Monday, February 8, 2010

decluttering the grocery shopping, 2010 - sorting out priorities

A few weeks ago I declared my decluttered crafting intentions for 2010. In the spirit of setting realistic goals and paring down my personal expectations, I have also been thinking about choosing just one area of my family's living to focus on moving in a better direction. I figure that if the inhabitants of chez clutterpunk work on living more simply, ethically and sustainably in one area, we might actually make some progress.

I've decided on aiming to declutter the grocery shopping. Because shopping and eating involve all of us, happen regularly, take up lots of time and energy, and bring together a whole clash of issues. What's more, my family needs to tighten our collective belt somewhat as the Beloved leaves full-time work to pursue further study (sigh).

This idea was planted after reading Angie's posts about working on reduction of food waste with her family, in which she included the following startling facts:

  • food production now accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse emissions and requires almost three-quarters of the world's fresh water supply 

  • today three quarters of the world food sales are processed items (adding to the resource used) 

  • half a person's eco-footprint is food related

But I wasn't quite sure where to start, and it was only after reading Meagan's recent grocery musings that I started to sort through my priorities.

See, for my family, there are a number of (sometimes competing) priorities when it comes to grocery shopping (as you can see on the scary-looking flow chart up there in the picture! Yes, I'm a flow-chart nerd). Below are the six areas I've identified as ones that impact on my family's food-buying habits. I've listed the priorities that we'd ideally like to work with under each category.

Health - make a variety of simple and nutritious family meals for everyone to eat (including the fussy toddler), avoid overly-processed foods

Family - establish a predictable mealtime ritual, enjoy meals together, get more organised in order to spend less time cooking and shopping and more time with each other

Ethics - buy fairtrade coffee and chocolate, free-range poultry and eggs, and boycott brands and chains who are ethically irresponsible (eg Nestle), avoid the dominant supermarkets

Sustainability - buy local, buy seasonal, avoid excess packaging, eat less meat, avoid FOOD WASTE

Finances - plan for shops, buy some things in bulk, avoid luxury items, avoid unplanned take-away food

Community - get to know my local butcher and green grocer and support their businesses, share meals with neighbours and friends without needing to be a gourmet

Currently, I'm in the process of working out how these things fit together and deciding which ones should weigh in more. I've come to realise that there are a few actions I/we can take that can help to achieve lots of the positive goals. But I also realise that some goals are going to be compromised by others. I'll share more of these thoughts at a later stage.

I'd be really fascinated to know what your priorities are when it comes to grocery shopping and how you sort it out. Is it all about health, or frugality, or perhaps sustainability? Is it a mixture? Do you have any bright ideas?


  1. Love reading your thought-out thoughts! In case it's of interest, BUC has a food coop every couple of weeks on a Saturday; we've not yet been coordinated enough to attend. Think they sell a variety of dry things in bulk, byo containers? Want to check it out sometime?

  2. Great post Gina. Pretty similar priorities for us, although not having kids means a bigger budget for only two people. We used to pick up things here and there, with a focus mainly on saving time. Only we worked out not planning meals and picking things up when needed doesn't save time at all. So now we set aside a chunk of time on weekend and go to the market with our big shopping bags. We try plan all our meals and that has greatly reduced the amount of food we throw out. Also you get to check and see where your food comes from - we buy local produce wherever possible. I think the markets are absolutely the best way to achieve all those goals - sustainable, less waste, local produce, AND cheaper. And not supporting the big chain stores either (who I have a bit of an issue with). Another thing that reduces metal waste is not using canned beans/chickpeas etc - I try to buy the dried beans and soak them overnight. Also cheaper! Rant over!

  3. Wow Gina - I just posted about this - sort of - but in a much fluffier manner.

    I have just this week started Meal Planning and I can't believe the difference it's made to us (me especially!) already.

    We've not had the usual "Can't be assed to cook, don't have anything in the cupboard anyway" weekend take away, we've not had anything frozen or rehydrated or swimming in chemicals, and it's been great.

    More veggies & more time preparing the food than shopping for it... I could go on & on.

    You've made me think a bit more on the ethics of what we eat - I am an increadibly lapsed vegetarian (used to be vegan for three years, pre Punk), but even when I was vegan I concentrated on not using animal products or products derived from animals, not products from ethically questionable companies.

    When we lived in the Blue Mountains I fell in love with the local food co-op... oh I could have lived in there I tell you - and I wish there were something like that here, but there isn't. I may have to investigate close-ish farmers markets now that I can drive - but driving to get "local" produce brings up a whole 'nother set of issues...!

    Since moving to the country we've done the obligatory vege gardening thing (currently drowning in tomatoes) & have some chooks, though we'll have to downsize both of these endeavours when we move to the cottage at the end of the month, the connection with the food you produce yourself is priceless.

    Good luck in this new approach, I know you'll rock it.

  4. I like this post Gina. I agree with all your food related goals and wish you luck in achieveing them. I believe in spending what it takes to get local and/or organic food for the family. I probably pay a couple of thousand dollars per year more, but I imagine that if you asked an overweight person or someone with an illness if they'd be willing to spend that amount yearly to be healthy, they'd say "yes!". As for the fussy toddler (we have one of those too), we planted a veggie garden last year and she'd gladly eat things right out of the garden that she won't touch on a plate in the house.

  5. Great plan! Here's some thoughts:
    - Menu plan!! Include lunches, breakfasts and snacks as well as dinner
    - Don't deviate from your shopping list once you've made it
    - Keep a list of things on your shopping list that you'll buy only if they're on special
    - If you think you'll desperately want something when you walk past it, consider adding it to the list before you go and avoiding the guilts
    - Allow a couple of luxuries on the list each week to limit the resentment factor
    - Get together a group of 4 families or so who can take it in turns going to the markets to get things like veges and meat (this has potential to be great or a nightmare!?!)
    - Make friends with someone who has a lemon tree

    Off I go to try and implement some of this myself.... I was saying to T last week that one of my goals for the year was to significantly reduce food wastage around this house!

  6. One of the hardest things to do is make big changes all at once, breaking the changes down into doable chunks and instigating them one at a time (say a new one every 30 days) gives you a chance for each one to become routine and lets everyone get used to it before you add the next change. For more ideas like this,

  7. isn't it amazing how closely related a lot of your life is to the simple act of eating?! and that's why making changes here makes big changes for the world. love this post, spot on :)

  8. Great post! For me it's about a few things - sticking to the list, shopping locally (and walking there as much a possible) and minimising packaging. I also use my freezer for bulk purchases and made in advance meals for later on. It has been great reading all of these comments - heartening. Nic

  9. Hi Gina - this is such an issue in our house too... and only recently which is funny. Something in the air? Re what we focus on, we're chaotically going for all three! The Mr and I go for an hour's walk every morning with a backpack and along the way we buy our fruit & veg needs for that day only. Exercise, fresh food, locals shops, no wastage. We meal-plan for the week and the weekly grocery shop is from a list of exactly what we need for that week only. All our meat is from the local butcher (and he is such a love!) and we have a... what do you call a fresh fish shop? Well, one of them locally that we use too. Basically, we are extremely fortunate to have so many local shops here which a lot of Brisbane just doesn't have. We don't do take-away anymore (I'm sorry to say!) and going-out tends to be for dinner at other people's where I make a dessert to take etc. I make 'treats' for the girls' lunches now (cake, slices, biscuits etc) and that keeps the whinge factor down.
    So far, it's working but you do have to keep on your toes. I don't drive either so I can't really afford to slip up as I can't just 'pop out' etc. I've also brokered a share-cooking deal with the Mr (a. because I hate cooking sooooo much and b. because he does the grocery shop near where he works - saves petrol, no extra journey - and if he can't get my ingredients then he has to buy the stuff for what he's going to make instead!) Does that make sense? It sounds mean but he really loves cooking so don't feel bad for him ;) This is what works for us but a lot really depends on your local services and facilities. Anyway, I think all anyone can do is the best within their circumstances. Thanks for another great thought-provoking post, Gina. Kylie x

  10. How about buying your produce directly from the farmer/grower/maker? One of the reasons we love doing farmers' markets is to have a relationship with the people who buy and eat what we grow. It is so wonderful to discuss with them what they are planning to do with it when they get it home and then next time how it went. It sort of closes the circle. They are also a fun and inclusive way to shop with your littlies. X

  11. I am just about to look at this area of the household and feel like I have been given a whole world of good stuff to think about.

  12. Grocery shopping is suprisingly difficult and quite wasteful for me as I live alone. I only shop at Coles or Safeway when I have to order heavy things online. For everything else I try to use the butcher, the fruit and vegie shop, the milk bar, the bakery, the fresh pasta shop, and my local little IGA for everything else.
    Meal planning for my strange appetite and food fussiness just makes it even worse, and sometimes I feel really wasteful when I throw away leftovers. I haven't really come up with any solutions yet!

  13. Hey Gina, you know this will be much easier than you imagine to do! I now use my local butcher and green grocer and am saving money and eating better AND getting more exercise into the bargain as I visit them twice a week at least and it's a 20 min walk there and 20 mins back again. It's made a massive difference to my life, health and pocket. Stick at it, it's totally worth it!

    (Oh and I don't think you'd like my shoes, they're off pink, washed-in-the-dark-wash-by-mistake socks!!)

  14. Hi Gina I think that how successful you are with this really does depend on where you live & accessibilty to food supplies. I'm fortunate enough to live by a butchers & once a week in town we have a farmers market but if i'm getting food after work in the evening then I have no choice but to go to the Co-Op. Luckily they are much more ethical than Safeway or Tesco but I always check what I'm buying, fruit & veg especially otherwise you end up with Peppers from Peru & Mushrooms from Malta! Personally I think I'm off to make friends with a Lemon tree owner as suggested on one of the previous comments! xoxox

  15. One thing we started doing was getting the Aussie farmers' direct box of fruit and veg delivered. This seems to cover a number of issues - fairly good value for money, plus all produce is Australian and in season, plus the $$ avoids going through the big two supermarkets, and more directly assists the primary producers. Also, very little of what comes in the box has any additional packaging, and the box itself is reusable (as kids' boats and cars, usually, or filled with a load of stuff to take to the op shop) or recyclable. The added convenience of home delivery doesn't go astray, either. We're currently taking a summer break from 'the box' to allow us to shop for personal preferences a bit more, but I notice that they now also have a "choose your own" option, which is good.
    Oh yes, and I agree with other commenters: menu plan, menu plan, menu plan!
    Great topic for discussion, I've been thinking about it quite a bit recently too :)

  16. If you have a backyard, even a small one, you could get chooks then VIOLA! You have your own eggs (and meat if you like) and manure plus you're food scraps and fussy toddler waste will feed them instead of going into the garbage. Plus they're nice to have around for stress relieving humor...there's a book...Chooks in the City...

  17. Great post. I'm on a similar mission. My main achievements are so far

    - setting up a reasonably productive vegie garden and swapping food with other growers.
    - buying in bulk where possible.
    - shopping once a fortnight and making do until shopping day if we run out of something (except to get fresh fruit/veg)
    - buying double if a regularly purchases item is on special
    - attempting to menu plan

    Its all helping, I'm noticing less waste, healthier choices and more money saved which are my main goals too. Funnily enough the main money saver is because I'm not in the car every day "going to the shop" I'm not buying petrol.
    Good luck with your mission.

  18. Wow great post Gina and something I am always wanting to spend time thinking more wisely about. You're right, it's a great place to start because it involves everyone, takes up so much time and is one of the greatest weekly expenses. In my mind (yet to be in a flowchart which I too LOVE!) I am wanting to have as minimal food wastage as possible and for me, that all comes down to meal planning. Some weeks I am really in to this and the time spent doing it really pays off in a streamlined visit to the supermarket (no wandering up and down isles wondering what to cook) and less stress for me come dinner time. On the weeks where I can't be bothered (like the last few) everything gets harder, more money is spent, more food is thrown out (well, some does got to the worms but still). Also I find when I meal plan I can completely avoid the lure of the pre-packaged isle for lunch box snacks because I make time to bake stuff. Again, lately this has flown out the window... but no more! Your post has inspired me to get back on to the planning! Keep us posted on how you are going with this won't you? :)

  19. Gina, I love your flow chart and ideas. I am still working on my goal. By the 15th of Feb I will have spent 400 of my 700 budget so it's going to be tight (Thank goodness Feb is a short month! : )) I think one of the things I've had to keep in mind is that if I want to buy fairtrade chocolate and coffee then I'll have to drink less of it. And if I want to use organic butter and free range eggs, we should also use less of them (vegan baking recipes are delicious and offer cheaper and just as delicious substitutes). Good luck and look forward to seeing your progress. xx Meagan.

  20. Great topic Gina. I love your flow chart – its like you went splat on the board with what is in your head. I wish I could make that much sense out of my thoughts.

    Food was one of the first things I addressed when I decided to try and live more sustainably. The first factor I consider is health and taste – i.e. I choose food and meals that are healthy and that we like. In my head – I then dismiss all those items that are not a good choice environmentally (e.g. beef and certain seafoods) and look for alternatives (e.g. Kangaroo) or live without or eat in moderation (e.g. dairy). For the rest I choose the most ethical and environmentally friendly item I can find. I don’t consider the cost because I believe as a society we pay too little for our food and if we go over budget we just eat more frugally (i.e. live off greens from the garden and pantry staples such as rice and dried beans and lentils).

    The weight I put on packaging, degree processed, travel miles or impact of farming methods varies between products. For example – I consider ethical and social issues a high priority when buying coffee because I want to support the East Timor coffee industry – so I buy organic fair Trade East Timor coffee – even though I could get a similar product from Qld. Whereas with veges - farming method and travel miles are at the top of my consideration – we only eat local veges. If I can’t get it locally we’ll do without. Fruit is a little harder and I relax and buy fruit from other locations within Australia and we binge when local fruit is available (e.g. recently enjoyed local blueberries). I should stop there…as I could go on forever.

    Thanks for sharing your thought process. You have actually helped me feel less confused and overwhelmed by the food decisions I have been struggling with.

    P.s. thanks for your email. I'm at work so will answer it tonight - but just wanted to say 'your sweet' :-)

  21. Wow you have read my mind, or as it seems the minds of many with this great topic. It is so true that grocery shopping effects many aspects of family life. Thank you have given me the push I needed to start addressing this. I have been thinking about menu planning for awhile now, for many reasons. mainly reducing food packaging (one of my pet hates) and wastage, to eat much much more healthier, reduce cost, and to eat more sustainably. Thank you for this thought provoking post it was well timed for me.

  22. Hi Gina,

    That crazy widget took me to this post, but here is as good as any for my 'comment'. Hope all is going well in your moving house nightmare.

    I have a little something for you if you are up for receiving little bits from folk you have never met before. It doesn't take up a whole lot of space & if you don't think you will ever use it the boys will use it all up in no time at all! I'm not sure why, but whenever I see it on my shelf I think "I should send that to Gina Clutterpunk".

    So if you want it, it's yours to do as you will.

    You will need to send me an address to send, my email is here so perhaps you could delete this comment to minimise my spam intake


    Wishing you a wonderful Christmas in case I don't make it back here for a while.



“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
~Albert Einstein