This post is exciting because now you can put your new vocabulary to work!
I decided to talk about the grocery store before talking about farmers markets because there isn't always a convenient and large farmers market close by. Nick and I are lucky in that we have the state farmers market about 25 minutes from our house, and it's open year-long. Even so, we still have to supplement our groceries with items from the supermarket.
In most grocery stores, the produce section is closest to the door. This is where your knowledge of in-season fruits and vegetables comes into play. You can skip over the organic fruits and vegetables that you know are in season in your area and instead buy them at the farmers market, where all your money will directly profit the farmer. If you buy these products at the supermarket, your money will be split at least three ways: between the supermarket itself, transportation, and the farmer, with the farmer making an average of 20 cents for each dollar you spend.
Since you're already hugging the outer edges of the store, don't be tempted to wander into the inner aisles! These aisles are typically the most nutritionally vacant, tricked out with high levels of fat, sodium, and high-fructose corn syrup. Occasionally, though, you do need to venture into these aisles for items such as flour, sugar, coffee, nuts, etc. Proceed with caution! The packaging on processed foods looks attractive for a reason -- to attract your attention! Remember that this packaging also means the majority of your money isn't going to the rightful recipient: the producer.
In my most-frequented grocery store, the deli is next to the produce. The goat cheese may look good here, but it tastes better coming from a local farmer. Buy cheese that isn't produced in your area, like mozzarella or Parmesan, and read the labels! There should be few ingredients and the majority of them recognizable (although 'rennet' might throw you for a loop, this is a crucial ingredient to making most cheese).
Next is the meat and seafood counter. We buy the majority of our meat from the farmers market. We wish we could buy local seafood, but must be too far away from the ocean to be able to do so. I keep track of the Super Green List on Seafood Watch, to be sure I'm not purchasing fish whose capture is harmful to the environment. Unfortunately for me, my favorite sushi item is on the 'avoid' list.
I buy eggs exclusively at the farmers market these days, especially after the salmonella scare. If you want, buy a half dozen conventional eggs at the store and 'splurge' on eggs at the farmers market. Once you get them home, crack one of each side by side. It won't seem like a splurge after that, especially after learning 'free range' means squat. 'Vegetarian', too, but that's for another time.
Let's talk dairy for a moment. In a future post, tentatively named 'hierarchy of purchasing organic food', organic dairy products are the most important things to spend your money on. When a carton of milk is labeled "USDA Certified Organic", it means the cow was NOT treated with growth hormones or antibiotics, and her pasture was pesticide-free. This is great for the health and safety of dairy cattle and for consumers. Organic milk also has higher levels of omega-3s and antioxidants than conventional milk. You might have sticker-shock when comparing the price of organic milk versus conventional, but keep in mind organic milk has a longer shelf life. If you find yourself throwing out quarter gallons of milk each week because your family can't drink them fast enough, switching to organic is a logical choice.
Most importantly, read the labels! Stay away from high fructose corn syrup, a bunch of science-y words you don't understand, and an ingredient list a mile long. Stick to simple ingredients with few preservatives. The new five line by Haagen-Dazs is a great choice -- there are only five ingredients, and each of them is recognizable.