***Update: don’t forget to label your jars. If you’re tired enough, and it’s late enough, and all your jars are unlabeled because you think you’re that good…well, you might just end up putting farina (cream of wheat) in your bread instead of whole wheat flour. Oops.***
You can shop at the bulk bins even if you don’t have a trace of an inner hippie. Trust me on this one. I don’t have a cell in my body that likes the idea of free love. But lentils, sans plastic packaging? I’ll take that. Kevin and I took the plunge into bulk binning maybe a year ago. We used to use plastic bags for our bulk foods, but the cat decided that attacking plastic bags and eating and/or rolling around in their contents was fun. So we headed to Ikea, got a bunch of old-fashioned glass storage jars, and jumped off the packaged food bandwagon.
Kind of. We still get some things that come in boxes (you can take the Life cereal out of Kevin’s cold, dead hands) and shop at Trader Joe’s from time to time, but our jars of bulk food items are slowly taking over the bottom shelf of the kitchen cart.
Buying from the bulk bins has a number of advantages for you and the planet, including less packaging waste, less spoiled food because you can buy small amounts, and lower grocery bills. It’s also fun to try new foods and recipes without committing to using up, say, a full pound of buckwheat groats or amaranth. And buying from the bulk bins tends to mean that you’re making more of your food from scratch. It’s probably better for you than whatever you were eating before.
Here’s what I usually buy in bulk:
- flour (all types)
- sea salt
- rice (all types)
- beans (for when I actually plan my meals in advance)
- olive oil
- raw almonds (sometimes)
- nutritional yeast
- farina (cream of wheat)
- dried fruit (apricots, cranberries)
- vegetable stock
I didn’t switch over immediately, and there are still things that I haven’t bought in bulk that I could. Peanut butter, maple syrup, sugar, tea, and spices, among others. As I bake more of my own bread, I have a feeling I’ll be making more trips to Whole Foods for grains and seeds. (Confession: I don’t really like Whole Foods. It’s just a little too smug for my taste.)
Getting it all home
We usually bring our empty jars to refill, eliminating the need for bags and tags. Schlepping twenty empty glass jars to the store would be a major pain. However, we don’t typically run out of more than a few things at a time. I was nervous about how bringing empty jars would work, but it’s actually very easy. Take your empty containers to the customer service desk. They’ll weigh each, write the weight on masking tape, and stick it on your jar. At checkout, the clerk weighs your filled jar and subtracts the weight of the empty jar.
Or you could bring your own reused bags (plastic or cloth) or lightweight plastic containers. It’s not the end of the world if you forget and have to take a plastic bag. Chances are, it’s still better than the fully packaged version.
Do you buy most of your dry goods from the bulk bins? If not, what’s stopping you?