Trader Joe: Friend or Foe?

Ever since I began this blog, I've been writing this post in my head. I try to be thrifty. I try to be organic, and lately I've really be conscious of eating locally. With the rising costs of gas and an increasing awareness of the "global food agribusiness", I want to do as much to support local, sustainable eating.

In that vein, I have recently stopped shopping at big box grocery stores (with the exception of Costco occasionally) in favor of farm-direct purchases (for meat, dairy, and most produce), Azure standard (they are about 50 miles east of Portland, for staples), and New Seasons Market (which is locally owned and operated, here in Portland).

But then, there's Trader Joe's! Oh, how I love(d) Trader Joe's. Well, actually I have a love-hate relationship with Trader's, and have struggled to reconcile the things I love about it for the things I don't like.

I used to love TJ's for all of the "good" boxed items they had that were so much cheaper than their Health Food Store counterparts. It was great for snacks, canned foods, frozen entrees, etc. Even though I try not to buy that stuff anymore, I still see the merit in knowing where to find it if you're out of commission and need some "better" processed food.

So, after eliminating most boxed stuff from my shopping list and rethinking the way I purchase food, I started to think about what was left for me at Trader's.

And then it hit me: Trader's.

I started thinking about how folks ate "back then" (you know, when our grands and great-grands were little). I remember my husband telling me a story of how his grandfather would covet the orange he received in his stocking once a year at Christmas. I am just now understanding why an orange would be such a rarity!!! By the way, I have stopped purchasing oranges and bananas because I simply do not see a need for them! I won't judge you if you do, but I personally want to see how much local produce I can live on without having to get food from another hemisphere.

OK, so back to Trader's. In the old days, people ate mostly what they hunted, grew, or what their neighbors hunted or grew. And then, there were those exotic things that you could never grow where you lived (like bananas?!) and you purchased them from "traders". These were special things that you savored and used sparingly.

When I started to look at Trader Joe's as a place to purchase specialty items, I felt more reconciled to the fact that I could enjoy the savings that TJ's offers without being tempted by all the processed food in earthy, hip packaging.

Here are my rules for shopping at TJ's :

  1. Be absolved of the need to buy local :P

  2. Do not buy produce or bakery products (except perhaps sprouted bread, most everything else is a rip-off IMHO)

  3. Item must be plain, unprocessed food and as close to its natural state as possible,with as few ingredients as possible.

  4. Item must be something that I could not get locally.

  5. Item must be something I could not make myself.

  6. Any meat purchased must meet my meat rules.

If I stick to the above rules, I can usually get out of TJ's without spending more than $50. If I stick to my rules, I can usually milk TJ's for the best of what it has to offer while remaining true to my thrifty oreganic principles. I go to TJ's about once every two weeks normally, and purchase items that last a while. With that in mind, here is a list of what I purchase regularly (or as needed) at TJ's:

Grocery Aisle:

*kalamata olives, toasted sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, organic peanut butter (although I sometimes make my own), organic ketchup (also something I'm going to start making), grade B maple syrup (processed w/o formaldehyde), pure vanilla extract, canned sardines

Dairy/Meat Aisle:

*kerrygold butter (best price!), Parmesan cheese (they have a raw one for a great price)

*applegate farms uncured turkey bacon (sometimes), prosciutto, pancetta (also sometimes, TJ's sells uncured versions of both), uncured beef franks

Frozen Aisle:

*blueberries, raspberries, shrimp

Snack Aisle:

*blu italy sparkling water (occasionally), savory rice crackers (occasionally)

Household Aisle:

*SLS free shampoo (this is for my kids and hubby, I make my own for myself), Bronner's peppermint soap, dishwasher soap (earth-friendly, although I do hope to start making this soon too!), dish soap. all-purpose cleaner, hand soap. TJ's prices are the BEST on these and the quality of the products rivals Seventh Generation and the like.

I'm sure I've forgotten something, but this is generally what I would consider the BEST DEALS at Trader Joe's. Your mileage may vary, of course, especially if your family does grains. When we were still eating wheat, I bought Ezekial 4:9 bread at TJ's at it was definitely the best price around!

On what additional items do you think TJ's has the best deal? Please leave a comment!


Michele said...

Recycled Toilet Paper and Organic Maple Syrup! :)
I love their raw parmesan, too!

It was great to meet you at the park today. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Yes, of course, you can add me to your blogroll. I'd love to add you to mine, as well.


Xenia Kathryn said...

I know you don't do coffee, but they their coffee is well-priced, as is their Orange Rooibos tea.

Their Crystal Geyser brand of sparkling water is only $.89! Everywhere else it's at least $1.25.

Coffee, cleaning/household products, brown rice pasta noodles, canned Alaskan salmon, Kerrygold butter, frozen veggies/berries-- all of these I HAVE to buy at TJ's. Oh, and hubby is (regrettably) IN LOVE with their organic macaroni and cheese. *sigh* Well, it is the cheapest there... :)

As you know, their cream-line yogurt is awesome, too.

Yes, there are certainly some things at TJ's that I really can't bring myself to buy anywhere else.

I miss having New Seasons nearby, but I look forward to putting in my first order with Azure soon!

Carrie T said...

Michele and Xenia,

Excellent additions! I also buy the raw parm, organic maple syrup, and the brown rice noodles (those are the BEST price for $1.99!!!)

The Cream Line plain yogurt is awesome too. I like their goat yogurt too because I've realized that goat yogurt is very challenging to make w/o pectin (and I've scoured the web and can't seem to find a recipe for how to use pectin in a yogurt recipe).

Anonymous said...

LOL! Great post!

I just went to TJ's today actually. I used to shop there every week -- now I just go once a month.

Today I got:

Bronner's peppermint soap
Dishwasher soap
Toilet paper and paper towels
Organic wine (only $5/bottle)
Organic beer
Fair-trade organic coffee
Bananas (I buy them for Kate -- she loves them, especially fried in bacon fat)
Pellegrino water (for DH)
KerryGold butter! (you're right -- best price!)
2 organic artichokes (for dinner tomorrow night)

Anonymous said...

LOL your list is a lot like mine:

TJ fertilized eggs (if I'm short on pastured eggs)
Uncured, nitrate-free bacon
Smoked oysters
Olive oil
Raw Parmesan, raw cheddar and grassfed cheddar
Decaf and low-acid coffee
Organic heavy cream
Grade B Maple syrup
Brown rice pasta
Peanut butter
Organic marinara
TJ Sourdough (it's made from starter), sprouted grain bread

academic writers said...

well, let it be something like this:

Peanut butter
Dishwasher soap
Organic heavy cream
Organic beer
Fair-trade organic coffee
Brown rice pasta

Organic marinara