This scenario might sound familiar: I decide to make a recipe and need to buy a few ingredients beforehand. I need a cup of cake flour and two tablespoons of pine nuts. So I go to the store and buy the smallest cake flour bag I can buy: 7.5 cups! I also buy a bag of pine nuts: almost 2 cups. The total for these two items comes to $16.38. I then make the recipe and put the leftover ingredients into my pantry, where, as I don't use them weekly, they slowly get pushed to the back. A year (or two) later, as I'm running out of storage room in my pantry, I decide to do a purge. I find some cake flour and some pine nuts! They are spoiled but I don't think I would use them anyway. In the trash they go. :/
Knowing that pine nuts are expensive, sensitive and I don't use them a ton, I could've bought them from bulk bins... just the two tablespoons for less than 50¢. Also, cake flour isn't something I feel the need to keep on hand, so I could've bought a cup in bulk, also for less than 50¢. Just what I needed would have cost less than a dollar (more than $15 savings)... I also wouldn't have wasted the excess food. I'm done with that silliness.
One of the best ways to keep a Lean Pantry is to embrace a practice called Zero Waste Shopping. As I've mentioned a few times, I was first introduced to the Zero Waste Lifestyle by Bea Johnson. Zero Waste is a discipline that helps you change your relationship to consuming stuff. It focuses on reducing waste and trash production in the home, to support a healthier life with less wasted money, less time spent cleaning, and less impact on the environment. Yes, please!
With Zero Waste Shopping, you buy only what you need, you don't pay for branding and packaging (that usually just goes in the landfill), you don't throw out food that somebody else could use, and the items you do buy tend to be fresher (ahem, spices!).
THE BASICS OF ZERO WASTE FOOD SHOPPING:
1. Find a store that has a reasonable bulk bin section. In San Francisco, we are blessed with Rainbow (liquids, cleaners, spices!) but even Safeway has half an aisle. Make a plan so you can avoid multiple trips to the store each week.
2. Mind the quantity of ingredients that you'll need or use in the next little while.
3. Take your own containers or bags for bin items... I take my glass canning jars. I put a sticker on top with the item name, the word "USED" to indicate it's my jar, the jar's tare weight (the cashier will subtract this weight at checkout), and then a space for the item number to be written at the store. (In California, many stores will even give you a 5¢ credit for every container you reuse so some small amounts of spices end up being free!)
4. Select or request only what you think you'll need including produce or meats and cheeses that are sold by-the-pound and not by-the-each. A quarter pound of ground turkey is a reasonable request. Selecting one celery stalk, while less reasonable, is totally legit and I totally do it. Reusable bags aren't just for checkout, I have some specifically for produce too!
5. Use up everything you buy in recipes, leftovers, or for next week's meal planning. I like to freeze many unused items as well: veggie scraps for stock, extra beans, meat, tortillas...
+ Food waste is out of control in this country. From CUESA's 11 Tips for Reducing Food Waste: “Today, approximately 40 percent of food (about 20 pounds per person per month) in the US gets wasted. At the same time, 17.6 million American households are food insecure.” and from the NRDC: “the average American family of four ends up throwing away an equivalent of about $1,560 annually in food.” Read the links above for more information!
What do you think? Are you willing to make a little shift?