Sometimes sustainability presents itself in the most unsuspecting places. Similar to the every-day beauty which surrounds us in this world, it simply takes the act of noticing and acknowledging it. About a year ago, I found sustainability under the harsh fluorescent lights of aisle #17 at my local grocery store. The January before last, my boyfriend, Sam, and I uprooted ourselves from the brackish shores of the Chesapeake Bay and set out on the road in search of adventure. Four months, thirty-five hundred miles, and too many In-N-Out burgers later, I found myself gazing hungrily into the empty kitchen cabinets of my new home in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. I took out my yellow legal pad and wrote down my grocery list in the blocky, all-caps handwriting that I use when I mean business. After so many months on the road, it felt good to have a purpose, even one as small as filling cabinets with food. I tend to suffer from a bad case of grocery store amnesia. As soon as I feel the icy blast of air conditioning and am forced to press myself against the avocado display to dodge the bustling carts, I forget everything I came for, grab some chips and salsa, and run out the door. So for me, lists are imperative. Clutching my crinkled list in hand, I braved the whoosh of frigid air and embarked on my shopping scavenger hunt. As I stood under the buzzing yellow lights of the grocery store, I was drawn to an aisle that was different than the rest.
I gazed down the bulk aisle, mesmerized by the colorful and orderly containers of food. There were green, orange, and brown lentils, every kind of granola a girl could dream of, a wall of spices, chocolate chips, and dried fruit. Even soap, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner were available in bulk. Scales hung from the ceiling to weigh your food and Sharpies were scattered about to write down the Price Lookup (PLU) codes of your items. I felt as though I had stepped out of the grocery store and had been transported to a secret world of sustainable shopping. This was my Narnia. Where was the plastic packaging? What happened to the rigid plastic containers for dried fruit, the cardboard boxes that housed granola, and the tightly sealed plastic bags that chocolate chips come in? I quickly bought a few cloth bulk bags and began filling them. Excitement surged inside me when I pulled the lever to fill my first bag with oatmeal. If I could buy the majority of my food in bulk and keep it in glass jars, I could significantly lower my single-use plastic consumption. As Rihanna would say, I found love in a hopeless place. I left the store that day with a rosy inward glow, feeling as though a jar could save the world.
From that day forward, my grocery shopping experience changed forever. I no longer suffer from grocery store amnesia; in fact, I look forward to visiting my beloved aisle #17. Buying in bulk has not only decreased my plastic footprint, but it has lowered my grocery bills, encouraged me to eat healthier, and ensured that most of the food I am consuming is organic and usually fair trade certified. As an added bonus, my cabinets are a work of art, stocked with glass jars brimming with colorful food instead of tacky plastic containers. Sam and I buy everything from flour to popcorn to coffee to peanut butter to nutritional yeast to maple syrup in bulk. I encourage each and every one of you to explore the bulk section at your local grocery. I hit the bulk section jackpot in Hood River, which has a plethora of variety, but I can assure you most grocery stores have a least a small bulk zone (except maybe not in lil’ old Stuarts Draft, sorry Mom and Dad). I challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone and buy at least one item in bulk during your next grocery trip. Because you never know, maybe a jar can save the world, or at the very least it can help.