Friday, August 6, 2010

Get Out Your Grocery List

At my house growing up, Sunday afternoon was often the time for "big shopping," otherwise known as the weekly trip to the grocery store to stock up. Even when I was a teenager, I usually chose to go on these expeditions, as they provided an opportunity to hang out with my mom away from our usual busy environment (cue the: awww!)

I sort of love grocery shopping all of out proportion to its actual fun quotient. Since I love to cook, my Sunday afternoon big shopping is filled with the potential for the delicious things I'm going to make. The trip to the store also provides me with a way to ease back into the business of the week, as I make sure I'll have everything I'll need for whatever is coming up.

Living in a big urban environment, however, I've had to carefully choose a grocery store that best supports my attempts to go green, doesn't bust my pocketbook, and is close to home.

While many greenies swear by specialty, natural markets like Whole Foods or Central Market, I find that even their regular items have been notched up in price. And because of the amount of travel I do, the farmer's market is more of a treat for me than an every week kind of thing (I admit, after a late flight on Friday night, I'm not going to rouse myself early on Saturday for kale).

Hence, I've come up with a list of a few things I want in a grocery store, that helped me choose where to do my big shopping. Maybe this list can help you evaluate your store. (At the end of the post, I'll share where I actually go).

1) Greener options for common products, positioned where you can find them

Sure, there's some greenwashing involved in the marketing of "green" cleaners, paper plates, etc. But I truly believe that greener lifestyle choices won't be adopted en masse if people need to go out of their way to choose them. For this reason, I like it when the options are right there, where anybody can find them even if they aren't looking. They may not be the "greenest" option, but until green is profitable and readily-available, "greener" seems like a good idea. And honestly, I don't feel like I should have to go to a special store to find recycled toilet paper.

2) A bulk section that's more than a candy aisle

What you're looking at, right here, is my favorite part of the store. Dried mango! Israeli couscous! Okay, so I don't buy most of that stuff on a regular basis, but I could and that's what I like. Shopping bulk is great in so many ways - less packaging; no marketing, hence lower prices; the ability to get exactly the amount you want. In particular, I'm a big fan of whole grains, and a good bulk section should provide you with all the bulgur you want. Unfortunately, bulk areas seem to be shrinking at many non-specialty grocery stores, so finding a good one at a reasonably-priced store can be tricky.

3) A selection of organic, fair trade, and vegetarian options for most items

Yes, I am a hippie chick who puts agave nectar in food instead of sugar. I like even my canned tomatoes to be organic if possible, because I don't like thinking that my pasta sauce is destroying the soil. I like to be able to buy coffee that is fair trade and organic, not have to choose between the two. In this day and age, where they can make yogurt that is designed to be frozen and "thaw by lunchtime", I don't think this is too much to ask.

4) Organic and local produce

I know that not everyone wants to pay a little bit more for blueberries grown without chemicals, but I do and I like a store where the organic and local produce is clearly marked and not relegated to a tiny little bin of sad-looking apples.

5) Friendly Folks

There is a store near my house that fits all of the above criteria. They have samples of cookies and even musicians playing during peak shopping hours. But I don't go there except for emergency runs because the people that work there are not friendly or helpful. They act as if, by buying things, you are inconveniencing them. I prefer to drive a little further and go to a store where the staff is kind and helpful and remembers me from week to week.

So, you may be wondering: Catfish, what is this magical place that meets your many desires?

Well, greenies, I usually do my big shopping at Randall's (the local name for Safeway). It has a reputation for being "expensive" but I'm not exactly sure why, and it's certainly cheaper than Whole Foods. (And for anyone familiar with Texas, who might be wondering why, oh why don't I shop at HEB, which is practically religion in the Lone Star state, I'll tell you: there is not an HEB near my house).

Where do you like to do your big shopping?


Darci said...

Safeway! We love it too. And you're right, the people are friendlier there. Although we have to go to Huckleberries for a good bulk section, tempeh, great harvest bread, etc. Glad to see you back!

grace said...

Since I'm carless, my grocery shopping is limited to what I can carry on the subway (not much). Getting a CSA share this summer has cut down on shopping trips significantly, but I have to say that I'm still a WF shopper. Maybe it's because of the urban area I live in, but since I try to buy eco/body-friendly regardless of where I am, the exact same items often cost the exact same amount at WF vs. our local "regular" grocery store (which is a 5-minute walk from my apartment). So, I make the trek to WF for just about everything, and I will swear it is not more expensive than shopping at Shaw's (unless we try to compare, say, locally caught haddock with fish sticks, which I just don't think is fair).

Kaimoana said...

My housemates do the big shopping as I'm stuck at work all weekend.
My food either comes from work (deli with discount) or from the vegies on the street by where I live. Lots of asian grocery stores with piles and piles of fresh fruit and vegies for very cheap. So I tend not to shop for more than a meal at a time anyway, because my produce is fresher and it's only about a 30 second walk to pick up anything I forgot.

Before I lived here, I used to work in an organic fruit and vegie shop and used to get most of my food for free.

There's a place nearby that does good bulk pulses, sugar, nuts, teas, detergents... actually almost anything. And you bring your own containers. But since it's just out of walking distance, I don't tend to go there.

Also here we have the ethical consumer guide that you can buy - it's just a little booklet with info on most products you'll find on your grocery stores' shelves.

Catfish said...

Welcome, @kaimoana to the Light Green family!

I love the idea of a place to bring your own containers. I try to remember to reuse my produce bags, but always forget and have mostly given up on using bags at all, unless I have a bunch of small items -- I'm sure the check-out folks love me.

Darci -- you're right. Spokane's Safeways don't have a lot of natural stuff. Mine has plenty of vegetarian options.

grace - sometimes I go to Whole Foods for specialty items, but I find the Safeway O Organics brand is cheaper than the WF brand. In fact, sometimes its cheaper than the non-organic name brand stuff at Safeway!