“If you want to save money, always shop at full price.” I think I first heard this paradoxical maxim from a friend of my mother’s—certainty from a wise elder. It throws into relief an old truth hidden in today’s consumer society. Most of our money disappears not because we pay too much for what we need but because we buy stuff we don’t need and can’t or shouldn’t use. What better time to do that than at a screaming “Sale!”? Go to any supermarket and look at the cart in front of you; could it even apply to your own?
Food prices are rising steeply. As someone remarked on this year’s heat wave, “Welcome to the rest of our lives.” All is not well with the Earth. As we get sticker shock, it is tempting to whisper, “I can’t afford to shop at the co-op.” But supermarket food isn’t cheaper; you just pay less for it. The land, oppressed labor, and your health pay the difference. It’s a good time to remember that we chose not to live that way but instead to align our practice with our values.
Rising prices are an invitation to practice mindfulness. As you enter the co-op, breathe and enjoy being with friends, in a place where it is a joy to work. Then think of creative ways to fill your needs rather than our impulses. The key to this, for me, is the bulk section. Two pounds of dried chick peas or lentils and the same amount of rice or bulgur or millet costs a few dollars and buys a great deal of food. Invest in a crock pot (not expensive), soak the beans overnight, and you don’t have to mind them while they cook. It’s elapsed time but not your time, and it provides a staple for days.
There are also expensive things in the bulk section that are still cheap to you because you don’t need much. Curry powder—or in another mood, tarragon and rosemary—will transform a dish.
Produce offers another chance to be selective. Things like carrots and kale are wonderfully nutritious, and they won’t break the bank. The more expensive foods like mushrooms are well worth buying in small quantity as seasoning. Shallots cost more than onions, but I happen to prefer them, and since their flavor is more intense (and less is more), I don’t feel guilty about it.
Organic meat is indeed more expensive. It’s a reminder that historically meat has been a luxury or a seasoning. Supermarket meat comes from CAFOs (feedlots), which are cruel to animals and are a greater cause of global warming than cars and planes combined. Whether or not you are a vegetarian or a vegan, it makes sense mostly to eat low on the food chain.
Yes, in the co-op as in any grocery, there are also things in bottles and boxes. I try to keep these to a minimum. Look for what’s on sale—provided you need it! And be proud of belonging to a community that treats its employees, its famers, its members and the Earth with the care and honor they deserve.
This article was contributed by member-owner David Keppel.
The photo here is of the bulk department on the upper level of our original store, up the alley off Kirkwood Avenue. It is easy and economical to pack and purchase bulk products in the quantity you need.