One of the hardest parts of living a Low Impact Life and a frugal life at the same time is food. In the best of worlds food wouldn’t have plastic packaging, would be locally grown and only in an organic way but we’re not there yet. Since we want to keep our food budget low we have a plan of action for that. Unfortunately it is not totally compatible with buying low impact food. Obviously we try to minimize impact where we can but it isn’t always easy to do that. Here is our holistic approach when it comes to food:
Our system: the standardized list
Mr LIL and I are quite boring when it comes to food and usually eat the same types of food so we pretty much have a standardized list. If some of our items are on offer we stock up so that we don’t have to pay full price for our items. We then base our cooking around what we have at home. Making sure that you only shop from the standard list eliminates most of the spending on random things that catches your eye. Creating a meal plan and only shop things that are needed for your plan is usually a tip to get control of your food budget. We find that working with the standard list works well for us and also means that we can buy stuff on offer which would be harder if you were following a strict list connected to a preset meal.
The food prices are very simliar in the different food stores in Sweden (that would be generally high prices…). I have of course price compared the different stores around us and we do shop at the cheapest ones (that would be Willys and Lidl for us) but it is not a lot of difference. Where we get the savings is from stocking up on food and generally buying foods that are on offer.
One of the most expensive foods is meat. We have a two part approach to buying meat. First of we have a subsription to a “meat box” that gets delivered to our door every other month by the company Gårdssällskapet. We get around 8kg of local and organic meat with free delivery which lasts us a long time (usually about a month). Secondly Swedish food stores have a started a very good system of selling meat that is close to its best before date to a very discounted price. When we come across such meat (organic or sometimes non organic Swedish meat) we buy as much as we can and either make a big batch straight away or freeze it for later. So we get our high quality meat from Gårdsällskapet when we have got a delivery and then in between we buy the meat that is marked down. Since this meat would have been thrown out otherwise I think it’s both good for the environment that the food isn’t wasted and for the wallet since its usually 30-50% off. And since we also get the meat box we support the local organic farms.
Eating after the seasons in your country and also thinking of vegetables and fruits that are not from your local climate as luxury items makes for a frugal and low impact meal. The fruit/vegetables that are in season are cheaper and also don’t have to be shipped across the world (don’t see many pineapples growing in Sweden…). Shopping like this means that we get a varied selection over the year (even though food stores make it possible to buy the same stuff year round). Some months might be more boring, like now it feels like we have cabbage and carrots coming out of our ears but when summer comes around the selection is much wider. Since you only eat certain vegetables at certain times of the year you look forward to the season when you get to eat that specific vegetable again. You also feel closer to natures cycles when you know that the food has been produced locally at that time.
Less plastic packaging
We try to only buy food with either glass, carton or aluminium packaging and in bulk when we can but there is still a fair amout of plastic in our recycling bin. We always bring our own bags so that we don’t have to buy plastic bags at the store. Of course buying food with no packaging and bringing your own mesh bags/glass or aluminium containers is the optium level. This can be done with vegetables/fruits, cheese/meat over the counter, bread and nuts usually but since we don’t eat cheese or bread (see post on how we eat here) and want to get the offers on the meat this is a area we struggle in. What I am exploring now is making sauces and products that are packaged in plastic from scratch (which is also healthier) and go around some of the plastic packaging that way.
Foraging food for free
There are plenty of plants that you can forage for free if you know what you are looking for. Obviously the plants that are suitable for foraging changes in different zones and climate so getting to know your local plants is both a frugal and low impact way of aquiring food. Also check around the neighborhood (and with your neighbors) or in local groups if they have an excess of fruit or something else edible. In Stockholm there are many gardens with apple trees and the owners just want to get rid of the buckets of apples that they get each year.
Grow your own food
A both frugal and low impact approach to food is growing it yourself. Since we are growing vegetables that are expensive in the store like salad, herbs, spinach, bell peppers, chili, squash and tomatoes it is cheaper. Then we also get no pesticides, less emissions from transporting the food and no packaging. Quite the win! I can really recommend growing salad and herbs even if you only have a tiny apartment.
About one third of all food produced gets thrown away, that is 1,3 billion tonnes of food every year that is wasted. It is crutial to make sure that you eat everything that you buy both for minimizing impact and saving money. Save your left overs and if you’re a person that “just doesn’t like leftovers” this is a habit that you really need to consider changing both for the planet and your wallet. You can read more about food waste in my post Stop the food waste with Selina Juul.
These were my tips on how I approach the frugal vs low impact struggle when buying food. Since we need to eat every day this is an ongoing process of combining these two areas in the best way.