Using up the stockpile.

thAfter a particularly aggravating shopping trip back in late March, I suggested that we buy as little as possible for the month of April. We’d live off what was stored in the cupboards, freezer and basement, filling in with vegetables, fruit and dairy as needed.

At the time I meant to report the findings here. That didn’t happen. In fact, I can’t find the envelope with our April receipts. However, I do remember that DF added them up and they came to about $91 – which shows that vegetables, fruit and dairy for two people can be pretty darned expensive up here. (Hint: We’re not buying organic or out-of-season stuff and we use milk for cooking, not for drinking.)

How’s our stockpile looking? Surprisingly unaffected, dammit. 

In part that’s because items like flour, rice and beans are bought in such bulk from Costco that they’re unlikely to be used up completely within three months. In addition, we use everything but the squeal; nothing ever gets wasted, so food tends to last us longer than it does some people.

But mostly it’s because we’ve continued to shop the sales and to pick up things from the clearance table (28-cent chocolate Easter bunnies – how can I lose?), the scratch ’n’ dent bin, the “used meat” section and the bread outlet.

I don’t think we’re hoarders, because what we buy does get used (if only to be replaced by more such items). Yet we’re uncomfortably close to the binge shopping behavior described by therapist Angela Wurtzel:

“For some people, going to the grocery store and buying more food than necessary may provide a sense of security…Knowing that if they want or need something it will be there [is what matters] even though it means some of the food may go bad and will be thrown out in the end,” she writes.

“The idea of knowing in that moment that they will have [those items] is what matters to them.”

We haven’t thrown out any food yet. I doubt we will. But we’re acutely aware that we need to keep an eye on such behaviors.

Too much of a good thing?

“Food as security” is a pretty common issue. (Just ask all the people who are food insecure.) It matters a bit more up here because so much of what we consume is flown, trucked or barged in. That’s true in the rest of the  country as well. But we’re considerably further away from the sources.

Before it got so (relatively) cheap to bring food in, Alaskans grew, fished, raised and hunted a lot more of the food they ate – and they were a lot less picky about the stuff that got brought in. My life partner, who spent much of his childhood in Alaska villages, reminisces about eating a lot of seal and fish, as well as World War II surplus powdered eggs (courtesy of the federal government, which foisted them off on supplied them to teachers in the Bush). Bananas were worth their weight in gold because DF so rarely got them.

These days everyone expects to see out-of-season fruits and vegetables, a wide variety of meats and dairy, and specialty items like organic, vegan and gluten-free products. Even though DF will cheerfully eat Spam on pilot bread if that’s all there is, he likes to throw a handful of frozen blueberries into his oatmeal or yogurt. (He still treasures bananas, too.)

From time to time he and I talk about the potential for disruption in the food supply. Another seismic event like the Good Friday Earthquake, a major terrorist attack or even a longshoremen’s strike could cramp the average Alaskan’s grocery-shopping habits. That might be as simple as no fresh stuff (waaaahhhh, I can’t have salad tonight) or as serious as “there’s nothing in the pantry and the stores are closed.”

So yep, we buy certain items in bulk and rotate them. Over the next couple of years we plan to expand the garden and the teeny greenhouse that have given us great enjoyment (and nice things to eat). We’re looking at buying and/or growing produce that’s healthy, stores well and is easy to preserve: winter squash, potatoes, rhubarb, turnips, beets, berries and mixed greens. (It also has to taste good, so we’re exploring new cooking methods, too.)

The stewards of the stockpile

Does that make us hoarders? Only if we don’t eat the stuff. We both believe that wasting food is a sin, which I like to think makes us a little different than therapist Wurtzel’s constituency. To some people, knowing “in the moment” that they have enough is what matters – but if it gets thrown out, they no longer have that security.

A number of bloggers do weekly posts about food waste, complete with yucky photos of collapsed cucumbers or the yogurt cup as Petri dish. They do this to shame themselves into accountability. I hope it works for their readers, too.

I’d like for us to be good stewards of the stockpile. If we bought so much food that we regularly had to throw some out, I’d be concerned. Truth be told, I am concerned – we both are – about the potential for waste. That’s why we’re keeping an eye on our behaviors, knowing how easily a need for both security and frugality could go wrong.

While I was away DF found a hot sale at the bread outlet: all items 50 cents each, or $2 per bag. Not a shopping bag – a garbage bag. Knowing we couldn’t eat or store that much starch, he stopped at half a dozen packages of English muffins and hamburger buns. The cashier decided that was “half a bag” and charged him a buck.

Earlier this week he took a bag of eight buns out to thaw. We had burgers one night, and he used some of the others to pack his lunch. (Did I mention the $2.25-a-pound turkey pastrami he found as an unadvertised special at the Wal-Mart deli counter?) But last night he mentioned that there were still two rolls left and that they weren’t getting any younger. In fact, they weren’t that young when he bought them; this was a bread outlet, remember.

Rather than ignore them until they get moldy, we’ll toast them (to disguise any incipient staleness) and have salad, rice and turkey burgers tonight. The lettuce, Asian greens and herbs will come from the garden, and be moistened by the giant Costco-sized flagon of dressing. There’s still half a giant sack of Super Lucky Elephant rice in the basement.

And the burgers? Well…three-pound bags of them went on sale for $5 recently. We bought four bags.

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  1. I, too, have my own little grocery store in the basement. Much better return on your savings than the measely interest paid at the bank.
    As long as we rotate and not let food spoil all is good! I dare say that it takes a certain kind of people though to stockpile. My frugal husband still does not understand how it’s done right – he is in his 13th year of taking lessons!

    • Donna Freedman

      Keep schooling him!
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. My hubby and I have stockpiled for years. We try very hard not to let anything go to waste. I put dates on everything and if we know we can’t get through things fast enough, we share with friends. I remember in the 90’s (here in Anchorage) when the grocery store shelves got mighty bare due to a strike Washington…no barges of food were sent up for something like two weeks. I was a teen then and my parents had a stockpile going, but it was a very *real* lesson on keeping at least a month or two of food on hand.

    Donna, can I ask which bread outlet you got such good deals from?

    • Donna Freedman

      It’s the one on Lake Otis Parkway near Dowling. Saturday is a swell time to go there.
      And I think at some point we should have a meet-up of all Anchorage readers and lurkers.

      • Lurker here. 🙂 thanks for the info on the bread outlet. I was wondering too!

        • Donna Freedman

          OK, we really need to have a local meet-up. I know another reader who lives here, too; had breakfast with her.

  3. Ro in San Diego

    My son is home from school in Illinois and since I’ve had to work every week day he’s been home I’ve been dragging stuff out of the freezer each night to ensure my boy has mom’s cooking every night. Since he’s been home I haven’t much grocery shopping. That tells me I’ve got a pretty robust freezer full of food. In the past I have a a share my freezer overstock with so none of my food goes to waste.

    I grew up very poor eating USDA surplus food which as I remember wasn’t very tasty. It took me years to be able to eat peanut butter again. So, in my mind wasting food is very, very wrong. I was most certainly someone who was food insecure in my youth.

    • Donna Freedman

      No wonder you’re so generous about sharing your free-or-nearly-free items with others. And yeah, if your son hasn’t eaten you out of house and home yet you must really have stocked up.
      Re the PhD work: Good for him! He’s as smart as his momma. 🙂
      (I recently was asked to house-sit in San Diego for two weeks — but the time period encompassed the Financial Blogger Conference. Pooh.)

  4. Ro in San Diego

    That should have read “have friends with whom I share my freezer overstock”. Also, since you’ve known me my son has been in college. He’s not a dunce; he’s working toward his PhD 🙂

  5. Barbara

    Great info. Since I live alone, it’s a little harder to keep from wasting food. But, you have inspired me to do a better job!

  6. Holly Samlan

    Guess I fall into the same pattern. Had 2 3lb pkg of turkey burgers in the freezer but bought another when they hit $5 sale again.

    Also, I have a couple small (4/)pkg of leg quarters in the freezer BUT 2 of my local stores have them on sale for 0.49/lb this week. I have NOT seen that $$ in sevral years. Will be buying 5-10 lb.

  7. Cynthia

    One of my favorite childhood lunches was a grilled cheese sandwich made on a burger bun–sprayed with a little cooking spray or even better, a little butter in the pan, and slightly stale doesn’t matter at all. My mother was a genius at making something cheap a wonderful treat! In that vein I was thinking all kinds of uses for “used” bread and buns–bread pudding, homemade croutons, homemade bread crumbs, french toast, wow, now I’m hungry!

  8. Jennifer Lautz

    Great article. We also stockpile “old” meat and bread-outlet bread.

    I have started shopping at Aldi (finally), and don’t feel the need to stock up on cereal and other shelf-stable as much as I used to, because I know the prices will be so low.

    We have some wastage — mostly packages of fruits and vegetables that get “almost finished”, then abandoned, or parts of planned meals that are overridden at the last minute. I should start taking those shaming photos!

    We’re in Wisconsin, so much of the produce is shipped in; by February I’m calculating exactly how old the “fresh” produce must be to have travelled from New Zealand or Israel. 😛 We mostly eat whatever seasonal produce is available.

    I am a horrible gardener, but I try. Hopefully the kids will help me and end up having greener thumbs to compensate for mine, and we’ll be able to produce some of the basics. This year, I think we’ve conquered basil.

    • Donna Freedman

      No Aldi’s here, alas…We have one national chain (Safeway) and a Pacific Northwest chain (Fred Meyer), plus some food at Wal-Marts. And yeah, you have to wonder how long ago those tomatoes were picked if they were grown halfway around the world.

      As for things that get “almost finished,” let me give you a link:

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  9. The bread outlet where I shop is The Bread Thrift Store. I think that is a funny name. When I buy bread, it is never old. If it reaches the use by date in the Thrift Store, it is removed from the shelf. The last time I bought bread there, the $3.98 loaves of bread were $.99 and sill had four days left. If I buy $6 worth of bread, I get a punch on a card. When I have ten punches, I get $7 worth of free bread.

    I buy $6 worth of bread and buns, get my card punched and come home and put two loaves in each 2 gallon ziplock bag. I reuse those bags for bread only. I only buy 100% whole wheat bread with no hfcs or preservatives.

    I guess I am lucky to live where this store exists with its unique practices. Listening to stale bread stories makes me believe so, anyway.

    When I shop, I get things I don’t need right now if the items are a good deal and will not spoil. Some weeks, I buy nothing or just bananas and milk because there are no good sales with coupons, and I know there is food a home, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

    Canisters of 11 oz of coffee were all marked down to $1. I called friends, one of whom wanted 30 canisters. I got another 5 for my daughter. Friends alert me to deals or bring them to me.

    It can only be a good thing to keep food on hand. The point of that, besides having food, is that you are always eating cheaper, sale-priced food.

    Are there milk cows in Alaska, or does milk have to be brought in?

  10. I think (okay, I know) I needed this post. I live in the Florida Keys and we have similar issues with grocery items. I worry that we’ll have a hurricane and the trucks won’t get through, so I keep a couple of months worth of food stacked up and buy extra when there is a good sale. It’s time to use some of it up. But…Those bakery outlets sound wonderful. I wish we had them here.

    • Donna Freedman

      You’d probably need to freeze the baked goods to keep them from going moldy in the heat and humidity…But yes, I’m glad for the presence of the outlet. Some weeks they offer a free box of Little Debbie’s cakes with each order, so DF puts them in the freezer until my great-nephews come over.
      The store offers some other oddities; one week they were remaindering cans of sardines and DF got them for about 50 cents each. His son outdid him, though: By offering to buy the entire rest of the stock, he got them for the equivalent of 20 cents each. Which is cool if you like Spanish sardines in a spicy tomato sauce. I haven’t tried them yet so I reserve comment.
      Just for fun, do an online search for “bakery outlet” — maybe there’s one in a nearby city that you can visit the next time you are in the area. I miss my Seattle outlet because it had very cheap flour and corn tortillas along with the other items. It also had a punch-card deal. No sardines, though.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. Lorna Huntley

    We had a local Kmart go out of business and everything was marked 90% off. No fresh foods but I got lots of tomato and cream of chicken soups. Also dried pinto beans and canned sweet potatoes. Need some recipes for the beans. Any way the pantry is plenty full and now we are going to need it because I lost my Job. Thank you for all your inspiration

    • My favorite recipe is Slow Cooker Mexican Pinto Beans. I love them with scrambled eggs in the morning, as hummus with crackers or toasted bread, pureed and made into bean burgers, etc……I freeze them in 2-cup containers; the last container will be soup because I don’t want to waste the liquid……mmmmmmm good!

  12. Slow Cooker Mexican Pinto Beans
    adapted from a recipe from my friend Laura

    4 1/2 cups dry pinto beans
    1 onion, chopped
    1 to 2 Tbsp minced garlic, or approximately 3 to 6 cloves
    1 tsp chili powder
    1 tsp ground black pepper
    1 tsp ground cumin
    6 tsp sea or Kosher salt
    approximately 13 cups water for soaking
    approximately 13 cups water for cooking

    The night before, look through the dry beans, removing any stems or pebbles. Rinse them and place them in a bowl with about 13 cups of water to soak overnight. To save time in the morning, I like to go ahead and cut up the onion, mince the garlic, measure out the spices and put all these into a container in the fridge overnight.

    The next morning, drain the soaking water and rinse the beans again. Place beans and all other ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker. Fill the slow cooker to about 1/2 inch from the bottom rim with water, or about 13 cups. Cook on HIGH for about 8 1/2 to 9 hours or until the beans are easily cut with a fork and the consistency is to your liking.

    This I copied from the “Thoughtful Kitchen”.

    • Donna Freedman

      Sounds delicious (although I will probably cut the salt somewhat). Thanks!

  13. You need few additional spices when using these beans in hummus or beanburger recipe. I also make a pasta salad with diced red onion, green, red, orange pepper, sliced black olives, and 8 oz Italian Salad dressing, where I add them cold. Let flavors mingle overnight – the salad will keep well in the frinde.

  14. ImJuniperNow

    After Superstorm Sandy last year and the freak snowstorm in late September/early October the year before both leaving me without power for days and days, I’ve been hoarding canned goods and powdered milk because I KNOW we will have another equally arduous event this Fall. Only this time, I will have Xanax.

    I will be emptying my freezer and fridge of anything edible/value starting in mid-September, rather than having to throw it all away (again).

    Let the re-stocking list begin!

    • Donna Freedman

      I like having powdered milk around in case I want to cook something and don’t have any fresh milk around. As for the freezer, we have a small generator in case the outage takes place any time but winter. If it’s super-cold out we’ll just store the stuff in boxes in the garage, or in a snowbank. 🙂

  15. I don’t stress too much about throwing out spoiled food.

    Yes, ideally there wouldn’t be any waste.

    However, I’m sure that keeping a hearty stockpile (and sometimes throwing out bits that SHOULD have been used up) is much more economical than going out for a last-minute grocery run or ‘having’ to eat out because there’s nothing suitable at home.

    In fact, I’d guess that all my food waste for a month wouldn’t add up to the cost of ONE meal out.

    • Donna Freedman

      True. I have yet to throw out any canned food, but if I did it would be more than covered by the savings for all the stuff I did get on clearance/sale-with-coupon.

  16. I go through phases with food “stocking”. I’m due for another cleanout… I’m really bad about buying food items that I’m not supposed to eat (I’m diabetic), but they tend to creep into the basket anyway. I suppose it is related to food insecurity in some sort of twisted matter.

    I work with college students, so I always have a ready source of people to pass along my cleanouts to.

    • Donna Freedman

      I bet they’re grateful. For a while, at least, they won’t be starving students.

  17. Melissa F

    As a child, we were food insecure and its continued off and on throughout my life. I came down with a health issue and lost my job and things got tough. The wonderful ex never paid child support so I was able to get food stamps to help me though that difficult period. Since then, I have been a stockpile. At times, I would consider it hoarding. I did try to keep on top of everything but somethings went to waste. I decided to stop trying to build a stash that would feed our family if a catastrophe hit. I still love a good deal and stock up, but not to the point of excess like I use to. I still feel insecure about food and its a hard thought to curb. Enjoyed your post!

    • Donna Freedman

      I get pretty hypervigilant about food, probably because I had some lean times. But let’s remember that it’s hoarding only if we don’t use it, and make sure we use it.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  18. I think you and I are on the same page on this one. We have both had hard times and want a food pantry cushion.Just in case, something bad like (insert one of the many bad events where food was hard to come by) happens again. But we are also grateful for what we have and won’t waste food or the money spent on it. I think that if we question ourselves and our stockpile, then it isn’t a problem. Well, that is what I want you to tell me if I get too many packages of noodles and have to store them in my car and Anna’s room.

    • Donna Freedman

      Happy to be your stockpiling Jiminy Cricket — and you’re right, we’ve worked too hard for what we have to just fritter it away.
      (Although fritters DO sound good right now…)
      You keep me honest and I’ll return the favor, friend.

  19. My mother in law has a big pantry that is always stocked with 3-4 of each item. Sometimes when I go over there, I go through and remove expired items. It’s amazing how many items expired years ago. She thinks I’m making fun of her (and she could definitely do a better job), but the security of knowing she never has to worry about running out of anything is important to her.

    I couldn’t do this myself because I would feel bad about throwing away all that food. There is probably a happy medium


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