This month I’m on a challenge to not buy any groceries. I think I’ll extend it to five weeks. I’ve explained it to my six year old son, and we’re enjoying being creative.
My income has fallen drastically, so as well as scrambling to make more money, I’m experimenting to see how little I can spend! I actually have loads of food in my house, and access to fresh fruit and vegetables at local produce swaps, my garden, neighbour’s gardens, and the community gardens.
So far it’s been four weeks, and I’ve finally eaten up most of the fruit and vegetables from my fridge and pantry. I still have half a monster zucchini, some chokoes, plenty of lemons, the last of summer’s tomatoes, half a sad-looking daikon radish, a nice handful of greens from the community garden, a pumpkin, some quinces and the last of the tiny apples that I bought from a local organic winery a month ago. I’ve got olives I pickled two years ago, and kilos more from this year in brine on the kitchen sink. There’s a line of huge parsnips in the garden ready for autumn soups, lettuce and herbs. There’s a packet of last year’s broad beans in the freezer, and I discovered a container of apricots that I dried last summer.
The cherry tomatoes aren’t ripening in the cool autumn weather, so I pick them when they’re green and ripen them on the window sill, like a traffic light display.
I’ve got dried beans and lentils, some strange flours I still need to use (banana, coconut, purple corn), kilos of various wheat flours, whole wheat, honey, too many spices and teas, white rice, and lots of jams and chutneys. My son and I were thrilled to find a hidden kilo of cashew nuts at the back of the cupboard. I’m sprouting mung beans and buckwheat, and brewing kombucha tea.
Over the road, there’s a random assortment of books, vegetables, empty containers, seeds, plants and oddments at the swapping station that I manage. Chokoes are just coming into season, so I’m sure there will be an abundance of these over the next month or so. I’m planning to forage and barter when I run out of fruit and vegetables in my own garden.
I’ve been offered as many olives as I could pick from one friend, and a bagful of passionfruit from another. I’m pickling the olives in brine, and the passionfruit are slowly disappearing into the school lunch box.
Remind me why I shop at the supermarket again? Maybe I could go two months without it!
Yesterday I did a little weeding at the community gardens, but the weeds were so nice I couldn’t bear to chuck them on the compost. I separated the chickweed, parsley and warrigal greens (and one nettle plant – yummy and full of iron!), and threw the rest into the compost. The saved plants I took home, washed, and sauteed in a little sesame oil. I squeezed lemon juice over them and served them with our dinner. More nutrient dense and fresher than most supermarket vegetables!
I’ve also been away for almost two weeks of the last month – one at a festival that is a gifting economy, so no spending on food there. The second week was in the city, but I took most of my food with me. I did contribute money to some shared meals out, for social ease. On the way home, I had a random assortment of food left, so my six year old and I had dry muesli with raw beetroot and chewy biodynamic beef jerky for lunch. Luckily he’s used to my strange meals!
I’ve been trying to use up our leftovers instead of wasting food, so I often serve them for lunch with extra condiments like plum sweet and sour sauce (from my plum tree two summers ago), zucchini relish (from my friend), mango sauce (from our trip north 18 months ago) or kimchi (I make several batches a year). What else is kicking around in the back of my fridge… tallow poured off a roast; that can replace butter, too. Cherries in vodka – maybe I’ll get them out when I have the winter wine and poetry evening I’m planning to host! Would it break the rules to ask my guests to bring chocolate? No!
I’ve had couchsurfers staying at my home for the last week, without much food contribution, so I’ve also been feeding extra guests during this time. We’ve mostly cooked cheap vegie meals with rice or homemade bread. One night we had a meal out, but couchsurfers are always broke too, so we did it on the cheap. We picked a bunch of greens from the community gardens, and bought a small pile of mushrooms and a large loaf of soft damper on special from the supermarket. This cost $4.40 in total, and fed four adults and a child for dinner. I had some homemade red cabbage sauerkraut in my bag (as you do), so we even had probiotics and extra flavour with our meal. I compromised my ‘no plastic’ policy to buy the loaf of bread, but oh well! How many things can you juggle at once!
So I have set foot in the supermarket a couple of times during this month, but only to replace buying takeaway. Another of my standard meals is a bread roll (in a paper mushroom bag) and a can of tuna. This costs about two dollars, and feeds my child if I need to give him a filling meal in a hurry. And it doesn’t use any plastic. Sometimes I buy an avocado instead of fish (sadly, this is more expensive!) or a few vegies to chew on. Last time I did this, I just bought him the roll (80 cents) because he had one cherry tomato left in his school lunch box. I opened the roll, squashed the tomato onto the bread and rubbed it down as far as I could, reminding him about when we rubbed homegrown tomatoes and garlic over stale bread for lunch last summer, and he happily ate the whole thing. I even tried to convince him that green beans covered in muffin crumbs were a gourmet treat (actually, they’d been knocking around in his packaging-free lunch box all day). It almost worked! Ha!
I had a can of duck gizzards that I bought from our local French cafe, cans of tuna from the swapping station, and some bacon in the freezer, so I even have meat this month. The duck gizzards were surprisingly tasty, and stretched for several meals including salads, noodles and risotto. I’m longing for real butter, but meanwhile I’m using vegan butter made from turmeric and coconut oil (super healthy, and pretty tasty too!).
I’m still buying local biodynamic milk in glass bottles. This doesn’t create any waste, I’m supporting my local farmer, and I ferment the milk to make my own yogurt and kefir.
There are a few other items we usually buy at the supermarket, and one is toilet paper. Not any more! I picked up this ethical box of bog rolls from my local Green Skills office. Check out ‘Who Gives A Crap’. They use their profits to build toilets in developing countries, and their toilet paper is plastic-free! One less item to worry about for Plastic Free July.
My food bill for me, my six year old and guests the last four weeks: week one: $34 (local milk and cheese only). Week two: $25 (eating out while travelling). Week three: $21.95 (milk and travel food). Week four: $1.75 (sunflower seeds) plus $40 on toilet paper, but that should last me for months! I guess I can go without butter for a little longer. I’m eking my chocolate supply out now.
Now I just need some recipes that use purple corn flour… I’m just getting started!