I live in remote Alaska so my grocery trips happen every few months and require a few plane rides.
Grocery shopping is time-consuming and costly because I have to plan ahead and ship my food home.
I try to get fresh produce but often rely on canned goods and stuff I can freeze to make last.
I live in a small village in southwest Alaska where the nearest grocery store is over 160 miles away.
To get there, I take a small plane on a one-hour flight over some of the world's most beautiful and rugged terrain. I usually go every few months and try to replenish my stash before my cupboards are completely empty.
Here's what it's like making the journey to Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, to restock on groceries.
In remote Alaska, grocery shopping takes a lot of planning
After landing safely at a small airport near downtown Anchorage, I drive to the first stop on my shopping marathon.
I bring my shopping list of essentials, but having not been to a store in over three months always leaves me wandering up and down every aisle to search for things I might've forgotten to write down. Sometimes I find things I didn't know I needed until I discover them on a shelf.
Honestly, it can be a little overwhelming. I'm used to looking at the dwindling selection on my four shelves in my little apartment, and the variety at the store calls me to grab items at a rate that will stretch the capacity of my shopping cart.
For the most part, I look for good deals and staples I know I'll need. Still, plenty of items find their way into my cart as fun treats or new adventures to sample.
Buying fresh produce is a challenge, so I rely on many canned and frozen items
If the weather is bad it might be up to a week before the fresh items I purchase can be flown home.
Because of this, I often ask myself if I should buy ripe bananas or green ones that might be ripe by the time I get to use them, but I usually just get a little bit of each.
Alaska's winters aren't ideal for growing fresh fruit, so a lot of produce has to be shipped in. This means a small carton of raspberries can be especially pricey at $4 or $5 — but they're well worth the expense if I can get them home before they spoil and enjoy them fresh.
With that in mind, I try to plan meals that will allow me to use perishable ingredients while they're fresh. I also keep in mind recipes that'll allow me to use produce that arrives to me overripe.
As much as I love fresh fruit and vegetables, I don't buy too many because they won't last for three to four months before my next shopping session.
When I can't buy fresh, I get canned options. I try to keep my pantry packed with peaches, pears, corn, green beans, and a variety of other foods that I can use for making side dishes, desserts, and snacks once the fresh fruit and veggies have been eaten.
As I shop I look closely at expiration dates, knowing that the longer the food lasts, the more options I will have.
I also reach for anything that can be kept longer by freezing. I pack things like bacon, bagels, milk, shredded cheese, and lunch meat into boxes to be frozen right away. I like knowing I can defrost and enjoy them months from now.
After already paying the hefty Alaska prices for food, I still have to ship it home
My groceries also need to board a plane to get home. It can cost anywhere from $0.90 to $2.50 per pound for freight like this to be flown into small villages in southwest Alaska like mine.
Some people ship groceries through the mail or shopping services, but mail can sometimes be heavily delayed en route to our small town and some shoppers don't quite understand how precious each item is when you live so far away from the stores.
I try to protect my culinary investments by carefully packing everything myself.
I sort the perishable, frozen, and dry goods to be sure they're properly handled. Delicate items like eggs and bananas get the full treatment and no bubble wrap is spared when I pack them.
Oftentimes there isn't room for all of my groceries to fit on the same flight as me when I go home so I usually say goodbye to whatever part of my haul is left behind. I always hope the weather cooperates so flights don't get delayed and we'll be reunited soon.
A few days later, I'll often find myself looking out into the cold Alaskan winter, enjoying one of the fresh bananas that survived the journey while thinking about what to do with the ones that didn't fare so well. Maybe this time I'll make banana bread.
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