I was born into a Midwestern family who passed down a strong streak of Nordic reserve. My voice teacher observed that my face was rather stoic while singing. Just weeks ago I was referred to as an ice queen by the illustrious Gail O’Hara. This is all to say there are few topics that set my dispassionate Scandinavian heart ablaze like buying groceries in bulk.
Check out the stats in Momentum‘s article All Consuming: “The average American (just one of 309 million) uses up some 194 pounds of stuff–food, water, plastics, metals and other things–per day, day in and day out.” Most of us prefer to generate less garbage rather than more, and we’d like to consume as intelligently as possible. But it does take strength of will to fling one self from the consumer conveyor belt upon which our culture has blissfully glided for the past couple of generations.
“We are not stupid, we’re not ignorant, we don’t even necessarily have bad values with respect to the environment,” says political scientist Michael Maniates of Allegheny College. “We’re trying to do our best within cultural systems that elevate unsustainable choices.”
But “choice” is the key word. Unsustainable choices are often the most obvious ones, the ones that are marketed to us incessantly; as good, normal, convenient. As clamorously as consumerism rings out across America, still we enjoy a wide range of choices if we look more carefully.
Buying groceries without packaging is about conservation and efficiency. It is a choice that reduces needless garbage, pollution, fuel consumption and deforestation. If it is your goal to save money, it can help you achieve this; while encouraging you to cook with simple, whole, high quality ingredients. It takes an initial effort to change ingrained shopping habits. But it feels better, more logical, more independent to shop this way. My values are more integrated into my lifestyle, and my household is less cluttered by the chatter of brand names and packaging.
With the help of a good co-op like the Wedge in Minneapolis–it is staggering all I can buy package-free. Explore the cornucopia in the official Wednesday Post bulk shopping video. Thanks to Brian Tighe for helping me shoot it and John Crozier for providing the soundtrack. It was shot in the winter which is why I am bundled up. Tots Minnesota.
In the Store
Different stores have different bulk procedures, so make sure cashiers are able to subtract tare weights before you fill a container. If not, you can still re-use your own bags to buy bulk groceries package-free, as plastic bags are virtually weightless.
Designate a particular bag or container for a particular food item you buy regularly. Put a permanent tare weight and product code on the package so you can skip this step in the store. Sometimes I use electrical tape and a sharpie for a permanent label, and even cover it with clear packing tape so that the numbers don’t wash off. I have a box in my pantry that collects my bulk containers as they empty out. Before I go shopping, I check inside the box. The labelled containers become an automatic shopping list–I know what I have run out of. For items I use almost daily, like olive oil; I designate two bottles, one large and one small. When the large bottle begins to run out I pour the remainder into the small bottle and bring the large bottle back to the store to refill.
Natural, organic foods tend to be more expensive than conventional ones. Did you know that shoppers can save an average of 89% by buying natural and organic foods in the bulk aisle? Read the article in Progressive Grocer here. You can save a lot on trail mix by creating your own blend. Pre-made mixes usually favor cheaper ingredients like sunflower seeds, peanuts, and raisins; but charge you at the rate of more expensive ingredients like cashews and dried cranberries. By buying your ingredients individually and mixing them at home you can save money and yield the perfect blend.
Package Free in Austin
Check out In-Gredients, the country’s first zero-waste grocery store. (Thanks to Nikki Martin for the link!) Forty percent of our landfills consist of packaging that was used just once. Let’s turn this around, people!
Thanks for reading the Wednesday Post.