This post started out as a reply to a post on a friend’s blog. After writing this fairly lengthy post and thinking “Wow, that’s not a comment, that’s a post in itself!”, I decided to post it here. The original poster can read my comment here! Please take a moment to read her post before reading on here so you have some context for what I’m writing.
Buying in bulk is a great idea, but it does have some drawbacks.
First, it forces people to plan ahead a little bit. To have an idea of what they want to fix for dinner sometimes a day or more ahead of time. For folks who may have been raised on fast food or microwaved meals, that’s quite the change. Additionally, people need to know how to work with the bulk ingredients to fix their meal. Again, could be a big change for many.
Bulk also is not always better. Some things like beans and grains, when you can get them in organic (something I have enough trouble with at some “natural food” stores at times, I have no sense of optimism for Safeway and other national chains) are definitely better as well as cheaper. Other things, like baking mixes, soup mixes, trail mixes and granola can be filled with additional crap you may not want to eat, including in their organic varieties.
If you are simply looking to save money, then buying bulk is a huge savings. However, we’re about more than the money. Even those who are on assistance should be thinking about more than the money (and yes, it’s tough. I’ve had to rely on the food bank before, I know what it feels like). We should be looking at bulk to save money and reduce our packaging (great tips on taking your own containers, by the way). We should also be demanding and buying organic products for our food, for our personal care, for our household care and cleaning, for our clothing and other textiles and for our pets (you can make your own pet food—I do and save probably around 10% over organic pre-made cat food). Personally, I’ll go buy a can of organic beans (Eden Organic uses cans without the BPA lining in some of their low-acid products, and jars for higher acid foods like tomatoes) if the bulk offerings are not organic.
Conventionally-grown foods are heavily treated with herbicides and pesticides. Some of these are absorbed into the edible parts of the plant; some of the chemicals contaminate the soil or leech into groundwater contaminating our drinking supply. Additionally, a growing number of conventional foods are genetically modified. The combination of these two factors leads to an agricultural monoculture which not only waters down the diversity of foods available, but also places our entire food supply in jeopardy should we experience massive crop failures of the one variety of this or that which the agriculture industry has deemed worthy of growing.
Organics are also a social justice issue. Buying organic products, more often than not, means supporting local farms and farmers. Yes, I know that there are big names making inroads into organics (such as Heinz), and you can find an organic house brand even at Safeway. But if we get out of the packaged foods aisle, and if we get out of the chain supermarket and start going to the farmers markets, we connect with those growing our food and bringing it to the market. We can ask about the methods used to grow our food. We can see their organic certification. We can share recipes with them and give them feedback about what they are growing and selling; what we liked, what we’d like to have next season. As we give these hard workers our money, we support them, their families, and those they employ. We’re putting folks to work either in our own communities or in those nearby.