Since moving to our new home away from an extremely remote desert town we now have so many options open to us to buy food! Now we have a few major goals we hope to achieve when we buy our groceries: that we spend as little money as possible, that we produce as little food packaging waste as possible and that it is still convenient. Throw in liking to support local business but for us this comes in probably third or 4th as a priory.
I thought i’d do a review of each of the methods we’ve now tried and how it fits with these goals.
Woolworths/Coles (The 2 major supermarkets in Australia)
When we lived in the desert we had no choice but to shop at Woolworths. It was quite expensive for us there and being so remote the produce wasn’t all that fresh. But the range was quite good. Obviously it is convienent going to these stores but packaging wise i think Woolworths is one of the worst offenders for putting things unnecessarily into packaging like fresh produce. Coles is now available for us where we live and I was quite pleased to see a bulk food section for things like snacks, almond flour and nuts and seeds. There seems to be slightly less packaging of produce and I also like the fact they have a bigger range of vegetarian options like tempeh which is just a personal preference. Coles and Woolworths though are the most expensive options for conventional grocery items out of what i’ll review so we now only use it for key items we cannot find elsewhere (like tempeh).
When we first moved to our new home we shopped at Aldi for everything and got very excited about the fact that we could get our grocery bill down to about half of what it was shopping at Woolworths in the desert. This did require us to fit our diet around whatever was available there which is slightly hit and miss but in many other ways we could often get more gourmet food there and still pay less. Now that i’m trying to reduce our packaging though Aldi isn’t the best option for a lot of our food. As my husband isn’t 100% on board with the zero waste thing I don’t like how at the entrance is breakfast cereals and peanut butter in plastic jars which are the first two things he’ll immediately put in the cart. Some fruit and veg is also only available in plastic containers and i personally don’t think it is the freshest. So while i love the dollar savings here i’d personally rather avoid this place if i can. The temptations of all the ‘special buys’ are also not great for leading a minimalist lifestyle. It is fun though so see what bizzare things they sell there though for the entertainment factor – not to buy!
We were gifted a yearly membership and have been twice here now. Personally i don’t think this choice is all that great for either saving money or packaging. The problem for most people will be the enormous amount of temptation to buy unnecessary things there. I’ve even compared the prices of many things we buy compared to even Woolworths and often it wasn’t cheaper. Also while it is bulk buying it still has enormous amounts of packaging for most things, you just end up with multiple packets taped together. I think this is where a lot of people don’t understand the concept of ‘bulk buying’ to reduce waste especially in Australia where we don’t have many true ‘bulk stores’. A proper bulk store is where you bring your own packaging and put the items into it from bulk bins, not just buying a lot of something.
The other thing i’m not a fan of Costsco for is that it just doesn’t stock the kind of food we eat. We eat a lot of beans for example and the Australian Costcos have no dried beans and an extremely limited range of very salted canned ones. I do like their frozen edamame and fruit though despite the packaging 🙂
My family is from Brisbane which have the most wonderful farmers markets with really cheap fresh fruit and veg. Here in rural Victoria though i have yet to experience anything like that. We do go to smaller local markets regularly though, mainly for the enjoyment factor and buy what they have. It is a very limited range though and i’m noticing more and more stalls are now even prepackaging their produce in either plastic containers or plastic mesh bags which is also disappointing. I’ll still continue going though to get what isn’t packaged and i now have a regular bean lady that has a stall at all our local markets where i can get my dried beans package free.
Fruit and Veg Shops/Butchers/Bakeries
We recently discovered a fabulous chain of fruit and veg shops in Ballarat (Curtis fruit or something like that) that has amazingly cheap, fairly fresh unpackaged produce. This will now be at least a fortnightly maybe weekly visit for us and where i think we’ll be go for the majority of our produce until we are growing all our own. Fruit and veg shops vary enormously though, i went to another in Ballarat that was insanely expensive and it wasn’t even organic to justify the cost.
I don’t personally eat meat but my husband does so i tried our local butcher. I asked him to put the mince and chicken breasts i ordered in my own containers. They did but didn’t seem to understand how to tare their scales so i wasn’t paying for the weight of my own container. This is a bit of a disincentive to go back, i might try another butcher in Ballarat.
Since i’ve started baking my own bread i don’t really have a need to buy it from the bakery but in theory i could ask them to put my bread in my own bag or hand it to me without packaging. Definitely a good option and it would be nicer than supermarket bread.
This is growing on me and now is by far my favourite way to buy food, at least the kind of food we can get there. We joined the Ballarat food co-op which is open for limited hours two days a week. So connivence wise it isn’t great but i love the fact that it is completely zero waste, they know how to tare their scales for my bags/containers and that i’m supporting a local enterprise. I did have to buy a membership and will have to volunteer but this is totally worth it and i feel like part of a community now. The first time i went i was a little disappointed in the range of stuff they had, they are a small group after all. But the next time round there were lots of new things and the things i was exactly looking for. Price wise i feel like it is pretty good. They aren’t for profit so that help, a lot of what they have is organic which i don’t usually make a priority. But i’ll continue to go and use them for all my nuts and seeds, bread flour, some dried beans, epsom salts, honey, olive oil, bicarb soda, pasta and rice needs. They also have occasional fruit and veg and they do have eggs but i can get them cheaper from a lady down the road from me so I support her.
Finally I have been involved in the local produce swap. This is run at a community garden and the idea is people bring in things they’ve grown or made to swap for other things. No money is exchanged. I love this concept and have gone as often as i can (it is held monthly). I haven’t been able to grow much yet having only just moved to our farm but have baked and made things like soapnut cleaning products etc. A lot of our garden is now planted with seedlings we got at these swaps. Obviously these are not a reliable source of groceries but I did want to include this as it is a lot of fun, is certainly zero waste and makes food gathering an experience in involving yourself in a community – perfect for someone new to town!
Obviously all of these options will vary based on where you live. I haven’t included farm boxes as i haven’t experienced them myself yet. I’ve looked into it but they have all seemed much more expensive where I live than the other options I have available, but they might not be for you.