This weekend we began putting our no kitchen waste adventures into practice by grocery shopping! We had already developed into fastidious recyclers and composters over the course of the summer, which means that groceries are the area that really needs attention if we are going to eliminate garbage. We have also decided to prioritize re-using or refusing rather than recycling; rather than buying things that have recyclable packaging, we were opting for zero packaging, period.
We started our trip at the Bulk Barn over in Blairmore. Armed with old ziploc bags that have survived many washes, and a few empty bread and oatmeal bags, we wandered the aisles, quite pleased with the number of staples and novelty items (although slightly taken aback by the multiple aisles of gummy candies). There were plenty of interesting rice and grain blends, some of our favourites like oatmeal and quinoa, packaging-free dog treats, protein powder for me (definitely a staple for a vegetarian weight lifter), spices, tea, and the list went on.
We decided to use our own bags without asking if it was OK first, figuring that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission in this case. Once we hit the huge vats of peanut butter, however, we knew we’d have to ask someone to weigh our glass jar so we wouldn’t have to pay extra for it. Once the cat was out of the (re-purposed) bag, of course we were informed that store policy directs us to use the containers provided (apparently due to health codes). In the end we managed to make puppy eyes at them and they let us get away with using our own bags this time because we didn’t know (we did however forgo the peanut butter to search out better options). When we stealthily suggested that the stores own bags could be surreptitiously re-used the teenager behind the counter gave us a wink and said that probably no-one would notice.
We then trekked over to Co-op, where the experience at the checkout was much better. We loaded up our cotton produce bags with a variety of fruits and veggies, and loaded two reusable shopping bags with an obscene amount of tomatoes and apples to turn into sauces later. The cashier didn’t even bat an eyelash at our collection of fabric bags and bulk veggies, and rang us through happily.
We wrapped up our excursion with a trip to the Night Oven Bakery over on 1st Ave. It’s attached to the Academy, so I’m in there almost daily for my coffee fix, but this time I was happy to be purchasing bread! We opted for the sesame loaf, and again had no difficulty in being allowed to transport that in our own reusable bag. We also grabbed a coffee and looseleaf tea to go (both in our travel thermoses), because seriously – you have to try the Night Oven. So good.
The situation at the Bulk Barn was not surprising – we had definitely expected to encounter difficulties, or businesses that would be leery of customers using their own bags. I understand completely that it can be a question of liability; if I scoop a bunch of trail mix into a bag that I washed myself, it’s hard to argue later about where I picked up Salmonella from. That said, we are all adults! Simply post some disclaimers around the building, or better yet, provide customers with access to reusable containers to purchase with. Being told “for your health, we cannot allow you to put our product into your bag” is pretty ludicrous, when you think about it. Rather than accumulating more plastic bags by shopping at Bulk Barn, we will continue to hunt for smaller, local businesses that offer bulk, package-free purchasing options. Bulk Barn can be our backup plan!
A Few Notes
All said and done, the experience was definitely positive overall, and we’re excited to continue shopping in new locations to provide some feedback about the yxe options out there! We definitely could have used more produce bags; we only had 6 with us, and had to make a few decisions based around what we could carry. An important element of this exercise is simply preparing for shopping: if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
I also feel that it’s worth mentioning, there are a few things that made this shopping trip feel very easy. I am fully vegetarian, and Jesse generally eats vegetarian at home. We are already by and large healthy, whole food eaters (no processed foods, no refined sugars, etc), and have a fairly long track record of being conscious of what we choose to put in our bodies. I can definitely acknowledge that this would have been a more challenging shopping trip for someone who is attached to chips, pizza pops, etc.
That kind of approach to food, really helped with not necessarily having every craving of ours make it to the shopping cart. In the end, we still need to sort out our hookup for cheese and eggs, as well as peanut butter. We elected to (for now at least) give up milk and butter, and as our last few pantry items run low we’ll likely end up making some decisions on things like coconut oil based on whether we can find a place that will allow us to refill our own containers. We are allowing ourselves cottage cheese as the only “in plastic” purchase because we reuse the containers for almost all of our food storage and transport, and because it’s a necessary staple in our diets. If we can find a local source, we definitely will switch to that!
The rest of our weekend was punctuated with a couple fun bulk cooking adventures, which we’ll post about later!