In which I scope out other bulk options and pretty much come up empty-handed

I am a list maker — my brain doesn’t like to focus on details and it’s a coping mechanism — so I’ve found my little plan for this second quarter of the project to be quite motivating, if only so I can cross items off.

On that list: Scope out bulk options at other stores in town.

I was too depressed to take a photo at the other grocery so here's a picture of some homegrown tomatoes instead.

I was too depressed to take a photo at the other grocery so here’s a picture of some homegrown tomatoes instead.

Here’s how I imagined that going: I would waltz in and politely explain that I am looking to reduce my trash if anyone offered to help me. “I’m on a fact-finding mission,” I would say, and then me and my new best friend would traverse the aisles of store (um, these are mostly mom and pop places, that’s why they’d have time to traverse) and I would learn all of the hidden secrets that would blow this zero waste project right out of the water, THAT is how awesome it would end up being.

What actually happened: I wandered around by my lonesome, disappointed by the scarcity of anything I could actually work with.

Ah, well.

First up was the “other” grocery in town. This is the one I broke up with five years ago, for reasons that spanned bad lighting and the fact my shins hit the bottom of the cart all wrong to a terrible selection and cashiers bugging me to go through the self checkout, which, incidentally, no, I will NOT because if I’m in this crappy store, you’re going to have to do something nice for me to make up for the utter despair I’m feeling.

I mean, right?!

Anyway, I found one very, very small bulk section, with half of the bins completely empty and with no labels (so there must not be anything destined for those) and the other half were in a state of complete disarray. Some just had scraps of whatever it was left inside.

Depressing. Except on the bright side, I can continue with my grudge and never go back again. Hooray!

It's stainless. It's steel. It's a huge learning curve.

It’s stainless. It’s steel. It’s a huge learning curve.

Second up was the cute little tea shop near where I sometimes eat lunch. It’s called “The Good Medicine Lounge,” so I thought maybe they’d have some other bulk items besides tea floating around.


What I did find was a filter for loose-leaf tea, stainless steel, the idea being you put it in your cup of hot water and let it steep and then you have your tea. I was like, uh, why can’t I use that for coffee? and the staff was very much into helping me work it through. At one point I had to laugh and say, how ballsy am I coming into a tea shop to talk about coffee? because wow, not their cup of tea (HA HA HA). They warned me that the coffee grind might have to be bigger to make it work, it might turn out too watery, and that it could be an utter disaster. I decided to take the risk. The manger guy was all, well, if that doesn’t work out, we can sell you some great tea! and I was like, sounds good! I can’t see coffee being replaced in my life, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings after he’d been so nice to me. 🙂

I’ve been experimenting with said stainless steel filter, but that is another post for another time. So far it’s not working very well, but I am motivated. And yes, I’m sure there are options out there that work for coffee and would eliminate my need for a paper filter … I just kind of got caught up in the moment and wanted to buy something locally and now am stuck with the repercussions of that choice. This is why I need adult supervision, you guys.

The third shop I visited is a true mom and pop organic grocery. I interviewed the owners for an article one time, and they’re totally committed to the cause. They even have a vegan deli onsite. The space is tiny. I have a feeling it’s more for the tourist crowd making their way down to the river, to fill up the ol’ cooler and all of that, but hey, they’ve been in business for upwards of 20 years, and you can’t make it that far without some local trade, too.

I found the bulk closet (I think it really did used to be a closet) and was disappointed to see about 15 bins, all filled with beans and pasta. Price-wise, my grocery store is comparable. Next came a shelf of bulk items packaged in plastic bags and containers, and then a freezer section with more prepackaged items, like nuts.

They keep it in the refrigerated section. SCORE.

They keep it in the refrigerated section. SCORE.

Then came a small display of bulk herbs and spices, and I was surprised to find activated charcoal — I haven’t seen it at my grocery (although I haven’t looked very hard). They had bulk olive oil hidden beside some laundry detergent, and it was fairly reasonably priced, so that’s one item I could potentially get on a regular basis.

The only other store I’ve been meaning to visit is a German-style deli. It’s been at least a year since I’ve been in. From what I remember, they have deli meats and cheeses, olive oil and hard cider, and they’re super cool with bringing your own containers. This one is a little more out of my way, and convenience is king, etc. So that’s another post, too.

Anyway, what I’ve mostly learned so far is that I’m extremely, stupidly lucky with the bulk aisle at my grocery store. It may not be Market of Choice selection, but wow, we have a lot — on Saturday, I got active dry yeast in my jar for the first time, and then lamented the fact I hadn’t brought an extra jar so I could restock our maple syrup supply.

Extremely, stupidly, insanely lucky.

Next up: I finally make it to Goodwill.