A Day In The Life: Grocery Shopping

You guys asked for it. Here it is. A Day In The Life series post on grocery shopping. And it’s a doozy. This is my longest post yet. But really, grocery shopping isn’t a little task on life’s to-do list. We do it each and every week. Bleh.

If there was one adulting duty I wish I could make happen with the wave of a wand it would be grocery shopping. But alas, I am too broke for that kind of fancy service.

But because grocery shopping, especially sustainably, isn’t something you do half-assed, it’s best we take this nice and slow.

Let’s start with tips on grocery shopping, the sustainable way first, and some of the basics. First thing’s first, I want to be clear. My fridge is EMPTY by the end of the week. We do not let food go to waste. Really, by Sunday our fridge is down to condiments and a couple of eggs, a couple pieces of fruit and some bread. It’s enough for us all to have brekky and the cycle starts again on Monday. If we need to, we make “fridge clean outs” for meals like stir fry, sauces or soups. But that’s how it should be. Did you know a whopping 58 per cent of all food produced in Canada — 35.5 million tonnes — is lost or wasted? That’s about 300 times as heavy as the CN Tower. That’s crazy!

In fairness, I have backyard chickens. So if I ever do have waste (like apple cores) they eat it up! And I reap the reward of fresh eggs. Don’t forget to check out my post on the cheapest and easiest soup stock made from scraps like skins, peels and food waste.

Food is a fundamental requirement of life on this planet. However, the basic structure of today’s linear “take-make-dispose” food system is unsustainable — economically, socially and environmentally.

Circular Food Economy as part of the Smart Cities project.

A further reality check, I set aside a budget of $150 a week. Firm! I feed myself, a partner that eats well, two kids, and on weekdays, a third kid breakfast and after-school snack, each day. As a guiding point, here are my four tips to save money while saving the planet:

  1. Most of my meals are vegan or vegetarian. I just can’t afford to make meat meals each night, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to. In fact, the more I learn, the more I am aiming for a fully dedicated plant-based diet. I know you’ve probably heard this, but the meat-industry is not only a disgrace, from a humanity point of view, but worse off, cattle are also polluting our planet. Yes, methane is produced in the guts of livestock as a result of methanogenic microorganisms. A typical cow releases 100 kilograms of methane a year and the world has about one billion cows. Since methane is a greenhouse gas, this exacerbates global warming. You do the math. By keeping to Paul McCartney’s Meat Free Mondays or even swapping a fraction of beef meals to poultry meals would make a grave difference. I have added more video trailers of documentaries I suggest watching in my Where You Can Learn More section that might help understand why a plant-based (vegan) diet is so crucial to the planet’s health.
  2. Buy items on sale. When I go to the grocery stores, I make sure to price-match and use flyers. Do note, I hit up traditional grocery stores only for items that don’t put pressures on the environment. Think of items that come: in paper (white sugar), in canned goods (beans and tuna), in glass-bottles (vinegar and oils) and free of packaging like produce (non-bagged, of course). More on this later!
  3. Buy day olds. I love hitting up local bakeries for bread. When I do score my fresh loaves, I make sure to bag them myself using my cloth bags and skip on paper bags all together. Bakery bread is so much tastier and better for you, but it can be a little pricier, so instead, I look for deals on the day olds. These are items that are past their prime, but still awesome. They’re just not out-of-the-oven fresh, so bakeries sell them for a fraction of the cost. I will buy up MANY loaves if they are well priced. Get them sliced and then place them in the freezer (which is perfectly perfect to toast). The same goes for bagels, pastries, etc.
  4. Bake and don’t buy. I bake once a week. Baked goods at grocery stores come in all sorts of plastic, and they’re not cheap. And actually, a lot of bakers do the same. I get it, but I HATE it. I know I want something decadent with morning coffee at work. I know my kid wants something “yummy” for first break. I know I want to hide veggies in them and make them free of plastic packaging. So, once a week I whip up a zucchini/banana/chocolate chip loaf or a spinach/chocolate loaf, or this season I am into banana/sweet potato/grain loaf.

Are you already feeling overwhelmed? I get it! It’s a lifestyle change. You’re gonna have to get uncomfortable. I had to really convince my partner that chickpea “meat”loaf was awesome (by the way, it is). That cauliflower made wicked “chicken” fingers (honest, it does). And the first few trips took me like three hours. Now I am in and out and back home in half that time. And I didn’t do all this right away. Nah man, it took me a couple good months to get into it. When I first started I used these guidelines to steer me:

  • Stick to items that come in paper and not plastic. Essentially, bulk refill shopping is the way to go for stuff that comes packaged like spices, dried fruit, brown sugar, etc. Check out my Bulk Refill Pantry Shopping post for a full how-to.
  • Pick up produce that’s loose and not bagged (i.e. onions and avocados). For the love of all things, use a reusable produce bag. It’s just not hard. I just can’t get enough of All Things Preserved‘s mix bags that are perfect for produce or dry goods. And they’re all upcycled from old curtains, and handmade.
  • Choose produce that’s organic. If you can’t afford all of it organically (and I cannot), let the Dirty Dozen list steer you. This is a list of the dirtiest and most pesticide-used produce, so organic options should be a priority. It might surprise you, but apples, strawberries, kale, spinach and potatoes are usually on the top. I stick to conventionally grown produce for the Clean Fifteen.
  • Skip the meat all together. Of course, I said it above, reducing our dependency on the cattle industry is key if we want to save the planet. The majority of fast food beef supply comes from cow farms that are in the Amazon, and corrupt governments are burning the planet’s forests so it can be converted into useless grazing spots for the beef. But when we buy meat, let’s make sure it’s raised humanely and that it had a small carbon footprint to your house.
  • Hit up farmers’ markets, produce stands, and farms for everything else.

So I mentioned that I feed a lot of people, and with only $150 each week. Meal planning is key! I always start by looking in the freezer and auditing what meats I have. Then I do a look to see what’s in the pantry. I can almost always guarantee I have nothing fresh left. With that said, I usually have 1-2 meats in the freezer. This week I decided I wanted to make:

  1. Cauliflower “chicken” fajitas
  2. BBQ chicken with a quinoa and broccoli casserole
  3. Roast beef dinner with brussel sprouts, carrots and mashed potatoes (it’s Fall when I wrote this, so when in Rome)
  4. Carrot and coconut, Thai-inspired soup and grilled cheese
  5. Pasta broccoli
  6. Take out (once a week, always. It’s our treat as a couple with kids who often have to stay in, and this comes from our “spending allowance” budget line). Don’t forget to bring your own containers to reduce waste and save some money as a lot of places offer a discount for BYO. And say no to the plastic cutlery. Get inspired with one of my first posts where I tell plastic to ‘fork’ itself!
  7. Fridge clean-up

This meal plan above always includes breakfast, lunches and snacks, but those items are often already in the house and need minimal restocking (i.e. bulk refill oatmeal or dry ingredients for pancakes) or need to be replenished weekly (i.e. sustainable, line-caught tuna or oat milk). I will get all the ingredients I need for the above meals, plus snacks, veggies, fruit, cream for my coffee, bread, etc. with $150. Keep in mind I buy in bulk and on sale, so things like peanut butter or butter are often bought up in bulk, on sale, and things like fruit, I get seasonally, locally and weekly.

You can see, I try to buy in season and ingredients that work for the week-at-large. So if I don’t use up all the broccoli I thought I would need for the casserole, I know it can go in the pasta dish. The peppers I roast for the fajitas can all go in the soup if I don’t use them all. Most meals often work as leftovers for lunch (and if not, hardboiled eggs and tuna to the rescue!).

Take a deep breath. How are we all doing so far?

Ok, back I go.

So I know what I need. Now to hit the road and pack up for the experience. I will need:

  • reusable shopping bags
  • reusable produce bags
  • a couple reusable sacks
  • a couple reusable containers

Because I only have $150, I keep things pretty simple, here is my route:

  1. Farmers’ markets and/or farm stands/grocers. This is always step one. I always want to buy what’s in-season, and fresh first. That way, I know whatever I couldn’t get here, the grocery store is sure to have it. That’s why grocery stores are my last step. At markets I pick up items like veggies, fruit, cured meats for snacks (in my own container), chicken things for the BBQ (in my own glass container), oat milk and cream in glass jars that have deposits, eggs (if my chickens aren’t laying enough, which is starting to happen as they age), cheese, wrapped in my own beeswax wraps. STOP: If this is making you feel overwhelmed, don’t let it. I want you to know that shops (and I) are here for you. If you don’t know if a local grocer or market makes these accommodations, call them, or the next time you’re there, ask them, “hey, can I bring my own wrap or container for such and such an item?” and see what they say. That’s how I started! I talk about nerves and jitters and this approach of calling ahead in my Bulk Refill Pantry Shopping post, too.
  2. Bulk refill store. If I feel I am down on something, I hit up the bulk refill store. I don’t always. I try to do this once a month to once every 2-3 weeks. I am fortunate that my local low-waste, bulk refill store is on my bus route from work. So is my bakery I like. Try to think of your carbon emissions when making this route. After work sometimes, I walk up one to two bus stops to make a pit stop to the bakery. That way I am not driving there unnecessarily. Here is where I grab some items I need that the grocer or farm stand doesn’t have. This week, honest, I just didn’t need to go, so I didn’t. Especially since I did this big run about 2 weeks ago.
  3. Grocery store.
  4. Zerowaste Online Shopping. Here is something I didn’t mention before, because it’s a new experience for me, but I have been adding groceries from a local online, no-waste grocer called Zerocery. I plan to do a blog post on my experience with them, separately, but I will say I am super impressed so far with my two months worth of orders, and they carry loads! I can’t believe I can buy Barrie’s Asparagus tortilla chips from them with no waste!

So now you are home. And now you’re tired. And now you’re thinking after your first trip to do this new way that you want to give up because it was long. But you know what drives me every day? How good all my food tastes. How rich my meals are. How happy and healthy my family is and especially knowing I am doing my best, on a tight budget, within my means, to save the planet for future generations.

Out of all the blog posts I have done so far, this habit or lifestyle choice might be the hardest to change over. I get it. Traditional grocery shopping is easy. Packaged muffins, cellophane-wrapped everything, imported produce, but at what cost? It might even be easier on your wallet, truthfully, but this is the one thing I do where the planet and our health outweigh my pocket book and the convenience. And it will be become easier. But you know what? I love it! It feels so damn good. And that’s an easy thing to get used to.

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