Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bulk Goods

I sometimes shop at the El Segundo Whole Foods on my way to work. Shopping there need not to be "Whole Paycheck", particularly if you shop the bulk bins. They are the best value in the store.

The first time I brought in my own jars and asked the guys at the butcher counter to tare them, they looked at me blankly. Now, they don't even blink. Why put your food in a plastic bag, then go home and decant from the bag into a rigid container and throw away the plastic bag? I am lazy.

I do use plastic bags for wet produce, and I try to rinse out old ones and bring them back for reuse. I store them in the car inside one of several canvas bags that I use to haul groceries home. Mark argued that I waste water to clean the bags. But I lived in a student-run coop at Berkeley and the kitchen manager had thoughtfully posted the energy and water budgets for plastic bags as well as foods. The water you use to rinse that bag is much less than the water used to transform petroleum into a plastic bag.

If you are a new reader, you may want to read about a very real danger of "conventionally grown" food in What we eat. Whole Foods promised no antibiotics in their meats, ever. That's important if, like me, you are allergic to antibiotics commonly found in animal feed.

Mark is usually in charge of cooking. His recipes are nutritionally sound and tasty, but I couldn't face the greatest hits night after night. I left work 2 hours early one night to shop, cook and store some different foods.

Southern style greens with onions, carrots and bacon. It's based upon a recipe from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook.

My mother's "Double Soy" recipe with baked tofu and edamame.

Steamed and broiled baby artichokes.

I also made minestrone soup with the rest of the greens and beans from the Whole Foods bulk bins. Soak the beans overnight. Not only will that save 15 minutes cooking time, it will also save about 25-30% of the energy required to cook them.

I learned to reuse plastic bags and to bring clean jars to the store for bulk goods from a former employer. As a nineteen year old, I ran errands for a disabled forty something woman in Berkeley. I think she paid me $7 an hour, but I learned priceless lessons from her.

She taught me how to live green and frugally. She taught me the importance of shopping locally to keep $ recirculating in the local economy as much as possible. She taught me how to take business to people whose values were a fit for mine.

She taught me about consumer rights when she had me return merchandise that did not work as advertised. She sent me to Kinko's to photocopy her financial papers, knowing that I would peek. Not only did she not mind, but she explained her investment strategies to me.

She taught me that a true rate of return has to factor in taxes and inflation. She even taught me an important lesson about preserving capital when she temporarily cut my hours because she had a bad investment quarter and needed to pare down her expenses across the board.

She taught me the importance of accumulating capital when young, to guard against disability and other setbacks later in life.

In retrospect, I could have worked for her for no pay and still come out ahead.


  1. Great all around post. I particularly thank you for the information about your early job. It is a good reminder to us all to see where we can make small changes that are huge in the long run.

  2. Sounds like you had your own "rich dad, poor dad" mentor.

    Thanks for all the valuable information!

  3. Anonymous22:08

    When I was buying from the bulk bins at WF, I used my green Evert Fresh bags, transferred the stuff to other containers at home, and continued to use the Evert Fresh bags.

    I've stopped buying from the bulk bins, though, because they can't tell my the country of origin of the products. I've asked both at the store where I shop and online at Whole Foods' website. The store said they didn't know and tried to find out from the company, which didn't answer them. The company website referred me to my local store, claiming that as a "decentralized" company, the individual stores are responsible for buying for their own bulk bins.

    Classic runaround. For all I know those bulk black beans (etc.) are from China. At this time, I do not trust and do not want to support Chinese agriculture.


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