Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Normal?

I still think of us as normal, but in all honesty this probably threw us over the top into the realm of what my son will refer to as "his weird parents" when he is a teenager. To stop buying packaged foods in favor of those made at home was a very simple change that our household has made over about 3 months and it has done significantly more! This never began as a way to "Go Green." It was honestly that our food bill was reaching $300 a month and that just wouldn't do. We couldn't just stop buying food, something else needed to be done, so slowly we began venturing into the bulk food section of our local grocery store. Bulk foods generally cost less money because they can be purchased by the store in very large quantities and they aren't packaged. What shocked me was that many of them were the exact same product just without the box, and we were just going to put into the trash (or recycling) anyway.

We get everything from grated Parmesean and Ramano cheese to locally milled, all natural, whole wheat flour. We can get all natural wild rice, organic beet sugar, multiple varieties of raw nuts, dried fruit, whole wheat pasta, dog treats, candy, dark chocolate chips, and bajillions of other things in bulk foods that we could never afford in the swanky natural section packaged up in small quantities. The greatest part is not only are we getting a product whose quality is better than the packed brand name, but we are getting it for cheaper.

This seems as though it goes against all common sense and depending on where you live, it might. We are not shopping at Fred Meyer (Kroger) with their small (though ever expanding) bulk foods or at Wild Oats (Whole Foods) and some upscale market places where everything costs more. We are fortunate enough to live around a regionally employee owned supermarket chain which provides dozens of selections of bulk food. However, an internet search might find you amazed at the number of stores offering such options. When our store stopped carrying raw sugar, I went on a quest to find more in bulk. The internet search gave me five other places which were much closer that carried the product. The difference in price was about 60 cents more a pound because the stores were independent and not a chain, but still well below buying the sugar in a package.

As much as Jules likes it, he has said it was the largest degree of culture shock to him. Where would we store all these jars of stuff? We are going to look into the pantry and not see anything to eat. This isn't the way normal people live. Coming out of a grocery store with all these bags of dried stuff, coming home to put all the dried stuff into jars on our shelves, not having any bright flashing plastic like presents ready to open caused him a mind glitch. Now, our cabinet doesn't have hardly any of them. Mainly we are now filled with large glass jars harboring everything from corn meal to black beans. However, Jule's admits his favorite part of this whole process is emptying the contents of all our bags into the jars and watching our food supply slowly grow. It is a level of security for him to know that every month we are slowly accumulating more flour than we use, more beans that we eat, more corn meal than I turn into bread. By having an ever growing (if however slightly) supply of food right on hand, it is a nice saving grace for the stress of a recession. It also means that if we don't have the money one month for a specific staple, we have some backup. As long as I create the snacks from the dried foods, he is happy to eat them. I like that the pantry is no longer clogged with box upon box of stacked treats and never being able to see anything. In fact we have more storage now than we ever did before!

The initial output for unpackaging you pantry is a little more because you have to have a place to store all of your culinary treasure that is now without its box. Standard glass jars can be purchased most anywhere (even Ikea) and cost around 10-20 dollars a piece. (I think we got ours at Fred Meyer (Kroger)) Once purchased, they last forever and are dishwasher safe. More than anything you want to be sure they have a lid that will seal either with a rubber ring and clamp or a twist on lid. This will keep the air out and your food from getting stale. It also helps with keeping the moisture from your food. Even simpler and without the cost is to save glass jars you would normally recycle or throw away. Many products from spaghetti sauce, to salsa, to sundried tomatoes come in glass jars with securely sealing lids. By running these through the dishwasher and saving them you have food storage without the cost of a large glass storage jar. The only draw back is merely size. If you chose to buy jars, you will recuperate your cost of the containers in mere months, have much better food to show for it and much fewer items in your pantry to take up space!

The initial thought I had about going over to bulk was "Where would we put it all?" I had no idea it would actually thin out our pantry because I had no idea how much packaged and processed food we actually ate. Now, that we have transitioned over to bulk foods and I have been reading up on the subject it kinda creeps me out!

Many things about the way our culture acquires its food I'd never really considered. However, I needed to do so reading up on ways to lower the costs of our household, and on ways to make it run outside of the mainstream. We were (and in many ways still are) a highly normal American family. I didn't honestly know much about food storage, or how much flour the average family uses in a month when making their own food (the internet tells all), or what goes into making corn bread without a box. So I hit the local library and began reading, I started with Google and began searching, I hunted down blogs and began asking questions of people who were living this way. That is when I began to realize the extent of our agriculture in this country.

Currently, each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles. The amount of fuel it takes to put a meal on the table outweighs the amount of energy we gain from consumption of the food itself. Not only is fuel consumption created in direct transport, but also through processing, packaging, warehousing, and refrigeration. This doesn't even count the fossil fuels used in the synthetic fertilizer and pesticide used to grow and keep the food perfect looking.

Just think of it this way, if every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons but barrels.
Statistics and Information acquired from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Our families grocery bill is now $150 a month ($200 if you add the pet food and supplies) and we rarely ever go out to Taco Bell or Burger King anymore. We no longer associate cereal with a cartoon character, fruit with packaged gelatinous chewables, and Macaroni and cheese with a blue box. I make our food. I know what goes into it and where most of it came from. Our garbage bill has been cut %75 because we now have pick up only once a month due to a complete lack of packaging and an ever growing compost bin. More than anything else, we aren't getting sick anymore.

Jules spent most of last year feeling ill; when he got sick so did the Spicy Barracuda. Neither have had much over a day or two of feeling as though the onset of a cold might be coming. Though I have no direct evidence this is from a change in our diet and decrease in stress, there isn't much else that has changed. In general, we just feel better now that we eat better.

2 thoughts:

jaderabbit said...

One thing I really like about buying in bulk is that there's less packaging in the trash. Have you noticed the same thing? We recently went down to the smallest bin our garbage utility offer (which also costs half as much as the next largest).

Granola Girl said...

We're in the same boat! Our trash company doesn't allow you to choose the size, ours is how many times they pick up in month. We're down to only one and the price break was a nice unforeseen perk!

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