Zero waste vs. regular packaging: The chocolate chip cookie challenge

Instead of going down grocery store aisles willy-nilly, choosing random items to compare prices when it comes to unpackaged and packaged items (because I’m convinced bulk items are more expensive than their packaged counterparts at my favorite store), I decided we needed to be working towards something.

Something like my favorite chocolate chip cookies.

This particular recipe comes from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book (Betty didn’t know it was spelled “cookie” when this thing came out in 1963) — my mother (hey, Mom!) has an original, much loved copy, while mine is just a 2002 reprint. This is the chocolate chip cookie I grew up with, ergo, that’s what makes it the best. I feel that’s a pretty solid argument, to be honest.

A prized possession. Also, is there anything more hilarious than food photography from the ’60s?

Anyway, “The Best Cooky of 1935-1940” was the chocolate chip, and the recipe is as follows (we’ll compare items below):

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2/3 cup shortening (part butter or margarine) — um, no, Betty, margarine will kill you

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped nuts — we use walnuts

1 package (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate pieces (1 cup)

Heat oven to 375º F. Mix shortening, sugars, egg and vanilla thoroughly. Measure flour by dipping method (Trisha’s Note: I have no idea what that means, although my lack of knowledge has not been detrimental) or by sifting (who sifts, seriously?). For a softer, rounder cooky, add 1/4 cup more flour. Stir dry ingredients together; blend in. Mix in nuts and chocolate pieces. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough about 2-inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until delicately browned. (Cookies should still be soft.) Cool slightly before removing from baking sheet. Makes 4 to 5 dozen 2-inch cookies.

Now that we know what we’re making, it’s price check time! We’re starting with the chocolate chips because why would we not?

Ten ounce package, $3.99 per bag; 33.2 cents per ounce (thanks for doing me a solid and figuring that out for me ahead of time, grocery store!)

$10.79 per pound equals 67 cents per ounce (don’t worry, I had Eric check my math).

Well, you don’t have to be a math major to know how that one was going to end, even without crunching the numbers.

Ten pound bag, 4.9 cents per ounce.

Not that it matters because the available sugar at my favorite store is never in stock, but it’s 17 cents per ounce.

So far, my theory is proving correct. I’ve never actually been able to buy the bulk fair trade stuff because I’ve never seen more than the dregs in the bin. I’m not sure if that means it’s incredibly popular of they just don’t refill it very often.

The flour in our natural foods section is all in those plastic packages, so I went conventional aisle. Organic, 5 pound bag, 6.7 cents per ounce.

Another 5 pound bag of “regular” flour, 3.7 cents an ounce.

6.1 cents per ounce.

To be honest, I think I’ll just get the packaged organic stuff from now on, since I’m paying just about as much for “regular” unpackaged at this point.

11 cents an ounce.

4 cents an once!

Well, we’re talking pennies, but this is encouraging.

6.1 cents per ounce.

8 cents an ounce.

Interesting. I thought this would go the way of the salt and be a couple cents less.

93.6 cents an ounce.

87 cents per ounce! 

Well, that makes me feel better. We go through a lot of walnuts.

I don’t buy vanilla anymore because I make my own (tutorial at the bottom of THIS post), but for kicks I decided to compare bulk versus packaged just because I have that option:

I picked the 4-ounce bottle to compare since that’s probably what I would buy: 87 cents an ounce.

$2.25 an ounce. Maybe it also contains gold?

(Not pictured: Shortening, eggs and brown sugar, because, as follows: I am no longer buying organic shortening and am just using butter now — finally used up the last of my container, so that’s exciting; eggs come in a carton, but when I can get them, I like to buy my friend Beth’s — her chickens are happy and their eggs are fantastic; and brown sugar is something I make myself now because I can only get it in plastic, and I’ve been really happy with that change. Alternatively, I’ve used sucanat sugar, but my store doesn’t sell it anymore.)

Anyway, huh — I guess I was right. Bulk items do, in general, cost more, and what IS cheaper isn’t really enough to add up to much of a savings. Although I’m stupidly excited about the walnut math.

Of course, this is just one recipe; not really a thorough study. Maybe I need to try this with a dinner or lunch item? Let me think about that one …

Next up: I broke down and made a reusable coffee filter out of one of Eric’s old t-shirts. I’ll tell you why and how (not that it was hard) on Wednesday.