Bulk Shopping Haul 06.22.14

bulk shopping 06.22.14

Today I went zero-waste shopping at bulk heaven—Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco.

If you’ve never tried it, zero-waste shopping may sound like an intimidating prospect. But if you live near a store with a good bulk section, really, you need only get organized and bring along some zero-waste shopping gear.

Before I left this morning, I:

  • Checked my list of bulk foods I had run out of;
  • Packed my homemade cloth produce/bulk bags into my cloth shopping bags; and
  • Packed glass jars of various sizes into my cloth shopping bags.

This little bit of planning resulted in a tiny amount of trash—five twist ties. If I had bought each of these items in packaging as I had always done in the past, I would have eventually thrown at least 16 packages into the trash, but probably more, as I bought several pounds of pasta and stores usually sell one-pound bags or boxes of the stuff. And most of that packaging would have consisted of plastic, which never breaks down.

N.B. At the store, you (or customer service depending on the store) weigh the jars on scales, write the tare on a sticker on the jar, then the cashier deducts the weight of the jar from the overall weight of the jar plus the food. You pay only for the food in the jar. 

I bought the following organic items (starting at the top left in the pic above, then sort of snaking around):

photo (6)
Bootsy turns into zombie-cat if he doesn’t get his favorite food from Rainbow
  • Dry cat food. I had never seen bulk cat food until I found it at Rainbow. Maybe a pet store near me sells it. I’ll have to look into that. My poor Baby Cat has irritable bladder syndrome and needs expensive prescription cat food, which is packaged in plastic unfortunately, but Bootsy can (and does) eat anything. So I get him this and reserve the Rx stuff for Baby Cat.
  • Whole wheat flour. Rainbow carries several types, but I chose the medium ground for my whole wheat sourdough bread. I bake Michael Pollan’s country loaf recipe from Cooked, which he bases on Chad Roberton’s Tartine loaf.
  • Baking soda. I’ve been thinking of writing an ode to baking soda, an unsung hero of simple living. I use it for baking, cooking, cleaning and washing my hair.
  • Cornmeal. What a deal this was. The large jarful in the top right cost a whopping $1.11. Because it is organic (like everything else I bought), it’s also GMO-free.
  • Cornstarch. My daughter MK wanted this for something, probably stir fries. She’s an awesome cook. For a family camp this week up in the Sierras, she planned a menu for about 25 people—breakfast, lunch and dinner—and has been cooking it (and milking goats too!).
  • Flaked coconut. I had said I wouldn’t buy coconut anymore because it’s not local, but I need some sort of kitchen vice. And it tastes great on Irish oatmeal with raisins, chia seeds, hemp seed and so on.
  • Coconut sugar. A put a little of this on my Irish oatmeal also.
  • Farro. A blogger I follow, Hilda of “Along the Grapevine,” recently posted a delicious-looking vegan burger made with farro, and I have never tried cooking with this grain, so I picked some up.
  • Rye flour. This is also for my sourdough country loaf.
  • Earl Grey tea. I drink a lot of this.
  • Bittersweet chocolate chips. I accidentally forgot to tare the jar. That’s too bad because these were one of the more expensive items I bought. But the cashier made a good estimate of the weight, based on my other jars.
  • Orechiette pasta. I accidentally left the bulk door open too long and filled my bag up more than I had intended. We will eat it all though.
  • Farfalle. Mostly for Charlotte, my younger daughter.
  • Cajun cashews. Holy cow these are hot. They’re very tasty too. And made with only a handful of real ingredients.

bulk sponges

  • Bulk sponges. Yes, Rainbow sells loose pop-up sponges with zero packaging. Just when I thought I couldn’t love the store more, I found these. I knit a couple of dish cloths this weekend, inspired by one of Mommy Emu’s posts, but I grabbed a couple of these sponges anyway. We will use them.
dish cloth
Until this weekend, I hadn’t knit for a while; don’t examine this too closely.

I still have two cloth produce/bulk bags to give away. They’re very nice. If I have convinced you to give bulk shopping a try and you would like these (and you live in the U.S.), please fill out the contact form below.

[Update! The bags have all been spoken for. Thank you to everyone who emailed me.]

See you in bulk heaven!


14 Replies to “Bulk Shopping Haul 06.22.14”

  1. Thanks for the mention. I do hope you like your farro. I also bought it in a bulk food store. Buying in bulk is something I have always tried to do, although in N.A. it can be a challenge. Perhaps one day we will just talk about stores, and those places that sell everything super packaged will have the qualifier attached to their names and will be considered the odd ones.

    1. My pleasure! I’ll give the farro a try.

      I hope you’re right about this being the norm one day. Before the “convenience” of single-use plastic, it must have been. I personally don’t find bringing some containers and produce/bulk bags to the store difficult. And people have adjusted to bag bans, so they can readjust to less packaging. We simply need more stores like this one.

  2. “How to grocery shop” seems like it is or should be an unnecessary topic for instruction, but it’s simply not so. Thank you for laying it out there for people. I think the idea of doing things differently than they’ve been done for ages can seem intimidating, but most changes are not difficult to put into practice. This is awesome!

    1. Thank you so much! Yesterday I tweeted a pic from Rainbow and someone asked what I bought. I couldn’t reply in only 140 characters, and wondered if my haul was even worth a post, or if people actually do need instructions on how to shop. But I certainly didn’t shop this way a few years ago. Once I had the information on how to do it though, I made the change pretty easily. Now I’m used to it and love cutting out so much waste.

  3. I am jealous that you can get dry cat food in bulk. That is pretty awesome. Still buying bags of cat food, although Beth Terry’s post on making her own cat food has me intrigued.

    We’ve also had a hard time finding farro, although our Whole Foods does have a very large selection of grains. Great post! 🙂

    1. I was so happy to find the bulk cat food. And I think the store carries a couple of different flavors. I’ve also read Beth Terry’s post on making cat food but I haven’t tried it. I really have to. And it might work for my little Rx kitty.

      Whole Foods does have a pretty good bulk section, although mine is smaller than some I’ve been to. I don’t think it has farro either. Thanks for reading and for the comment 🙂

  4. Wonderful job on your towels but I have a question. Does it really pick up spills well. We have “cloth” napkins that just push the water/liquid around. You never feel dry or that you cleaned up a mess. Comments please 🙂 Ty for an inspiring site 🙂

    1. Oh, I knit the little cloth for washing dishes, not picking up spills. I have also sewn cloth napkins, and the exact same thing happens that you describe. They just move the liquid around. These would probably do that too. But with their nubby texture, they wash dishes well. Thanks for reading and for the comment 🙂

  5. This is fantastic! I wish we had a store like this in our area…

    1. I wish everyone did! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  6. I wasn’t sure how stores handled BYO containers, but this is a great primer. This inspires me to check out some of our cooler local stores!

    1. Great! The local stores are probably your best bet. As for the chains, I can bring containers to the Whole Foods in my neighborhood. I hope that’s a nationwide policy but I don’t know. I would actually like to post a list of BYO-friendly stores across the country. I’ll add that to my posts-to-write list!

  7. The first thought when looking at the picture of those bags was that it is from a third world country. I guess these countries have an advantage over ours in terms of healthy food.

    1. Look at these photos of what people from around the world eat in one week: http://time.com/8515/hungry-planet-what-the-world-eats/ You could rename this photo essay “Why the Western (Now Global) Diet Will Kill You.” In some of the pictures of Eastern or developing countries, you’ll notice similar bags 🙂

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