21 Feb Buying Food in Bulk
There is something deeply satisfying about buying in bulk. Partly because of the hefty weight and size of the packages and partly because it makes me feel safe. If armageddon comes, we will have enough oats, pasta and tinned tomatoes to make endless porridge and bolognese for the foreseeable. And keep us barricaded in.
I think it lends a certain amount of freedom to cooking. Knowing we have a huge jar of olives in the cupboard means we have the space to experiment with said olives. It means I can decide to make a tapenade on a whim with another huge jar of sundried tomatoes.
The two biggest challenges are the cost and storage.
I’ll start with cost. Buying food in large quantities can be tricky because one 25kg of oats can be a huge chunk out of a weekly food budget. I can only share our experience.
Because of the nature of our work, both of us being freelance, we don’t have a consistent income. Some months are bountiful, others are lean, so when we have more money in the coffers, we pounce on this opportunity to stock up and make sure we’ll have enough basics to tide us through.
Also, we rarely buy all the bulk items at once, which also helps spread the cost. We’ll often buy different types of bulk at a time. Dried goods one month, condiments another month, cleaning products the month after.
It definitely works out more cost effective. The organic oats we bought cost £33.49 plus £4 postage for 25kg organic oats. A total cost of £37.49. Divided by 25, this works out at £1.49 per kilo. A quick online price check shows me that a kilo of organic oats form Sainsbury’s is £2.40, Tesco’s is £2.70 and Suma is £2.90 for 750g.
When it comes to buying tinned tomatoes, tahini, olives and nuts, we tend to buy from Asian supermarkets. The variety of produce is exciting, the smells are enticing and the prices are low.
As with any shopping we do, we are conscious of the ingredients we buy, such as almonds, quinoa and avocados because of their environmental impact, but if we do buy them, I would rather give my money to either an independent wholefood shop with clear ethics or a family run Asian supermarket. Suma are a fantastic co-operative but the only way to buy bulk from them is to buy trays/crates of their individually packaged food, so unfortunately it doesn’t cut down on waste. So we will instead buy food in smaller quantities from them.
So I guess what I’m saying again is, that it is impossible to be pure, but it’s possible to make choices. Where we place our money is as important or more important than our vote. But it’s also unrealistic to think we can be holy in every single aspect, especially when the chains are so long and out of our control.
As for storage, this can be an issue for two reasons: space and rodents/infestations.
Storage conundrums are as variable as there are people, so I will simply explain what we do. Our kitchen and living room are one big room, so the two merge into each other, with sacks of blue corn masa by the sofa and a sack of porridge oats at the bottom of the stairs. Instead of in-built cupboards, we have a sideboard, a cabinet and three wooden trunks, all holding kitchen utensils and food. I dream of having a pantry, but for now we live with everything in view.
As for decanting, we will decant into glass jars or plastic boxes with clip handles to keep the food airtight.
And when we buy food in bulk, we only ever buy what we plough through. Oats, flour, sunflower seeds, pasta are our core bulk dry ingredients. These are ingredients we use every day and we get through so quickly that they don’t stick around for long enough for infestations to settle in.
Also, we have a cat, which keeps mice and rats away.
I’d be very interested in hearing other people’s experiences of buying in bulk, so please get in touch and let me know!