Rainbow Grocery

Bulk, zero waste grocery shopping at Rainbow Grocery | Litterless

You already know that my interest in zero waste has turned me into a grocery store tourist: when I'm someplace new, I love going to small, local grocery stores to see what interesting bulk foods they might stock. Sometimes I go to these groceries just out of curiosity, though more often I'm there to buy snacks for the week or to buy a few bulk foods to take home. So even though I still haven't finished using up the package-free ramen noodle bricks I bought at Rainbow Grocery when I was there in April, on our September trip to the Bay Area I obviously had to make my way over there again, as well.

Though I'm fortunate to live near several groceries with great bulk selections in Chicago, there are many things that I have to choose to either buy in packaging or do without: soba noodles, coconut oil, tofu, miso, pretzels. For some of those, I can easily pass them up; my life is equally as good, and probably a bit healthier, without a bag of pretzels always on hand (though I certainly wouldn't presume to judge if you do the opposite). Others become rare purchases, like tofu, while still others I just buy in packaging as often as I need to and try not to feel guilty about it: soba, coconut oil, miso.

Bulk, zero waste foods at Rainbow Grocery | Litterless

Well, you probably know where I'm going with this, but those lucky folks who live near Rainbow Grocery don't have to make the same choices: they can buy all those things listed above in bulk in their own bags/jars, and so much more! Fresh pasta, fancy sea salts, breakfast cereal, tons of chocolates, weird dried fruits like mulberries, kimchi, seaweed, multiple types of miso, natto, sauerkraut, liquid aminos, Nutella, every kind of flour you can think of. And, that's all in addition to the normal stuff: granola, trail mix, pasta, rice, beans, nuts, herbs, and spices.

Zero waste grocery shopping at Rainbow Grocery | Litterless

Pictured here are hers-and-his photos of Rainbow; me with some bulk pretzels (three guesses as to how long those lasted), and my partner taring some bags for his purchases.

It's so fun to wander the aisles and fill a few bags with food to take home and think - THIS is what bulk shopping can be! Not just the standard bulk aisles we're so familiar with, where you can get grains and nuts and beans and spices and maybe a few snacks, but not too much else. Instead, here, you can pretty much find whatever you need package-free. 

I realize that this probably isn't on every zero waster's list of fun things to do while traveling, but it sure is on mine. I'm always curious to see how other cities approach zero waste, and I usually leave with some new ideas to try to implement in my city - or at the very least, some new bulk foods to implement in my kitchen.

Bulk herbs and spices at Rainbow Grocery | Litterless

Other lust-worthy zero waste grocery stores: Berkeley Bowl, again in the Bay Area (I've never been to that store, but from what I hear it gets rave reviews), and I'm also pretty partial to Willy Street Co-op in Madison, French Broad Food Co-op in Asheville, and Sugar Beet outside of Chicago.

What other spots would you add to the list? And what bulk foods do you wish you could magically implant into your nearby bulk aisle? I'd wish for soba noodles, coconut oil, tofu, and coconut milk. I think I see a theme there (unabashed coconut lover).

PS. If you want to explore more grocery stores with bulk foods in your community or while traveling, you can check out my state-by-state guide here.