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Living Without The Grocery Store

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We are a stunted species, many of us in a modern society dependent upon others for our very sustenance, our security, our food. While the modern grocery store didn’t pop up on the American landscape until 1916, food has been globalized for decades, some would even argue for centuries, and is a business worth 1.5 trillion dollars today.

Yet, the current events have shown us how very precarious those globalized systems truly are. We’ve seen firsthand what one little blip in the supply chain does to grocery store shelves.

Globalization and corporatization of our goods, especially food, have shown us not only the vulnerabilities of choosing such a construct but also the ways that it shapes culture and changes the way we eat. And all of that is to say, it hasn’t necessarily changed things for the better.

As we’ve worked our way into a more self-sufficient lifestyle, I’ve slowly begun to notice how our dependence on grocery stores, which are dependent on so many other facets, is not sustainable.

Yet, for a long time after adopting this lifestyle over a decade ago, I continued my weekly trip to the grocery store. It’s difficult when you have been raised in a way that doesn’t teach you any better. Not that it was my parent’s fault or their parent’s fault, it’s just accepted as the way modern life is.

Modern life… with all of its constructs and rules. All of its vulnerabilities. Modern life isn’t really living in the grand scheme, is it? And so, as we’ve continued on this journey to become more autonomous, sovereign, self-reliant beings I’ve found ways to become less and less dependent upon grocery stores.

After all, many cultures, even in the United States, rarely grocery shop. I was determined to find ways to live with as little reliance on big chain grocery stores as possible before it became necessary. I never imagined it would, and yet, here we are.

What if grocery stores no longer existed?

That’s a big question. And if you would have posed that question to me just a few years ago, I would have almost said irrelevant. Modern-day supermarkets have been around for over 100 years in the U.S. so how would they just disappear?

But as I watched people clear store shelves in no time flat and have continued to see shortages, limits, saw benefits to farms for not growing, have watched agriculture and rural living dissipate to mostly a mere memory, and saw the vulnerabilities of our food systems and supply chains become front and center, it’s not so crazy or irrelevant now.

People used to live without groceries, but how do you do it in today’s modern world?

I think the biggest lesson we can learn from our ancestors is they not only kept their supply chains local, they knew how to do things. Things that are generally frowned upon and seen as pointless in today’s modern, consumer-driven world.

That dependence on others and the systems we have in place is what makes us so vulnerable, though. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can get back, at least to some extent, to the way your ancestors lived… in a more “modern” way.

20 Ideas to Live Without the Modern Supermarket

Join a local CSA

CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” While the definition is fairly broad, typically you pay a fee and receive foods produced by a local, often organic farm, either by weekly or bi-weekly pickup or delivery. Some farms will let you pick your own, others will do the picking for you, it really varies.

If you aren’t sure what options are available local to you, visit local harvest to find a CSA nearby. You never know, you could find a great one and wind up getting the majority of your food from it!

Visit Your Local Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s markets are another way to support local agriculture and farmers but obviously operate differently. While a lot of farmer’s markets aren’t year-round, it doesn’t really matter.

Finding a farmer’s market and making friends with the local producers can be a true godsend. These people are often well versed on the local growing conditions and have numerous tricks up their sleeves for not only growing produce and herbs, but also for raising animals for meat, milk, and eggs.

Besides, a lot of these farmers have goods available out of season, they just don’t have a market tent to market it from. You may even be able to barter with them or learn other valuable skills like soap making, spinning yarn, etc.

Grow Your Own Food

Garden full of fresh produce

I’ve heard more times than I can count how brown, or even black, one’s thumb is. I was 22 the first time I tried to grow anything of any substance and had no clue what I was doing. I can assure you, while I’ve had many successes, just like the best of them, I’ve had just as many failures.

Growing your own food is liberating, and it helps connect you to your food in a way nothing else can. That connection? It’s important.

Try turning your petunia bed into a vegetable or herb garden. Grow some blueberry bushes in containers instead of growing decorative flowers. While flowers have their place in the world, especially for attracting pollinators, many of them aren’t edible to us.

Start by growing vegetables that are easy to grow and things that you eat, and move on from there, one baby step at a time. Even a tomato plant in your living room or on your balcony is better than nothing at all.

Learn How to Preserve Food

Whether you’re using food that you grew, purchased from the farmer’s market, or CSA, it’s worthwhile to learn how to preserve your food!

You can learn how to can, how to freeze, how to dehydrate, how to ferment, or even how to preserve in more old-fashioned ways.

Locally Source Milk

Milk on a table in front of a pasture full of dairy cows.

Dairy products from the grocery aren’t all that grand. If you can’t raise your own, try to source it from a CSA, farmer’s market, find a friend that raises dairy animals, an Amish or Mennonite shop or village, or somewhere else local to you.

If you can source raw dairy, it really is best, non-homogenized dairy is second best. Cows milk is easier to separate the cream from, while goat’s milk needs a separator.

Make Your Own Dairy Products

Once you source that milk, you can utilize it to learn how to make your own dairy products from it.

Whether you’re making yogurt, cheese, butter, ice cream, or the multitude of other things you can make from milk and cream.

Grind Your Own Grains

While grains aren’t really the best foods you can consume, we’ve definitely become accustomed to them as a culture. If you’re still on the grain train, it can be difficult to grow enough to support you and your family when many of us have such limited land resources.

Instead, you can purchase wheat berries and the like, typically from Amish Markets or other suggestions found above. Whole wheat berries keep much longer than ground flour and you can grind it down into flour a few pounds at a time. It’s also less expensive to purchase them whole and they won’t have a bunch of additives and bleaches added to them like many commercially produced flours do.

Make Your Own Cleaning Supplies

So many modern-day cleaning products are full of all kinds of dangerous, abrasive, chemicals that can be hazardous to you, your family, your pets, and the environment.

Thankfully, there are many everyday products that are just as effective as modern cleansers with far fewer detrimental effects. An added bonus is most of the products used to make homemade cleaners are much less expensive. Things like vinegar, lemons, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda can be used in place of most modern cleansers to be made into anything from floor cleaners to disinfectants and polishes.

Take Charge Of Your Laundry

Laundry hanging on the line

Detergents are expensive and like other modern cleansers, full of things that aren’t necessarily safe or good for the environment. They also build up, unlike most more natural detergents.

Making homemade laundry detergent is easy and cheaper. You can use vinegar as a natural fabric softener. If you choose to tumble dry, use wool balls in place of chemical-laden softener sheets. Though, I recommend hanging your laundry outdoors. It uses less energy, costs less, and naturally disinfects your clothes in the sun.

Another thing is it has become commonplace to throw clothes in the dirty hamper after a single use. If you’re out, living on a farm, and working hard, those clothes may be dirty. But, if you haven’t been particularly active, or work a light-duty job, they’re not really that dirty. Wear them more than once to reduce your use.

Raise Backyard Chickens

Whether you’re raising laying hens for fresh eggs or other heritage breeds for meat, raising your own is gratifying and really localizes some of that food chain.

In fact, this was one of the first things we did when we moved to our property was get some chickens, which we weren’t able to do on our suburban property. Oddly enough, things that used to be encouraged are now frowned upon. In some ways, it’s a sad world we live in.

Menu Plan

Try to menu plan seasonally. This will help you utilize foods that are seasonally available to you to make meals.

While I’m not saying you can’t, or shouldn’t occasionally change things up, especially if you’re new to seasonal eating, it helps tremendously to keep those supply chains local when you are using seasonally available foods.

Besides, not many people want to turn on their ovens when it’s 100 degrees outside. So, make a rough draft list of about a months worth of meals you enjoy that use seasonally available foods.

Here in Indiana, we have all four seasons, so I have four menus and work off of those for each month out of the year. This helps make the menu planning process easier, too.

Make Your Food From Scratch

Flour is poured into a bowl of yeast to make bread from scratch.

Whether you’re making a loaf of bread, applesauce, salsa, pizza, or anything in between, learn to make these things from scratch with real ingredients.

It can be a big transition to learn to do these things on your own, so start with a few simple things, some of your favorites, and then step a little further into your skill-building.

Ditch Paper Products

Trade-in your paper towels for cloth. Utilize reusable dishes instead of paper, plastic, or foam. Ditch disposable diapers for cloth diapering.

You can even try reusable feminine products and family cloth in place of toilet paper as well if you’re daring enough to give them a shot.

Raise Meat Rabbits

Even those that cannot have chickens can generally raise meat rabbits without going against any local ordinances.

Meat rabbits can provide you with copious amounts of lean, healthy meat for very little in the way of feed. They don’t take up a lot of space, they’re quiet, and they also produce lots and lots of fantastic fertilizer for your garden.

Learn How to Forage

Do you know what weeds are edible? How about berries? Mushrooms?

Foraging used to be such a large part of the culture, learning the local edibles and useful medicinals that grew abundantly on forest floors, and even in yards, along roadsides, and in gardens.

I highly recommend you get a few books that are specific to your region, and even find a few local folks, maybe at those farmer’s markets, that are well versed in your local, wild edibles to get started on this journey, but it’s well worth it to go on.

Go Fishing

Farm-raised fish, unless you’re raising them on your own, aren’t really all that great for you. Grab a pole, take the kids, and catch some dinner!

We are blessed to live very near a lake and several other bodies of water, so this is just a simple stroll for us, but even if it requires some modern travel to get there, it’s a skill worth having, it’s fun, relaxing, and localizes some healthy food.

Go Hunting

Here on our homestead, we are avid hunters. Our children are learning to hunt alongside us and I feel that this is an imperative skill, especially moving forward.

Like fishing, we also live in an area with plenty of diverse hunting opportunities right outside our front door, making this easy. But, regardless, it’s worthwhile.

While some folks are against hunting, many will tell you this while having a large slice of cattle sitting on their dinner plates. I am a firm believer that we are omnivorous creatures and God gave us dominion over animals to provide our sustenance.

Other folks will say that hunting wild game is more expensive than grocery meat. Well, for one thing, grocery store meat is cheap because it’s subsidized, raised in unfair conditions, and the farmer gets nil, it’s an illusion that food should be cheap, it shouldn’t.

Besides, hunting doesn’t have to be expensive. You really only need a license/tag, and a legal weapon, which can often be purchased used. We’ve simply fancied it up with all these necessities that are honestly, anything but.

Become a Beekeeper

Bees are amazing. After all, without pollinators, including honey bees, we wouldn’t have food. They will help your garden grow amazing food along with providing wonderful beeswax and nutritious honey to naturally sweeten homemade dishes and make all kinds of goodies.

Learn More About Herbal Remedies

While I am a novice when it comes to herbal remedies, I learn more each year and add a few more to our garden to grow for us. It’s best to grab a book, I particularly like Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, by Rosemary Gladstar.

This book or another can help you learn to ditch all of those candy-coated tablets in your medicine cabinet and use natural, God-given plants in their place.

An added bonus would be to learn more about using essential oils. While this isn’t necessarily an easy way to localize your supply chain, since many essential oils are produced world’s apart, it can help you learn how to be less dependent on our modern pharmaceutical systems.

Learn to Make Your Own Oils & Fats

When you purchase your meat in bulk from local farmers at local markets or through your CSA, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to procure the fat. This fat can then be rendered into tallow, lard, and schmaltz.

These fats used to be used exclusively, alongside butter, for all cooking purposes. While it would be difficult to make mayonnaise or salad dressing without olive oil or the like, maybe we could simply learn to live without those things and be better for it in the end? Maybe?

While this doesn’t cover everything, it does cover a great deal. I was trying to think of all of the things typically purchased in today’s supermarkets. While not an exhaustive list, it is a good start. Once I really start to think about it, I could definitely live without the supermarket. It would take some adjusting, yes, but it’s tiring living in a culture that never denies itself anything.

Perhaps it’s time to begin denying a few things that we don’t need anyway or only purchasing them in small quantities, like sugar or store-bought, all-purpose flour. Some things like salt, while it can be foraged, I definitely would rather be dependent upon an outside source for, since it’s a necessity, but most things, I can live without, and so can you.

Maybe, in the future, we will be better for our work toward a more self-sufficient life far less dependent on our modern, failing systems and fake food.

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Roberta

Wednesday 8th of June 2022

Hi Danielle, I just read your article on living without the grocery store. along with all the great things you mentioned, like bee keeping, did you know that honey is also a great antibiotic for cuts and scrapes?

Mrs R D Mouncer

Saturday 8th of January 2022

Some of these ideas translate really well outside the US, but here in the UK you pay a lot and you need a licence to go fishing, and you can't keep them! Except for sea-fishing. Hunting is the preserve of the very wealthy and requires a gun-licence and the landowners permission. There's also seasons for everything. No-one here has the space for chickens or meat-rabbits, anyone with a property big enough doesn't need them! But grow your own? Absolutely!

Danielle McCoy

Sunday 9th of January 2022

Not all of these suggestions will translate to every individual, regardless of location. They are simply suggestions that you can use to decrease your dependency on the store. Do what you can, where you are is my mantra.

Kim

Friday 23rd of July 2021

Would love it nobody to ask ?and where the food comes from.

Sandra Wages

Sunday 17th of May 2020

Hi! Just joined the group. You can grow your own dry beans ie; pinto, navy ect. Or if you only want to buy 1x per yr or ev/other year, we live in Oregon and buy in bulk at either "Winco" mrkt or at the restaurant supply store "Cash and Carry". We can buy 25lb. And 50lb bags there and can be dry canned for storage. The bean bag can be reused as has a zipper.

Holly Whiteside

Wednesday 27th of November 2019

I like your article very much! Two of my interests are avoiding plastics and supporting local agriculture and small businesses, so I'm also trying to stay out of the supermarkets. I've been going to the farmer's market, gardening, and doing a lot of DIY including canning, yogurt, sourdough, some cheese, dehydrating, some personal care, but I'm having difficulty sourcing some items without plastic in my area: dry beans, some grains. What are you and other readers doing for grains and beans?

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