The message of a particular blog entry Marion Nestle wrote on her site, “Food Politics”, stuck with me although I frustratingly can’t seem to find it in her archives. Centered around food shopping and how to go about it, she assembled a personal ranking system for the qualities she seeks out in the grocery store—her preferred ingredients were both local and organic.In a pinch, she would opt for an organic product first if a local one was unavailable.
While I agree with Marion Nestle in principle, I’ll admit the harsh realities of attempting to make healthy and ecologically friendly food choices on a limited budget with time pressures—often I find myself merely attempting to fuel myself with something healthy, trying my best to recognize some of my deep-rooted beliefs in responsible purchasing.
Shopping from the bulk bins makes a world of difference for vegetarian shoppers attempting to reduce their environmental impact and grocery bill. Admittedly, this method requires some preparation and additional prep time but I’d advocate that the benefits are worth it. Here’s why:
Reasons to buy bulk:
-The items we buy the most and eat on a daily basis—rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts, dried fruit—are bulk bin staples. Why not get a deal on something you constantly purchase?
-You can buy more, reducing grocery trips. If you eat oatmeal for breakfast every day, go ahead and buy three pounds of the stuff-it won’t go bad, and you’ll save yourself from buying a cylinder of it every week or two.
-Reducing packaging: every time you buy a box of rice, cans of beans or bags of nuts, you’re contributing to the waste-steam. Depending on which store you visit, you can bring our own bag or container, weigh it first and then add your products. You can always save the thin plastic bags you use for veggies and bring those to the bulk bin.
-You’ll probably eat more whole grains and beans. As a vegetarian, whole grains and beans like quinoa, chickpeas, brown rice and lentils tend to be cheap, wholesome everyday choices. Introduce yourself to new grain varieties like amaranth or buckwheat groats. You’ll need to soak beans overnight before cooking them, but once you learn how to do this, you’ll realize how easy it is. A good slideshow from Serious Eats on how to cook dried beans here.
-Saving money. Compare prices on packaged items you get—for example, oatmeal typically runs anywhere from .99/pound to 1.30/pound in the bulk bins, compared to $4/box of instant oats. You can control the ingredients that go into your oatmeal as well! Also, trendy items like quinoa are always cheaper if you buy here.
-Depending on location, you can find amazing items in bulk. The 4th Street Food Co-op in the East Village has bulk tofu, oils and vinegar, flaked coconut and sugar in addition to traditional offerings. The Park Slope Food Co-op has flavored nus, spices and chocolate covered items.
-You can store your bulk items in re-purposed containers like old yogurt containers, or invest in some attractive mason jars. Check out Craiglist to see if anyone near you has extras.
Here’s a list of some stores that offer bulk bins in the city—check around your area for more!
- All Whole Foods stores have a bulk section
- East Village: 4th Street Food Co-op
- Park Slope: Park Slope Food Co-op (membership required)
- Midtown West: Westerly
- Williamsburg: Top’s Grocery Store, Williamsburg
- Upper West Side/Red Hook: Fairway
- Union Square area: Integral Yoga Natural Foods
- Brooklyn Heights: Perelandria Natural Foods Center
- Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill: Sahadi’s
- Park Slope: D’Vine Taste
- Lower East Side: Earthmatters
- East Village: Healthfully Organic Market
- Gramercy: Kalusyan’s