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The Art of Mindful Grocery Shopping

9 questions to consider before you add that item to your grocery basket.

Mindful grocery shopping is an art and it takes practice. Given the current state of our planet and our society, there is more to consider than ever before. Are you making the right choices for you and the environment? It's not necessarily difficult but it does require us to stop and think before we buy—often done a little less often than we should. These 9 questions are a great place to start.


Before you head to the store


9. What does local mean to you?

There is no magical number that defines local. If your goal is to reduce the distance your food travels for all the benefits it brings, the best definition is the one that works for you. It could be based on distance, borders, or biogeography. It could be specific to each food group. It could vary by season. It could vary by store. Whatever it is, keep it in mind and allow it to influence the choices you make at the store.


8. What does healthy mean to you?

Gluten-free, fat-free, sugar-free—none of these labels make food more or less healthy. It's true that natural foods are better for you than processed foods. It's also true that a safe rule is to do most of your shopping in the perimeter of the store. But when it comes down to the details, the truth is only you and your doctor know what healthy means for you. Choose foods that will have your body feeling great.


7. What does ethical mean to you?

Did the eggs you're eating come from cage-free, free-range, or pasture-raised hens? Do you know the difference? Is it important to you that egg-laying hens have outdoor access? Does it matter to you if they were given pesticides or antibiotics? Are beak-cutting or molting practices within acceptable standards of animal welfare? How do poultry farms contribute to climate change? Figure out what's important to you.

6. What does environmentally-friendly mean to you?

Choose less resource-intensive. Choose zero-waste. Choose local. Choose native. And when it seems overwhelming, remember, the planet doesn't need a handful of people making perfect decisions; it needs a lot of people making better decisions.


5. What does responsible packaging look like to you?

Does it come in plastic? Is there a glass alternative? If it comes in cardboard, is it recyclable? If it's individually wrapped, is there a bulk bin alternative?

Can you reuse any of the packaging materials? Can you find it package-free elsewhere? Is there something similar that's package-free? If it's something like lunch or snacks on-the-go, can you make them at home? Keeping these questions in mind will inevitably reduce the waste each grocery trip creates.

4. How much do you need?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, "Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year—approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—gets lost or wasted." And food waste implies a waste of water, land, energy, labor, and capital, as well as a needless production of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Before you add that item to your basket, ask yourself, is it more than you need?


3. Have you made a list?

Research shows that we make much smarter choices shopping with a list than without one. If you're not sure what you want to buy or you want to let seasonal choices inspire you, jotting down a list of things you know you don't need is a great way to avoid being wasteful. It gives you a chance to check in on your fridge and pantry. If you still have a nearly-full bag of carrots from your last trip, prioritize using them. Search for a fun recipe and pick up missing ingredients at the store. And if, over a few trips, you notice that you frequently have unused carrots, consider buying less of them or switching them out for something new for a while. Indeed, a list is a great way to learn about your eating habits.

2. Do you have reusable shopping bags?

Most everybody now owns reusable shopping bags and most every grocery store now charges us for single-use ones. Still, a lot of us forget to bring them to the store. Consider routinely adding them to the top of your grocery list and storing them in your car when you're not using them.

1. Do you have reusable produce bags?

What's the point of bringing reusable shopping bags if you're going to use plastic produce bags inside the store? Reusable produce bags are a convenient alternative that you can take to the store, keep in the fridge, and wash with the laundry, and they will get you much closer to a zero-waste trip to the grocery store.


You're ready to shop.


Want to read more? Check out "Plastic wrapped in plastic: the wasteful reality of America's grocery stores" by The Guardian.

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