"There is no sincerer love than the love for food."
-George Bernard Shaw
This is one of my favorite things to do as a Zero Waster, and subsequently it's one of my favorite things to teach. For me, at this point, ZW grocery shopping is pretty much second nature (even though the cooking is still an issue at times). I hope to help it become second nature to all of you so we can inspire change by (kindly) demanding it together!
I shop in the world of bulk bins. That doesn't mean that I shop at the gym, or that I purchase 47 lb bags of rice. Bulk, in the ZW world, means that you get to scoop the amount of food you want out of a bin and put it in your own bag. It means that the food you purchase doesn't come with any packaging. So not only do you eliminate the packaging, you can purchase only what you need so as not to waste anything during the week. When I tell you that you can find anything in bulk, I'm not lyin'. I get soy sauce, honey, maple syrup, tofu, vegan meatballs, shampoo and conditioner, pasta, rice, all granola, all nuts, dried fruit, CANDY, olive oil, sesame oil, coconut shavings for my coconut milk, coffee, all spices (including vanilla beans to make vanilla out of), baking soda and powder, dates, EVERYTHING. And also, isn't bulk coffee just the most beautiful?? *sigh*
Make a List Beforehand: Thanks to the Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders that my dear friend Holland sent me, I've been able to step up my food game. I had a very hard time meal planning and sticking to it, so I'd either run out of food before the week's end or I'd allow my beautiful produce to go bad by accident. I read the handbook, and started cracking down on making my grocery list and meal plan. I make a grocery list on my iPhone in the notes section, and then underneath the list I type out a meal plan for the week (lunches and dinners... breakfast is easy, as I have a rotation of 3 things). That was I only buy what I need and nothing (or very little) goes to waste. I'm getting good enough at it so that I can switch things around if something comes up, which is nice. Here's an example of my list:
A key element of shopping in the bulk section is bringing your own bulk/produce bags and jars in order to avoid the plastic bags provided. My co-op doesn't even offer plastic bags for free, you have to pay for them, and they only use plastic bags that have been donated (it's a great place to donate bags and jars to if you no longer need them!). After I make my list I count how many things require a reusable bulk bag (things like pasta, popcorn kernels, loose spinach, brussels sprouts, etc) and how many things need to be put in jars (liquid soaps, honey, spices, soy sauce, coconut shavings, oils, etc). So I take two canvas tote bags that I randomly have had forever from Trader Joes (one for produce and one for jars so the jars don't smash my beautiful produce) and fill them with the correct amount of bags and jars...I might bring one or two extra in case I find a special treat that I must have.
Tare Your Jars Before Use:
What on earth does "tare" mean?? The tare weight is the weight of an empty container. By subtracting it from the total weight, the weight of the goods carried may be determined.
I frequent the groceries that I do because of many reasons. One being that they understand that they need to take the tare weight, and another being that they don't make you print out stickers to put on your bulk food bag (like Whole Foods and Fairway do...so wasteful). Both the co-op and Integral have scales to use to tare your container when it's empty, and I use my handy charcoal pencil (a brilliant gift from my mom purchased at the Zero Market in Denver) to write the weight on the jar itself (pictured with a jar full of baking soda). The bags don't weigh much so I don't bother. That way there's no confusion and you don't end up paying for more than you purchase.
If You're Not in NYC... FIND A SPROUTS. If you are lucky enough to live close to a Sprouts Grocery, YOU'RE SO LUCKY AND I WANT TO LIVE WITH YOU. They have the best bulk section of any place I've ever seen before, and I was considering a move to Denver simply so I could spend all my dollars there.
Whole Foods also has a good bulk section, and although some locations don't allow you to use your own bags (why on earth not??) I still recommend going there if it's your only option. My ZW motto is to act now and apologize (and perhaps heavily question and urge in the correct direction) later. Whole Foods makes you print out those stickers so they can scan them at the checkout, but that's not nearly as much waste as you would bring home anywhere else without a bulk section. They also have veggies like brussels sprouts, kale, and mushrooms in bulk which other groceries don't have.
Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home fame (who also happens to be my hero) has an app that allows you to find all the stores with bulk sections in your area, so you can take full advantage of that. Many smaller health food stores have small bulk sections with some fun stuff, so it can't hurt to pop in and check if you pass one. If you're too far from any farmer's market, there may be an actual small farm close by that you could do business with...check it out! And if you're really nowhere with any bulk sections or farmer's markets, I suggest finding either the biggest bags of food (if in plastic), or find things in glass or paper packaging. And then write letters. Write so many letters that your local grocery will have no other choice but to add a beautiful bulk section to their store. We must stay active in order to alter the way consumers and businesses operate.
I hope that this has relieved a bit of the stress from grocery shopping zero waste! Please let me know if you'd be interested in doing a shop-along with me one of these weekends...I'm so happy to do hands on teaching of one of my favorite subjects...in fact, I took my friend Ali when she was visiting, and she had a blast learning all about it!