We have finally arrived- it is time to talk about food shopping. Finding food products that do not come in packaging is quite a struggle, especially if you want to shop on a budget. I am still gradually working on this, but here are the swaps I have made so far to lessen my food packaging waste:
For shopping itself, I always use my own reusable grocery bags and produce bags- that is a must. I also bring my own containers for bulk bin buying where I can.
Oat milk, Soy milk, Orange juice – buy in cardboard so only the plastic cap is trash, which we put in our TerraCycle box for recycling
Soda, beer, wine, etc: If and when we purchase these for parties, we buy all in either glass bottles or aluminum cans- no plastic bottles
We really only drink water, orange juice and some soda for headaches in my house, but if we host events we just make sure to buy without plastic, or make from scratch. We make lemonade from scratch with lemons, sugar and water and we make coffee using a French press for guests and coffee grounds that come in a paper bag.
Rice, beans, lentils, pasta: We bulk buy these using our own containers to refill repeatedly. We also only buy dry pasta in cardboard boxes if we want a specific kind- like chickpea or lentil pasta for more protein
Meat Substitutes: We love our beyond meat, Morning Star Farms products and impossible burgers, but they come in a lot of packaging. The Morning Star products mostly come in re-sealable bags that you can wash and reuse for other things, like freezer bags for veggies or something, so you can upcycle those. Beyond burgers come in a lot of plastic packaging, so we buy them in a larger bulk cardboard box and only eat them as a treat. I am really hoping that over time, the companies that make these vegan options will eventually move towards zero waste packaging.
Cheese: Going vegan and cutting out cheese has saved us sooooo much packaging. However, if you are going to eat cheese, you can bring your own container to the deli counter at your local grocery store, buy your cheese by weight and they will put the sticker on your container for checkout rather than on a plastic bag. For cheese substitutes, they all still come in plastic packaging so we use our TerraCycle for that, and also only buy them once in a while as a treat when we have company over for dinner, so it is way less often. We also use nutritional yeast instead of cheese in a lot of dishes, which we can buy in bulk in our own container at the grocery store.
Tofu: We eat a TON of tofu- we go through at least two blocks a week. It really is the most versatile and easy food to eat when you don’t eat meat. Unfortunately, since it comes soaked in water, you have to buy it in plastic. We are planning to buy bulk soybeans using our own glass jars and making our own tofu from scratch rather than buying it in blocks. I will share that process in a later post when we try it, but it sounds pretty simple and is only a few ingredients that we already have at home.
Fruit and veggies: all loose from the produce department using our own produce bags, or from a local farmer’s market. At a farm stand or farmer’s market, you can use your own bag to buy berries and cherry tomatoes- things that always come in plastic at the grocery store. It costs more, but it saves plastic and is also all local, which means no emissions to fly it to your state/country. I have seen Driscoll’s brand of strawberries in new cardboard packaging at Shoprite, so hopefully others will follow this and ditch the plastic packaging. The goal is to grow everything in our backyard that we can’t buy without packaging, like spinach, and our garden has been great to us so far! We are going to expand on it each year, but for now we have tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, spinach, cilantro, basil and parsley growing in our yard. We hope to add tons of veggies, a blueberry bush and maybe even some fruit trees to that list soon! Our neighbors also garden and we are surrounded by farms, so hopefully we can coordinate an exchange with our neighbors for veggies as well. We have gotten squash gifts from one new friend up the street from us a few times already, and want to return the favor and make a trade with them when we can. One other thing I do is try to buy the less beautiful fruit and veggies when I can. Only the prettiest, best colored and sized fruits and veggies end up at the grocery store, and then consumers typically only buy the best looking ones out of each bin. If I can make it work with the uglier sweet potatoes and carrots, I will so that they don’t go to waste. I also only buy fruit products, like jam or applesauce, in a glass jar that we can wash and reuse for bulk buying or tomato sauce.
Condiments: We buy everything in glass jars: pickles, olives, ketchup, etc. What we cannot buy in glass we make at home: we have been making our own vegan mayonnaise and honey mustard using what we already have without spending a fortune on a vegan version that comes in plastic. We buy olive oil in a glass jar from the grocery store as well. You can get refills of olive oils, spices, and vinegars at Mom’s Organic Market. For the spices we use most, we have an herb garden in our backyard. I have yet to find agave in glass at a store local to me, but I am sure it is available online somewhere.
Snacks: We buy bulk nuts, seeds, etc. using our own containers. We buy raisins in cardboard, and the occasional vegan chocolate bar treat in paper packaging. I snack on fruit a lot during the day, and we make homemade hummus to eat as a snack with veggies. We are still working on figuring out everything else- for now we have been buying snacks like Belvita crackers and cereal and putting the plastic wrappers in the TerraCycle, but the goal is to not need to recycle anything plastic at all eventually, so hopefully we can figure out some substitutes for more snacks soon.
Baking: I buy flour and sugar in paper bags, so those are nice and easy to compost when they are empty. For baking powder, salt, cocoa powder, shortening, etc. you can find all of these in cardboard cans that are lined with aluminum, so the only waste is the plastic caps, which again I put into TerraCycle. I am looking into buying chocolate chips in bulk online because they always come packaged in plastic. Baking soda is always in cardboard, and you can find vanilla in glass jars. I have been baking all of our sweets and desserts so we do not buy any cookies or cakes or anything that comes in packaging, and it has saved us a lot in garbage, and is also a lot cheaper if you are vegan. For butter/margarine, I prefer to buy sticks rather than tubs so it is easier to measure out quickly to use for baking. This is the most sustainable way to buy these spreads as well, because you can compost the wrappers and cardboard packaging. Personally, I buy Fleishmann’s margarine because although it is not advertised, it is vegan margarine without being a vegan price.
Bread: As far as bread goes, I am enrolled in the Bimbo bakeries TerraCycle program. My parents live near an Entenmanns outlet that has deals for Bimbo bakeries bread products. They are usually 3/$4, and then expiring bags are $1 a bag. They have Thomas’s brand bagels, Arnold rolls, sandwich thins and loaves of bread. When I visit my parents, I stock up, load all of the bread products into my freezer, and defrost them as we use them. The TerraCycle program is free, and for those prices, I really can’t beat that deal. I use a Book of the Month cardboard box to fill without bread bags and print the free shipping label and off they go to become something else. The true zero waste thing to do would be to bake our own bread, but between working, volunteering and owning a home, I don’t have the time nor desire to get to that level yet.
Ice Cream: Ice cream is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine, and something I don’t like to live without during the summer here in NJ. I was having an internal struggle with trying to find a vegan chocolate that does not contain nuts (allergies) that is also Fairtrade (watch Rotten on Netflix, if you dare), and was having a hard time with my search. Then I discovered Nadamoo. Nadamoo is vegan ice cream that contains certified Fairtrade chocolate, is made with coconut milk so no allergic reactions for me, AND the pints come in compostable cardboard. Win, win, win, win! Oh, and it is probably the most delicious ice cream I have ever had- dairy or non-dairy. I posted a photo on my Instagram of my first pint when I tried it, and the CEO of Nadamoo liked my photo! I was excited, so I followed him and sent him a message complimenting the brand. Yes, I slid into those DMs. AND HE RESPONDED! He said thank you for my message, and shared my message on his Insta story, which made me so happy. I will definitely be loyal to that brand now, and recommend it to everyone every time.
So there you have it- I think this covers pretty much all of the groceries we buy. I want to work on finding brands that have a lower environmental impact, and decrease our packaging purchasing even more. We have a ways to go, but are really cutting down our plastic so quickly and it really is an empowering process. I get more and more inspired when I find a replacement for something, and I feel proud strutting around the stores with my reusable bags and jars. I thought I would be anxious about and feel like people are judging me, but they either don’t even notice me or compliment me on my bags, which just reinforces the good feelings this brings me.