Culture  Going against the grain

A look at Montreal's alternative grocery options

Believe it or not, even starving students need to eat. In a city that offers so much for so little, it should go without saying that Montreal’s food sources are far from limited. No matter what combination of coins you have jangling around in your pockets, there is a place for you to shop – namely, Montreal’s alternative grocery stores and fresh food markets. Unlike chain groceries, Montreal’s alternative food outlets have a varied selection and are incredibly affordable. So why bother dropping all your money at Metro and Provigo when you don’t have to?

Situated on St. Laurent and Duluth, Segal’s is likely a place you’ve walked by a million times, but never been able to identify. Without a prominent sign on its storefront, it has remained under the radar for many years. Regardless, it’s worth checking out. If you can acclimatize yourself to the store’s unmistakeable smell of dried, salted fish, you have passed the Segal’s test, and will be granted access to some of Montreal’s cheapest groceries. If it’s too much for your schnoz to bear, you may want to skip this option.

Another advantage to Segal’s is the surprising variety of organic and vegetarian products, which are discounted just as much as the rest of the items in store. When shopping at Segals I save between 25 and 45 per cent on average, compared to shopping at Provigo and Metro (Liberté yogurt is 5 dollars less!) Anything that would cost you an arm and a leg at a chain grocery store, such as tofu, granola, alternative milks, spreads, and organic breads, can be found at Segal’s for prices that will floor you. While chain grocery stores hardly cater to vegan crowds, Segal’s welcomes conscious eaters with conscious wallets. And if you forget to bring your own bags, they almost always have boxes in which to pack your groceries.

Similar to Segal’s, and even closer to campus, is Marché Lobo, conveniently located just north of Parc and Milton. Lobo is slightly more organized than Segal’s, and nearly as cheap. It may not carry all of the essentials, but you can always succeed in finding the canned version of just about anything – I’ll let you decide whether or not that’s a good thing. Besides your standard Campbell’s chicken noodle, Lobo carries an impressive selection of Middle Eastern food. In fact, they are famous among their loyal customers for making their own impressive variety of hummus. Lobo is also a great place to stock up on bulk bags of rice or beans (assuming you have the means to carry body bag-sized sacks home). On average, I save between 25 and 35 per cent when shopping at Lobo, compared to shopping at their unfriendly neighbours. The only downside is that Lobo’s tiny aisles are anything but ideal for the clumsy-natured. Clunky backpacks should be left at home.

For those looking for some culture in their cuisine, be sure to peruse through one of Montreal’s vibrant markets: namely, Jean Talon and Atwater. Poke your head into either of these gems and expect to leave both inspired, and with your wallet still intact. Jean Talon’s vendors will keep you on your toes, and the mere range of lemon yellows alone will leave your head spinning. It’s a feeling that can only be understood by visiting these markets yourself.

Though there are a number of pricier booths specializing in delicacies from fine chocolates to cheese, the produce stands offer large quantities for minimal prices. And quite unlike chain grocery stores, more often than not you can have your questions answered by the farmers who actually grew the food. In my experience, they are always thrilled to chat, and even happier to offer you yummy samples. Much like the characters behind the stands, each piece of fruit has its own unique personality – a refreshing change from the carbon copy apples neatly stacked and stamped over and over again. Instead of marching down aisles full of packaging and curiously distant expiry dates, try soaking up some culture and community in one of these local markets.

On a student budget, saving money should be enough of an incentive to check out these alternatives to Montreal’s chain grocery stores. But if it isn’t, think of it this way: every dollar you spend and every item you purchase places an order for another one to be developed, produced, packaged, constructed, or farmed. If you know where your food comes from, as well as the faces that run the shops you frequent, you can make conscious decisions with your money, and rightfully speak back to your options.

Taste real flavours in organic food, save your money, and help protect the environment. As the Jean Talon website states, food travels, on average, more than 2,500 km to reach your plate. When you think of the packaging and fossil fuels it requires to ship food, your purchasing power suddenly seems to hold more weight than you may have previously imagined. Forget the artificial lights and unfortunate piped-in music of your “local” Metro or Provigo, and check out one of Montreal’s many alternative food sources. It’s better for you, your bank account, and most importantly, you planet.