Tag Archives | bulk food shopping

Compliance

bohcompliance

On the way home from my Worm Ladies field trip and the beach, I made a stop at the Alternative Food Coop. I knew I’d be driving through Wakefield so I planned ahead and packed my car with a shopping kit (a large canvas tote filled with a couple swing top bottles, a couple jars, and some bulk bags). It’s been about a month and a half since my last co-op restock trip and even though I wasn’t completely out of the few package-free supplies I can’t find within walking or biking distance from my home, I decided to fill up then to save from having to make another trip in a couple weeks. I go through a lot of cooking oil. Generally speaking, I use canola oil to cook with and olive oil to dress dishes. Canola has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke… a point of interest because when an oil starts to smoke, nutrients are destroyed and potentially health-harming compounds are formed). It’s also rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat. I can get great bulk olive oil Providence, but not canola. When I entered the co-op I noticed immediately that their bulk oil station looked revamped. They seemed to have more stainless steel fusti dispensers and a larger variety to choose from. A lovely co-op employee approached me and asked if I needed any help. I told her that I would need to tare my swing top bottles before filling them and she informed me that in order to comply with the Rhode Island Department of Health, the co-op devised an new system for the liquid bulk food items. To reduce the risk of contamination from shopping with containers brought from home, customers are asked to use the sterilized funnels provided at the filling station and then deposit each used funnel in a basket to be rewashed by co-op employees. Or customers may use any of the free vessels (pictured above on the bottom shelf) that have been donated by customers and sterilized at the co-op), purchase a clean mason jar to fill, or use a free number 5 plastic container (as seen on the top shelf). Signs posted at the station clearly explain the new system and thank customers for their cooperation. Because they weren’t very busy, the employee I spoke with offered to sterilized my bottles brought from home. This was another way to ensure that there wouldn’t be any contamination from potentially harmful pathogens coming in contact with the fusti spigots. She disappeared with my two large bottles and returned with them washed a couple minutes later. She tared them at the register for me and I was ready to fill.

I had a chance to speak with co-op Manager Rosemary Galiani, about the new system. She explained that the change was spurred by a Department of Health inspection, which determined that the old, funnel-less operation was not up to food safety standards. I think it’s so wonderful that rather than removing the liquid bulk food items, the co-op chose to work with the DoH to come up with several convenient shopping options for customers, and a manageable sterilization system for co-op employees. Yet another reason to support this wonderfully small business.

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Chia seed drink

chiaseeds

This morning I fixed myself a chia seed drink from seeds I purchased in bulk. Chia seeds are considered a “super food” for their nutrient content. Like hemp and flax seeds, they are a great plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also high in calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. Chia seeds can be used like any other seeds you might cook with, sprinkle over a meal, or stir into cereal or yogurt. Because they are high in soluble fiber, they absorb a lot of water and can be used to make a “gel” that can be stirred into  drinks. I decided to give this a try. I mixed 2 tablespoons of chia seeds into 1 cup of water and stirred them occasionally over a 15 minute period so that they wouldn’t clump. Then I made some ginger  lemon tea and mixed in a couple spoonfuls of the gel when the tea was warm, but not hot. I rather like gelatinous foods so I really enjoyed this textured beverage! Chia seeds are said to keep you hydrated and energized so it ‘s not a bad way to start the day. I think I’ll add it to my regimen for a while.

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Bulk love

Karmawoodbulk

I often recall a scene from a western I watched when I was a very young. I don’t remember the name of the film. I don’t even remember the storyline, but I have a vivid memory of this one fragment. A bright-eyed, handsome young man returns home on horseback to his family’s cabin somewhere in the arid, dusty southwest. He’s barrels into the small house, embraces his mother, father, and sister and then proceeds to unpack the contents of his leather saddlebags on the wood farm table in the center of the room. He presents the family with offerings from his travels to a far off place called California. One by one, he reveals amber honey in a glass jar, flour, sugar, and oats in cotton sacks tied with string. He places a cheese wheel wrapped in a white cloth in his mother’s hands and her eyes well up with tears. A family that has gone so long without these basic foods is overwhelmed and overjoyed. I clearly remember the feeling I had while watching this scene unfold. Though each and every gift given was well-stocked in my own family’s modern kitchen pantry amongst shelves full of many other foods, in that moment the essential goods on the screen—carried in simple cotton cloth and glass, seemed to me the most precious and delicious foods in the whole world.

I think of that moment regularly when I purchase foods in bulk without packaging. I’ve written a lot about how bulk food shopping both inspired and continues to enable my No Trash Project. In my first blog post I explained that for most of my life I passed by the bulk food dispensers of my local grocery stores on my way to pick boxed and bagged grains, legumes, nuts, and baking goods off the middle aisle shelves. Shopping in bulk has become an unexpected source of… well, joy. Equipped with my No Trash food shopping gear, I stock up. The steady drizzle of honey and olive oil from stainless steel fusti spigots into glass jars and bottles is mesmerizing. I love scanning the bins and choosing foods based on their actual appearance rather than an enlarged, color enhanced printed photograph. I love scooping the foods into my cotton bags, writing down PLU (price lookup) codes and relaying the information to the store cashiers. I’ve become an expert on judging how much I need to fill the large cylindrical Weck jars that sit on my kitchen countertop without spillover. I love the sound the foods make as they swirls through my large mouth stainless steel funnel and ping against the sides of the glass containers. Jars filled to the brim with edible goods are something to lay great store by. They are beautiful to behold for the potential they possess. Ingredients waiting to become meals. I take great pleasure in the process of preparing legumes and grains to be cooked. Rationing them out in my glass measuring cup. Rinsing rice, quinoa, lentils, beans, buckwheat, and amaranth until the water runs clear from the pot before placing them on the stovetop. I like the feel of the kernels sifting through my fingers as I swish them in the bath. It’s meditative. And I’m always amazed to see how much water dried beans, and chickpeas absorb during there eight hour soak. They seem to draw in life.

Somehow, every step required to bring bulk foods from the bin to my plate makes each meal taste better. With every bite, I feel a kind of appreciation that I never experienced when I bought foods in packaging. I think about the life-giving properties of  these ingredients that were themselves once alive. I think about how my digestive system turns these foods into me. And I geek out a little. And giggle to myself as I polish off every last lentil, grain of rice, or kernel of quinoa on my plate. Precious things.

I will be speaking at Fertile Underground‘s “Packaging Be Gone” workshop tomorrow (Monday, January 14th) from 5-7pm. FUG’s in-store foodie Jillian will discuss the ins and outs of bulk grocery shopping and I will be there to share advise based on my own experiences. If you live in the area, come meet and greet me! I wil do my best to rein in my enthusiasm… but really, I can’t wait!

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Milk & Honey Bazaar

I also visited the Milk & Honey Bazaar in Tiverton. I’d driven by it many times before but had never stopped. Inside they have a beautiful display of artisanal cheeses and jars of local honey and preserves. I did something I very rarely do these days—I bought something in packaging. I was tempted by the golden glow from a jar of Lemon & Ginger Marmalade made at a farm in Middletown, and I couldn’t resist.

I justified the purchase because I know I will reuse the jar and because it’s from a local source. Still, it felt strange because I could make my own preserves at home that would scratch the itch for a sweet spreadable snack. But such projects take some doing and though I’ve gotten pretty good at rearranging my sense of time and responsibility to allow room for the homemade, there are still days when the energy required to make something nonessential but wonderful—like marmalade, just simply isn’t there. So I treated myself and smiled as I ate it.

 

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Farm and sea

Took a trip down to Little Compton this week to celebrate my Dad’s birthday with my family. I got to spend a day at my favorite beach. The weather on Friday was sunny and clear and the warm ocean current moving past the cove made the water particularly inviting. I first visited this place several years ago with a friend who referred to it as “the magic beach”. Giant pink granite rocks that stretch from the shore out into deep water look like dinosaurs lying in the surf. The white sand that surrounds them makes the water appear aqua, as though this tiny stretch of coast was actually in a tropical zone far south of New England. Cement stepping circles poured in a winding path, aid the trek across the back of one of the rocks to a staircase down to the water. Two diving boards are installed there every summer. Taking the plunge from the high board is like a rite of passage.

I’m always struck by how little garbage there is at this spot. It’s private and remote so there isn’t a lot of traffic. But even the water always seems free of debris. Perhaps the position of the beach on the point and the direction of the currents keep trash from riding in with the tide. Being in a natural environment that feels so preserved and untainted is a rare and special experience. These are the places worth fighting for.

On my way back to Providence I stopped at Walker’s Roadside Stand. An impressive display of pumpkins and gourds was practically spilling out into the road. I had some cash and some bulk bags on me (I rarely have cash but I always have bulk bags) so I decided to pick up some produce.

Good gourd!

I love the purple peppers.

There was a huge selection of beautiful heirloom tomatoes on display. Brought some of these home… well actually only a couple made it all the way home because I ate most of them on the ride back. So sweet and tangy.

Cranberry shelling beans!

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Details

Backlit bulk bags drying on the line make me smile.

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Adaptations

brooklynbaggu

I took a trip down to Brooklyn again this weekend. Anticipating the desire to shop for groceries at some point, I packed a hemp bulk sack and a stainless steel container. On Sunday morning, I borrowed my friend’s nylon totes to hit up the grocery store around the corner from her apartment. Inside I found a small dry bulk goods section where I filled up some mixed nuts, a decent organic produce section, and a bakery from which I was able to get some cookies without any packaging—I placed them in a smaller zip nylon pouch. I enjoy the challenge of exercising the project away from home, and so far I’ve found that whether I’m in an urban or rural place, I can find ways around trash. It’s exciting. Granted Brooklyn, NY or midcoast Maine may not be the toughest tests of No Trash… and I certainly tend to surround myself with like-minded people, but it’s nice to realize that my resourcefulness moves with me beyond the 5 to 10 mile area I navigate on a daily basis.

Breakfast was delicious.

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