So, you may have seen that in my previous post Vegan Pantry Staples I listed out which foods to buy in bulk! Purchasing items in bulk not only reduces waste from unnecessary packaging, but it can end up saving you some cash, as well! (Depending on the item, of course).
Welcome to Buying Bulk 101. For this lesson you will need:
- 4-5 Medium sized reusable bags (Medium sized ones hold just enough to be too heavy on the arms while still being able to be piled high)
- 4-5 Mason jars of varying sizes
- Smaller cloth bags for snacks, small vegetables like mushrooms, etc (In the past, I’ve also used pencil cases as they zip and make for easy transportation)
- Spice jars (however many you need for what you are filling that week)
- Airtight container for teas and coffees (there will be a separate post on this later)
- Larger cloth bags (I use these for transference of grains into my rather heavy container at home)
The first thing you will need to do is evaluate where you purchase your food at. Is this a place that offers bulk items? If yes, then yay! Skip on to the section below! If no, then there are a few options. You can first ask your local grocer to start the conversation about ordering bulk items. Most stores that don’t offer bulk, don’t offer it because they believe the people in that area aren’t interested in purchasing said items. Although this route may not get you bulk items in time for tomorrow night’s dinner, it will spark the interest of your local grocer and in due course maybe lead to more waste-free options!
The second option (in this case, second step) is to go out and find another place to make your sustainable purchases! The best place to purchase perishable items is at your local Farmer’s market! Farmer’s markets not only support your local businesses and keep the money circulating closer to your home (therefore improving the economy of YOUR neighborhood), but they are a host of information. The farmers behind the stands in the booths are filled with knowledge on what is in season, what foods will do what for your body, what recipes you can make out of the food on hand, and often you’ll be introduced to new fruits, veggies, dishes, and people! The connections you make with hardworking people in your area really are worth the five minute trip around town. Another side benefit is that through purchasing produce at your Farmer’s market, you ensure that the food is fresh and fossil fuels were not wasted in importation or transportation of your goods! Food that isn’t in season (such as lemons in winter) will require quite a bit of fast traveling to reach your store in time to ensure freshness! Depending on what is and isn’t available in your region, you may be buying items that have traveled days and days, expending massive amounts of fossil fuels to get there!
To find Farmer’s Markets in your area, visit this link: https://www.ams.usda.gov/local-food-directories/farmersmarkets Here, you will find not only the location of markets in your area, but you will be able to select what products you are searching for as a filter tool at the beginning!
After finding out what markets exist and figuring out what items you can purchase locally, you probably still need to visit a store. Whole Foods is usually my go-to, since it is in my neighborhood, but Fresh-Thyme stores, health-food stores, and other local grocers offer bulk as well. My advice for the most convenient locations is to Google “Stores offering bulk foods near me”. Voilà! You have a beautiful and up-to-date listing of what stores in your area have what you need! When buying bulk, note that specialty stores for teas, coffees, even grains and spices typically exist locally! These are always better options as far as being environmentally friendly! Local is always going to be better than not.
Now that you have figured out what to get and where, you need to actually go in and shop!
The main things to remember are:
- Bring a pen. Although stores are supposed to have pens readily available throughout the bulk aisle(s)- they are usually in short supply or have been stolen off of the chains! Your pen will be very handy in terms of writing down the PLU (Product Look-up code) on your items!
- Figure out how much of something you need in advance. The bulk section lends us to (as my family calls it) long-eyes. You can really go overboard in there if you aren’t sure of what you are wanting. Figure it out first, you’ll thank me in the long run.
- Write the Tare of your container on it before you reach the store! Use a sharpie or something permanent so that you won’t have to weight it out each time! To find the Tare, weigh your empty container! This will be subtracted from the cost of your purchase in the end! I’ve also painted my mason jars with a swatch of chalkboard paint so that I can take chalk versus a pen to write the PLU on cumbersome containers- this also makes it easier to erase and use for something else in the future!
- Fill your container/bag/jar with the item that you want, then walk on over to the scale to estimate what price you’ll be paying!
- Don’t forget to write the PLU on the product!
**Being in the bulk section does NOT make something healthy! Still read the labels provided and be aware of what you should and shouldn’t be purchasing!
Keep on the lookout for my post on how to cook bulk items such as beans and nuts! (Yes, they require a different preparation than you may be used to)