ontario, but without the ability to go out for dinners, I figure we're saving money in the grand scheme of things. Also, because I'm trying to cook most of the meals from as much scratch-items as possible, we are eating much less processed foods and that will make us healthier in the end! I'm also stretching my cooking skills and making all sorts of yummy things based on what was fresh at the store.

We're certainly not going to go hungry, but we're going to cut down on a lot of convenience foods and have to be super diligent about meal planning so no food goes to waste. Win-win, really! Just wish it didn't cost so darn much!

See? It's all about perspective! :)


  1. Lily & Jeff
    What an amazing blog !!
    You could fill in as a writer for " Nunavut News "
    Where would we be without Skype , blogs, e mail etc
    It is so good for us to have these great connections
    I am soooo grateful
    Thx for the grocery explanation ! well done !

    Lv Mom and Dad ❤

  2. Good day folks,
    Read the whole blog this morning...well written...easy to read...and I look forward to hearing more. Many thanks to Wendy who sent me the site.
    Hugs and more hugs, Gaye