I did the week’s grocery shopping today with Mark Bittman’s book, Food Matters, fresh in my mind. Much like those grapes from Chile that got me started down this road, certain food items I saw in the store today took on a new hue, like they were off-gassing the cumulative product of all of the fossil fuels, fertilizers, and other chemicals that went into their production and transport. That perspective made them less appetizing and effectively kept them out of my cart.
The list I carried was very much like every other week’s list I’ve shopped with. It contained the ingredients and staples we’d need to for the week’s planned meals plus school lunches and snacks. The difference today was what I reached for to fill each item. If the label showed a long list of ingredients with extensive names, I didn’t put it into my cart. If it came from too far away, I looked for a more local version or simple didn’t buy it but found something that would make a reasonable substitute.
I stocked up on fruits and veggies first, then some dried fruits and nuts, taking care of snacks and lunches. I grabbed a couple loaves of bread, as I usually do, but chose different ones this time, only whole grain with organic ingredients, locally baked (only blocks from here in fact). I bought a dozen eggs from a local farm instead of the slightly less expensive ones from a few states to the west. I bought less meat and fewer dairy items and made sure they were certified organic and local. I caved on the Greek yogurt, though. Yes, it comes from far away, but I love that stuff. The honey and granola I mix with it will be locally produced however. The cheese I bought came from Wisconsin, just one state over.
On balance, my shopping cart’s contents represented a much lower carbon and chemical footprint than is usual for me. Did it take me longer to shop this way? Not really, maybe a few minutes, but nothing I’d notice. Was it more expensive? The ticket came in at $140. That’s not unusual for our family of four. A week’s worth of food for us usually ranges between a hundred and a hundred and sixty or so. Certainly some of the items I chose were more expensive that what I’ve bought in the past, but again, on balance, not a big change on the bottom line.
I’d say it was easy too. I walked in with some new ideas in my mind and new criteria to use in choosing among items. Nothing tricky about it. But looking at my cart, I could see the potential for a large cumulative effect if we shop like this every week. Based on a pound of grapes and six pounds of carbon, I’d estimate that we saved 120 – 150 pounds of carbon just in the groceries this week.
So how’s it all taste? So far (all of two meals and a snack) just fine. We’ll see the week goes.