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February 22, 2017 / thegirlwiththedinotattoo

to market

Many of the books I’ve read have claimed that to best understand where your trash comes from is to rummage through said trash and see what’s in there. Well, I don’t need to sort through mine to know that the majority of my trash comes from groceries and food prep, and this was even more true before I started trying to cut back on the trash, and I believe it’s the same for most households. But go ahead and feel free to sift through your gross, wet plastic if you want to take stock of your own trash.

Since so much of my efforts are focused around the kitchen, I decided to write two posts about groceries: one regarding grocery shopping and the other around food storage. So stay tuned because eventually I may get to that second post.

But before we even get to the store, here’s what I have on hand:

On the left are my produce and bulk dry goods bags. Some I’ve bought, some I’ve made, some are cotton and some are mesh. This hodgepodge collection works well for me so I have varying sizes and materials depending on what’s going inside. The mesh bags are great for leafy greens; grains and nuts are perfect in the cotton bags. The center picture is the bunch of produce bags all stuffed into one, along with the bulk containers, on top of my cloth shopping bags: another hodgepodge of bags I’ve accumulated over the years from thrift shops, stealing from my mom (you’re not getting the co-op bag back!), and freebies from events. Everything stays tucked into one bag which I try to keep in the trunk of my car so I don’t forget them or am prepared for any impromptu grocery trips. A lot of trying to live a “zero-waste” lifestyle is just being prepared and anticipating your habits, and for me, seeing the bundle of bags on my back door bothers me because they don’t belong there, they belong in the car, so I’m more likely to grab them the next time I’m headed to the car.

So obviously, I try to buy items in bulk. This is when you purchase loose items by weight: everything from quinoa, flour, beans, nuts, granola, chocolate chips, dried fruit, and flax seeds, and since you’re buying only the quantity you want, you need to have a container to put said items into. There is a small green grocer in my town which lets me bring my own containers and I love them for that. I mainly get my spices and coffee from there, and this is great because they’ll tare out the weight of my glass containers, I fill them up, and then pay a fraction of the cost for fresh, organic, delicious coffee and spices. Not only is this way cheaper ($0.85-$3.00 to refill the spices depending on the spice) but it means I can keep using the spices that fit into my spice rack (though of course I needed to create another row).

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Yes, I alphabetize my spices. And yes, celery does like to be in water on a counter. That and more in my next post on food storage…

Just a quick note on the other type of bulk foods – purchasing larger quantities of items from places like Costco or B.J.’s or even certain items from Target: I actually found that I was wasting these items more when I was buying vast quantities at once. This may be due to the fact that my household is only two people and we’ve always been in small apartments so the amount of real estate that my 20 pack of paper towels or laundry detergent was taking up made me want to use it up faster just so I could have more storage space. Especially since often Costco just bundles together 10 cans of soup, then you’re just bringing home more trash with the box and plastic wrap keeping it all together. If you have a large family, then this is probably a lot different for your consumption needs, but I recommend reviewing how you use those items since I came to the conclusion that it was probably cheaper for me to buy certain items in smaller quantities, and it instilled a sense of scarcity in my every day consumption habits.

Ok, back to the first type of bulk goods. So other than coffee and spices, for other bulk goods, I am forced to go to a certain pretentious grocery store since buying in bulk is not typical in America for some reason that probably has to do with the food industry lobbyists, or at least that’s what I’m blaming it  on. Said pretentious grocery store does not allow you to use your own containers because they fear outside contamination and a lawsuit. I think this is a load of bull since any small child could easily put their grimy little hands into the granola container and take out a handful, but no that’s fine, let’s worry about my clean, washed, glass containers. Since I’m clearly not a germophobe, I’ve found my loophole: I just reuse their containers over and over again

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the cashiers are on to me

until they’re cracked and worthless, and then I finally send them to recycling. I had a cashier once tell me that I’m really not supposed to do that because of the whole contamination thing (“even though, I know, it’s so wasteful!”, “yes, yes it is, you pretentious ‘green’ grocery store!”), but instead I just smiled and said “ok!” and have avoided that cashier’s line since. I mean, look at how many times I’ve been able to reuse that container on the right! I’ve also learned to use my cloth bags more often for nearly anything that will carry well in them.

As for produce, I’m of course all about the local farmer’s market when it’s in season. Not only is this the best way to get produce without any packaging or even stickers, but I’m a total advocate of supporting local farms and businesses, and you get to develop a relationship with them (or I’m just odd enough that they always remember me). I think it says something when you know your farmer by their first name, but I’d be hard pressed to tell you who my primary care doctor is.

I digress. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I live in New England, which means our growing season feels like it’s two months, which means I’m stuck with the grocery store most of the year, though thankfully winter markets are getting more popular. Good thing too, because grocery stores have begun adding more and more packaging to their organic produce (not the conventionally grown stuff!), and I’m about to lose my mind with how everything is either individually wrapped in plastic or stacked on a Styrofoam plate and wrapped in five layers of saran wrap! I mean just look at that:

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good to know at least the butternut squash is still plastic free

Every single potato and pepper is shrink wrapped! I lost it a few months ago and wrote a nice, long, thoughtful letter to this particular grocery store’s corporate headquarters detailing why I was no longer shopping there because of this issue (you bet your britches I did). I had previously called the produce manager and talked with him about it (are you doubting what I do in my spare time?). He said that they had been losing money on organics because either stickers were falling off or people were swapping them, so they weren’t charging the full price for organics. So I made sure to acknowledge this and offered several alternatives in my letter (which perhaps coincidentally I saw one implemented a few weeks later). What, did you think I just sit around writing blog posts about this? (Feel free to be active about this as well!)

Wow, even more digressions. Anyways, steer clear of the produce packaging. This again thus sends me to the pretentious grocery store, though make sure you avoid their plastic baggies as well. I find that I really don’t need to put everything in the bags -especially items like apples, oranges, squash, potatoes, and even broccoli, which usually end up all bagged together in the same grocery bag anyways. I have these really neat things called hands that are also really useful for managing my produce.

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check out these bad larrys 

Once I’m out of the produce section, the rest of the shopping trip is mostly based around choosing the best packaging options. Always look for glass containers over plastic (glass can be recycled an infinite number of times whereas plastics can really only be recycled once, maybe a few times depending on the type), and containers that can potentially be used around the house. So look for wide-mouthed lids to reuse for storage or funky shapes and colors for vases, etc. Many of my food and office storage container are just jelly jars that now hold paperclips. And when buying plastic containers or bags, make sure they’re recyclable (especially frozen produce bags) and pay attention to how you’ll need to rinse it out if it can be put into recycling. I have wasted far too much time trying to get last bits of hand lotion, lemon juice, or tamarind paste out from containers with tiny spouts, or with plastic lids fused together so it’s impossible to separate. Thank you to the companies for taking the time to put the recycling stamp on your product and then leave the responsibility to the customer to figure it out how to actually make it work.

I also try to buy items that I can prepare quickly at home, for cheaper and of course with less packaging. Below are  few examples:

  • Fresh ginger: I buy fresh, then peel, slice, and freeze it so it’s ready when I need it and still has a kick to the flavor
  • Minced garlic: I’ll keep a jar of this on hand just in case I underestimate how much I need in a recipe, but otherwise we just cook with fresh garlic – it’s not that much more work, really (do a YouTube search on peeling garlic, it’ll change your life)
  • I make homemade broth/stock from vegetable scraps and it’s delicious. I freeze it in 1/4 cup batches in a cupcake pan, and once frozen they’re transferred to another container, so it saves money, space, and my sodium levels

I’ve also found that really simplifying what I have on hand helps me from wasting food, especially condiments. I love Asian cuisine, but I’ve finally realized that I’m not going to make it nearly as good at home, and I will not use up those cuisine-specific ingredients before they expire. So when I’m craving pho or pad thai I will support my local restaurants. This is the same with salad dressings – yes, the papaya poppy seed dressing sounds amazing, but unless I’m going to use it all within a month or two, it’s not coming home with me.

I also do not like having a “stocked” pantry. I purposefully do not keep a ton of stuff stored away because I’ll never see half of it and it will just waste away until I finally purge the cabinet, and my organic quinoa is too expensive to toss. I have enough grains or beans to do something creative with leftover broccoli or whatever if I need another meal or to use up the last serving of produce, a few cans of soup or frozen soup from a double-batch that I can rely on. This has really cut down on our food waste, though apparently it does look a bit extreme to the family member who, after visiting once, sent me a check to go buy more groceries (not joking, but I do know that they toss a lot of food because it ends up expiring or spoiling before they get to it, so who’s laughing now?!). The one thing I do buy in large quantities is cereal since I can get it in a double-sized bag (less plastic!) and I know for certain that it will be gone by next week.screenshot_20170220-210058
By using a shopping list this has also taught me how to grocery shop like an adult, and it has kept me from pretending that I’m an amazing chef and buying random ingredients that I’ll do nothing with. I personally like Google’s Keep app since I can have many lists going at once, I can share the list with my husband for him to add his items, and the app stores the items after they’ve been checked off. This saves so much time in creating a shopping list since it’s just going through the saved items and re-checking them to bring them back onto the list, because let’s face it, every week it’s the same fruit, oats, cereal, and flax milk. Also, I’ll add in the PLU#’s for the bulk items that I put in bags so I can read them off to the cashier during check out.

So there you have it, in far more detail than anyone could want to know about as thrilling of a subject as grocery shopping! Since this was long enough already I figured I would save for another post my methods for food storage and whatnot, and I’m sure you’re just waiting with bated breath for that one.

Geeze, and I thought Hawthorne was long-winded.

 

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