Confounded by WF (Again)

I did a small grocery run today, as I tend to do. I hate the planning and commitment required of limiting shopping to a single afternoon once a week. And not to mention that I can’t carry a week’s-worth of food either.

But my business was just in the bulk bins this time: salad greens and flour. (I grabbed some pepitas too while I was at it.)

For some reason, my store no longer had any bulk salad greens? Instead, there were 3 bins full of green beans and sugar peas. I have no idea why that would make sense to anyone, but either way, that’s strike one. Okay, off to the dry bulk section. I get my giant bag of flour and pepitas, head over to the cashier, who I decide to ask for certain what their official policy on any bulk items is… which is “nope”. Strike two. Well, why? Because sanitation and tare. Well, what if I don’t care about getting charged a few pennies extra because of imprecise tare? Too bad. Strike three. Okay, so I see people putting their hands into the bins, how’s that sanitary? Exactly. But that has nothing to do with containers? Yeah. [quickly helps next customer and stops talking to me] Strike… four?

Yeah, I know, this isn’t the first time I’ve written a rant about this, but this just goes to show me even more how ridiculous the very idea of bulk bins actually is when you start to think about it even the tiniest bit. Sure, sometimes it’s cheaper than buying pre-packaged, but honestly, most of that likely has to do with buying exactly what you need instead of a pre-defined amount. But the corporate image bullshittery is made pretty obvious by a wall decoration above the bins at my store that has a few inspirational words, some of which refer to less packaging waste. How, exactly, is buying flour in plastic bags–and I had to double bag, that sucker was heavy–using up any less packaging than buying it in a paper sack? Or better, for that matter? Everything that’s in the bulk section can be found elsewhere in the store, packaged in plastic all the same, and sometimes in other materials that are easier to recycle! (And forget that half the bins are vertical and I couldn’t put anything back from them even if I wanted to.)

Once again, I was struck by the commitment to the image of sanitation more than to actual sanitation. Like I said last time, there’s no such thing as a sanitary grocery store, and there definitely isn’t any such thing as sanitary bulk bins. If that’s what you’re worried about, then get rid of them altogether, because there’s nothing you’re going to be able to do about people sticking their hands all over food that they’re not going to purchase with access to open containers of olives and granola. Get rid of the buffet and salad bars too, while you’re at it. God forbid somebody coughs within a 50-foot radius of ’em!

But it still begs the question– by prohibiting the use of any reusable containers anywhere in the store, except for produce arbitrarily enough, what is that accomplishing? What horrible illness am I being kept safe from by preventing someone from dumping a few almonds back into the bin from their mason jar? Can we really say that they’ve succeeded if they’ve helped me avoid catching a cold once a year, but that the plastic additives from the olive bar containers is leeching into the olive oil and slowly crippling my endocrine system because I’ve been eating olives out of cans and plastic my whole life? Is that what we consider health and sanitation? Or is this really just about the fact that someone touched a dried apple without going through decontamination first, it grossed me out, and now I’m never buying from the bulk bins again because of it?

“Can’t wait to get to that salad bar.”

That’s catering to the image of sanitation moreso than sanitation itself. Not that our conception of “clean” these days isn’t warped all to hell by the likes of different corporate interests.

It makes no damn logical sense, but it sure does protect profits, which is what really matters.

It got me to thinking, though. Are the deli and fish counters not bulk? Why can’t we get rid of the idea that dry goods need to be self-serve? If sanitation is a primary reason why you can’t serve yourself up your own pack of shrimp or your own italian sausages, why can we not extend that reasoning to flours and nuts and olives, thus allowing people to not only bring their own containers, but to prevent them from putting things back and touching food with their icky-gross-hand-me-my-purell hands?

It’s a nice idea, but one I don’t expect Whole Foods, or any chain grocer, to ever adopt.

So once again, I’m left with one option: reuse their plastic bulk bags for dry goods, and avoid the salad and olive bars as often as possible. Buying food packaged in glass, after all, is a better choice anyways. We’ll see if Save On Foods gives me the hairy eyeball about using my own bulk containers next time I’m up in Canada.


4 thoughts on “Confounded by WF (Again)

  1. I think buying in bulk for sustainability reasons only work if you bring all your reusable containers to the store. I would love to have a huge glass jar for flour but it would be so inconvenient to drag with me to the store, then have the poor cashier try to figure out exactly how much I’m supposed to to pay, minus the weight of the jar, especially if everyone brings different jars. I shop at a small co-op where they actually allow you to do that, and will measure the jar before you fill it up. But let’s face it, that kind of mindfulness isn’t really valued in our society and I still feel so awkward when I make people go above and beyond their job description.

    Still, I believe that spending time to think and ponder these issues will eventually bring some progressive solutions :)


    • That’s exactly the crux of it, unfortunately. It’s great if the place is structured to allow for that kind of variability, like your co-op is, but the net waste (time, energy, etc) for ones that don’t definitely outweigh the benefits. It’s oftentimes just an exercise in futility.

      Meditating on the structural problems definitely doesn’t hurt, you’re right. Especially since I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with others about the lifestyle and institutions that I’m butting up against now!


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