A Brief Bulk Experience

I attempted an eco-adventure with my oldest two children last week. Both of my containers for flour and brown sugar had run out, and I set my mind on walking to the nearest grocery store with bulk baking supplies. It was time to test out a local, reusable-packaging source instead of my usual paper-packaged flour and plastic-bagged brown sugar.

I was bound and determined to visit the local market last Monday. The skies were clear and the temperature on the warmer side. But in the usual bustle of getting back into the school routine, other things took priority. So come Tuesday, the need was more pressing because my baking itch hadn’t been scratched since before the weekend, and I had cookie recipes calling out to me! The day was cloudy but warm to begin with, but by the time the kids were home it had started to rain, and I was slightly frustrated. Though rain in North Carolina can be gentle, we were facing a torrential downpour. And neither I nor the children have the gear to survive a miserable journey like that. The next day was packed full already, so I gave in. We drove to the store. I really had wanted to do this on foot (fewer emissions, yay!), but procrastinating bit me in the butt this time. Trying to make this a learning experience so I’m more prepared in the future.

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See how excited I am to be driving a quarter mile down the road? So thrilled.

Once we were in the store, we had to get our containers weighed and stickered so the cashier would know how much weight to deduct from the scale when we went to checkout. The woman who helped me was friendly and efficient, so we made our way to the bulk area.

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Did you know that organic jelly beans run $13.99 a pound? Did you know that young elementary school kids have no concept of money? Or weight?

After prying my desperate kiddos away from the highly unnecessary jelly beans, we found the flour. At $1.29 a pound for organic unbleached flour, I knew this was more than I’d been paying at Aldi, but I thought it wouldn’t be too crazy to try. Next, we went looking for the brown sugar, but the closes thing we could find was turbinado sugar, with similar caramel color but larger sweet grains. Given my level of commitment for cookies, I got a small amount (at $2.29 a pound) and said I’d try it.

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Now, I have pretty good kids. Relatively good at listening to me and my husband, and with reasonable self control about not touching things they shouldn’t. However, it’s safe to say that no kids have perfect restraint. During the process of finding and scooping just these two items, they were both grabbing and touching things we weren’t interested in. And it was nearly 5pm, so it was slightly crowded. I have the tendency to be a little too worried about what other people think of me, so while trying to be patient with the kiddos, my head was on the verge of exploding. Also, I’m pretty sure a worker stocking things nearby was giving me side-eye for trying to take photos with antsy kids and other people trying to get through. So my embarrass-o-meter was pinging, I wanted to die only a little bit, and could you children please leave those jelly beans alone?

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I had brought a jar to fill with a fun treat of some kind and went for size over quality: some yogurt-covered pretzels ($7.49/pound). They take up lots of room while being light, and seemed like a much more satisfying option than those cursed candies. Children placated, we headed for the checkout. We ended up at the same stand as where we’d had the containers weighed, which made my cheery but final “Have a good day!” earlier feel redundant (once my social anxiety is up and running it’s hard to stop over-analyzing). But I survived, the children only had to be reminded once that we were already buying a treat and didn’t need to get chocolate bars, and we made our way home through the rain.

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Here were the costs:

Organic all-purpose flour: $4.14

Turbinado sugar: $2.22

Yogurt-covered pretzels: $2.25

With tax, my total of $8.78 stings a little. I realize that this store is like a local version of Whole Foods, but as the only nearby option with bulk products, it’s not realistic to make this my go-to place for these items. At Aldi, I get much larger quantities of the flour and (actual) brown sugar for about $3.50, plus just $1 for a similar amount of sweet pretzels.

The experiment has left me wondering over the last week. Are there other bulk options a little farther away? I don’t have the space to store my own bulk amount of basic food items, so I have to access my food in small amount frequently. Why is it that cheaper food is not as good for the earth (due to production and/or packaging)? Why is it so difficult to cut back on the indulgence items to make room for better practices? Are organic jelly beans any better for the earth or the body?

So I want to keep trying to find a better way to reduce the waste byproducts of my food. It’s going to take a little more searching, since I really would like to find a local option if possible (I miss you Winco!!). But it was eye-opening, even on this small scale, and I will keep you updated on my progress!

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