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Eating Better On A Budget Pt. 2: Bulk, Meat, and CSAs

Kim Unertl

Yesterday, we started our two-part series on healthy eating while pinching pennies.  We covered grocery lists, planning, and the various forms of produce. Today, KLCC’s Brian Bull and shopper Julia Baca of Eugene continue their low-budget adventure with a stop at the bulk section.

At The Kiva Grocery in downtown Eugene, Julia reviews her list…

“I have to get some coffee, so if you want to follow me that way…”

Julia heads to the bulk section.  She pours and grinds some coffee…


Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Julia Baca pours coffee beans into a bulk bag at The Kiva Grocery Store.

…and remembers that she’s here for ginger, too.

“I tend to come here and get my spices instead of a regular store, because I can just buy what I need instead of spending them on bottles that are super expensive,” she says.

Buying items in bulk isn’t glamorous. But the Bulk is Green Council says bulk items can cost nearly 90 percent less than packaged foods. It helps to compare, and many stores list price per ounce or weight.  And it never hurts to ask…do you really need three pounds of sage?

Credit Lori Grieg / Flickr.com

On the note of buying large, OSU Associate Professor of Public Health and Human Services, Mary Cluskey says avoid the mega chain stores that often require memberships.

“People often go to COSTCO and think, 'Wow, this is a great deal, look at how much I’m buying,'" she tells KLCC.  "Well, often they’re buying more than they can use. We throw about 40-50 percent of our food away in the United States.

"And a lot of that is buying packages that are bigger than you need, and those are the kinds of traps that you can fall into when you go to those big discount warehouses.”

Julia now tackles the protein items on her list.  She plops a package of chicken breasts into her cart, then scrutinizes a carton of eggs…

“For a week, I get about half a dozen…and make sure they’re not cracked.”

Nutritionist Kristi Coughlin of Bend says beans are a great source of protein, if meat isn’t always affordable. Or if your home carnivore is insistent on meat, there’s always the manager’s special.

Credit masa / Flickr.com

“Maybe it needs to be prepared within the next couple of days. But my recommendation is always to watch portions," says Coughlin. 

"An average adult needs about three ounces of meat at dinner.  So that is way less than what we see in restaurants.”

And like produce, consumer experts say there’s always room for compromise. There are three cuts of meat that range in quality and price, from prime to choice to select.  If a cheaper cut of meat does the job, like for stews or burger, use that. 

Speaking of meat…Jonathan Tepperman is a big proponent of buying whole animals, and having people do their own processing. 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Jonathan Tepperman, founder of the Eugene Meat Collective, at a recent workshop.

“Let’s say you buy a whole chicken with all the skin and all the bones," begins Tepperman.  "That can be a roast chicken, and then the next day you can make a stir fry with the leftover chicken that’s there, and then the day after that you can make a stock.

"Now when you start to look at it as three meals, it becomes a lot more affordable.”

Tepperman also has a group that offers classes in taking charge of one’s own meat, like this sausage-making class. Students ground their own meat and filled casings.

“One of the great things about what we do at the Eugene Meat Collective is giving people the tools to have much more economic choices in bringing quality meat into their life.

"They will then have the ability to go directly to the farmer, and buy a whole animal, and when you do that, that reduces your per pound cost dramatically.”

Supporting local farmers applies to produce, as well.  Linda Davies is with Winter Green Farm in Noti, west of Eugene.  They provide members with weekly, 10-gallon tubs of farm-raised vegetables, in what’s commonly known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

“I think buying CSA, you help support the local farmers, and we try and keep the costs down to what people might spend at the farmers market, and sometimes even less expensive than that.” 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Linda Davies, CSA Liaison, at Winter Green Farm

Davies says about 60 out of 500 of their members use food stamps or special payment plans.

“People can pay half in the beginning and half midway through of the membership fee, or we can even set up monthly payment," explains Davies. 

"We also offer financial assistance, we have a certain amount of each membership fee that the farm puts into a fund.”

Of course, people can also raise their own vegetables to save money. And there’s also opportunities to share the grocery bill if you’re in a housemate situation like Julia.

“I’m big into sharing but a lot of people don’t like Brussel sprouts. So what it means for me is, that…they’re pretty much all mine.” (laughs)

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Julia checks out, with costs savings she figures comes to 20 percent this one trip.

Lots of tips, lots of ways to save. Checking out at KIVA grocery, Julia looks over her receipt…and smiles.

“I think I probably saved uhm…boy, because I spent about 30 dollars.  Yeah, I think I probably saved about 20 percent.”

One last note: where ever you stand on organic versus conventional, fresh versus frozen, the consensus from our experts is that just eating healthier in general can stave off conditions like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes…costly to both your checking account and well-being for years on end.

This concludes our 2-part consumer finance series on eating healthy while also saving money.  Continue reading below for a summary of tips shared in today's segment.  And if you've any strategies or tips of your own, please share!


* Buying items in bulk can save you money, sometimes up to 90 percent compared to something you'd buy in a glass jar with fancy label.  But make sure that you need it in bulk, as food unused on a shelf will eventually go stale or dry. 

* While many people advocate buying in bulk, going to major big warehouse stores can be wasteful if you purchase food and materials well beyond your needs.  Besides food waste, many items sold often come with excess packaging.

Credit Mike Mozart / Flickr.com

* Beans, nuts, legumes, and eggs can be good alternatives to meat if you're looking to reduce spending or your meat intake.  If your home carnivore is insistent, you can explore cheaper cuts of meat (the designated cuts from most expensive to least expensive are prime, choice, and select) or the occasional manager's special.

* Know that most adults don't need those mammoth steaks you see in restaurants.  3 ounces (U.S./U.K) - roughly the size of your palm - is sufficient for dinner time.

* If a cheaper cut of meat does the job, use that.  That can include using select meat in a stew versus a prime cut, or even using hamburger or an affordable meat substitute (remember the beans).

* Purchasing a whole animal can fill your freezer for months on end, and can benefit your local farmer or rancher. Many are willing to refer you to a local processor if they don't do their own butchering and wrapping.  And some groups - like the Eugene Meat Collective - teach courses in processing your own cows, pigs, turkeys, etc.

Credit Timothy Vollmer / Flickr.com

* If you're big on farm-fresh, seasonal, and locally-grown produce, look up local Community Supported Agriculture farms in your area.  Here in the Eugene-Springfield, OR area, the Willamette Farm & Food Coalition has an online directory of local CSAs.  They also have a link for people who may need financial assistance or a special payment plan

* Of course, if you have space of your own, you can raise your own produce in a garden.  Some people are also raising chickens on their property.  Double-check with your city or township for any special regulations or rules before going to roost!

Credit Olivier Duval / Flickr.com

* If you're in a shared community or household, you can also share the grocery bill as well. Ask your housemates or fellow residents what items you might use in common, and discuss if buying in bulk makes sense.

* Our two-part series has discussed a variety of ways people can enjoy healthy food, while also saving a bit of money.  However you proceed from here, remember that even basic changes in your diet can help offset problems that come with continued consumption of fast food, junk food, or an unbalanced diet. If you think eating more vegetables and fruit is costing you, consider the cost of having conditions like diabetes, obesity, or heart disease!  Be well.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

WEB EXTRA: Hear an extended conversation with dietician Kristi Coughlin of Bend, owner and operator of KC Nutrition, on how organic doesn't always mean healthier, and the ways people can optimize nutrition without sacrificing more on their grocery bill. She shares tips and advice on stretching a family food budget, as well as how people can avoid overeating during the holiday season or traveling on the road.


Copyright 2017, KLCC.

Brian Bull joined the KLCC News Team in June 2016. In his 25+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (19 regional), the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
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