December 29, 2013

Stocking up at Trader Joe's — what did we buy?


I've been taking a bit of a blog holiday, both from reading and writing. It started when we took a short East Coast trip and I didn't have my computer, and then just kept going, and going. My schedule has been disrupted by holiday hours, and my mind had been taken over by Doctor Who. The Doctor is still honing in on my time, but I'm trying to take back at least a small portion of my brain. So....

I read a post on Carrie on vegan about her top ten things to buy at Trader Joe's, and it got me thinking. Back before I moved to Seattle, and before TJ's was in Wisconsin, we used to come to Seattle to visit our oldest son, and TJ's was on the 'tourist list'. Back then it seemed so unique, and we loved going there to see what interesting items they had. I used to buy chocolate-covered coffee beans to bring back to my office mates, and just having a Trader Joe's label made them a novelty. (I know. Some of us are easily entertained.)


When Trader Joe's opened a store two blocks from our house in Madison, we couldn't get near the place for weeks. Our normally popular neighborhood became a destination, and we watched in wonder as people rolled stacked cases of wine down the sidewalk to their cars. Even TJ's was shocked at the response — they could barely keep the shelves stocked. The neighbors held off for a couple of months before shopping, until the 'outsiders' calmed down, then it became our neighborhood grocery store. We had our favorite items to buy there, but one thing that can make TJ's both frustrating and interesting, is that the stock keeps changing, and the new product that becomes a favorite can disappear at any time.


So jump to the present, and here we are living in Seattle about a mile from a Trader Joe's store, but we seldom go there, preferring our local co-op and Whole Foods. After reading Carrie's post, I decided we needed to check in with TJ, and see what we could find. We picked up a few of Carrie's faves, like organic Turkish apricots (excellent!), soy milk, fire-roasted no-salt salsa and fermented black garlic. (Fermented black garlic?  Have you used it? How?) We also bought some of our old TJ staples like frozen mango, roasted unsalted pistachios, kimchee, bourbon vanilla extract, organic limes, mushrooms, gluten-free pasta, avocados and paper towels along with some new TJ finds like cooked baby beets, organic clementines, ruby red grapefruit, organic d'anjou pears and organic broccoli florets. I think it was our largest single haul ever from Trader Joe's, and all I can think of is we must have been hungry when we went shopping. So far everything I've tried — grapefruit, avocado, pears, clementines, pistachios, noodles, broccoli and apricots — have been great.


After we got home, I came across two articles about Trader Joe's that provide food for thought. The first was an article about the origins of Trader Joe's and its parent company, Aldi, in Germany. It's an informative and entertaining account of brotherly competition, rivalry and success. We don't have Aldi yet in Washington, but I suspect it's coming in the next couple of years as it's in Southern California now.

The second article was not entertaining, and made me wish that we had at least made our own kimchee and cooked our own beets. It concerned the grim plight of a dead sperm whale that washed up on a beach in Spain, its belly full of plastic traced back to Aldi — a sad example of failure to protect the environment with the conscientious use of materials and proper recycling. It wasn't just Aldi that was at fault, but several European-based grocery chains that were involved in failing to monitor the materials used to grow and package greenhouse-grown winter vegetables. I try to do what I can to support ethical, cruelty-free, environmentally responsible businesses, but sometimes I just feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. Where do you draw the line? Do you express your concerns to stores about their business practices? Do you buy only in bulk and only what's in season locally? We've become so used to excess packaging, that I think it's again time for me to take a closer look at how and where we shop, and how we respond to stories about environmental irresponsibility.

On a lighter note, I hope everyone had a pleasant holiday (as in time-off from work, and visits with family and friends if you don't celebrate Christmas), and a very Merry Christmas, if you celebrate. Wishing you a Happy New Year filled with love, peace and serenity!

22 comments:

  1. I feel like I went through a similar thing with TJs. When it opened here, I was super excited and shopped there a lot, but after a while the shine faded. What's always gotten me was the over-packaging. Even the produce comes in plastic or those unrecyclable mesh bags, and the waste started to really bother me. We get a lot of our veggies from a local CSA, and I know it's a total splurge but I tend to bulk out our week of food with goodies from Whole Foods. We just got a Costco membership, though, so we'll see how that changes stocking the pantry. I know I won't be buying cashews or dates again for a while, because I just got containers of each that are bigger than my head!

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    1. Yes, the packaging — especially considering the small sizes. I don't mind as much when most of the things I'm buying come in glass bottles and jars. I was surprised to see so much loose produce on this trip, which is an improvement, but much of it was past its prime. We go to Costco and there are things I won't buy there like apples in hard plastic packs, but even at Costco it's hard to avoid packaging. I remember the old days when we bought everything in bulk and avoided convenience foods like canned beans. We're not like that anymore, and our recycling bin gets quite full. As for WF being a splurge, we find that their prices are often better than our co-op.

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  2. I live a couple blocks from a Trader Joe's, so I do a lot of my shopping there. (Funny, I buy a lot of the same things you featured!) I am conscious of the packaging issue, though, and try not to buy produce especially with an excessive amount of packaging. Good for you for taking a bit of a blog holiday. This online life can be a bit much!

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    1. If I still lived two blocks from TJ's I'd probably go more often, but the packaging can be excessive. As for the Internet, sometimes I just can't stand to turn on the computer. It's so addictive.

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  3. Happy Christmas! I don't think you can be too worried about the line - because you're right, the scale of the problem is so huge you can't ever contemplate things in those terms, just think about the practical things you can do - buying local, buying without packaging, recycling, all that good stuff. And good to see you back from the holiday!

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    1. Good points. We all have to do what we can without becoming overwhelmed by the task.

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  4. I love Trader Joes, really, though I don't want to. Beyond the excessive and unnecessary use of packaging, which really frustrates me, the produce isn't good and I just would rather go to one store and have my shopping over with.
    TJ is great for pantry staples, as well as treats, but the prices are so good that I usually buy more than I need to, negating the cheap trip. Plus the lines in NY can be terrrrrible!! It really is a fine line. I do best going to Trader Joe's with a list and avoiding anything else!! Sometimes I'll let myself buy a treat I know I'll use, like vegan cream cheese or snack bars.
    The photos here are beautiful, though. I usually gobble down half the haul before I can photograph it.

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    1. The produce in Madison actually was good, though I can't say the same for most of the produce I've seen here. Though, to be fair, we found some great stuff in the pile. The specialties and the treat are great, as you say. Have you ever tried the sun-dried tomatoes or candied ginger? I actually had put everything away before I remembered to take photos! Pulled a lot of it back out, but there was even more that never made it into the pictures. We went a little nuts on our TJ binge, because our supplies were so low.

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  5. I don't shop there as much as I used to, the over packaging bothers me too. That and a lot of their stuff seems to come from far away. I don't mind things like bananas which pretty much have to be imported, but I try to get most of my food from the farmer's market.

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    1. I try to get most of my stuff from the US, if I can't get to the farmer's market. And, of course, our winter markets are nothing like yours!

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  6. I like Trader Joe's. It's cheap and I'm broke :D I do the best I can, where I can, but sometimes cost and convenience have to play a part as well. I like seeing their new items and it seems their vegan list keeps growing and growing. Hope you have a wonderful new year!

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    1. I like Trader Joe's, too, and not only are their vegan items increasing, also the organic stuff.

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  7. I had no idea Trader Joe's was affiliated with Aldi; the two that I've been to in the suburban northeast certainly don't seem at all related. They were poorly lit, offensively smelling, non-inviting stores that look like no-frills, scaled-down big box rejects.

    As for the whale, it's simply further proof of how the powers-that-be allow big business to get away with murder. At this point I'm not sure how much the average "Joe" can do about it; I feel like I'm always fighting 12 fights at a time, but for every one of us, there are thousands who just don't give a crap.

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    1. I've never been to an Aldi market, but it sounds like a "unique" experience, and I'd like to see what it's like after reading the article. It certainly sounds very unlike Trader Joe's, except for cheap prices. Big business gets away with murder in virtually every arena, and we do what we can to make a difference. Even creating awareness, as you point out, can be the first step.

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  8. I didn't know about the connection with Aldi. Eek. Regardless of store affiliation, I try my best to buy as little as I can that comes in disposable packaging, but I'm not very good at this yet. I can easily to go TJs 5x per week (buying just a few things each time, of course, as it's right by my train station). I'm obsessed. We don't have that fermented garlic at mine...I'm really mad about that. Buttttt I have to decrease my reliance on packaged goods from anywhere, so for the best I guess.

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    1. I think I used to be much better at it back in the olden days of veganism when there weren't so many choices, and we bought nearly everything in bulk. Now I become too accustomed to convenience — even the convenience of bagged items. Not to mention the convenience of online shopping and the packaging that involves.

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  9. Wow, that's so terrible about the whale! Trying to do the right thing, and it still wreaks havoc. It's hard to not feel discouraged with humanity's selfishness and ignorance sometimes. But, then there are people like you, who are conscientious and compassionate, and it shows that there can be light at the end of the tunnel. Bit by bit we keep doing the right thing, and we'll never give up.

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    1. Good point about not giving up, because sometimes it feels like we're traveling backwards.

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  10. Welcome back! Blog holidays are sometimes very necessary, aren't they. I see we both did the same thing during our blog holidays (except for the East Coast trip). That pesky Doctor keeps us addicted to the show! I've watched six episodes with Matt Smith so far and I haven't warmed up to him yet. Or his new companions. I just loved the 10th doctor so much. I'm sure it will be hard to let 11 go when the time comes to welcome 12.

    It's so hard to know what all companies are up to and which ones to support! It's overwhelming and discouraging. On a happier note - BEETS!! :)

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    1. I loved #10, too, and it was hard to like #11. Plus I found Amy kind of shallow. I like them both a lot more, now, and will probably be sad to see them go. Dr. Who has competition now that Downton Abbey, Girls and other shows are back. We'd been watching two episodes (at least!) a night.

      Seems I've skipped out ob blogging again but hope to be back soon.

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  11. I'm loving all of your Trader Joe's finds - wishing we had one closer!

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    1. Trader Joe's is a treasure trove of unexpected finds — and tons of plastic packaging! Still, there's lots to love.

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