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May 3, 2013 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Getting your groceries delivered might be greener than driving to the store. In a University of Washington study, delivery vs. driving reduced CO2 emissions by half. Where's Webvan when you need it?
posted by overleaf (83 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
... if you are not physically capable of biking or walking a distance most people can handle, or because your suburban neighborhood has been designed to kill pedestrians and cyclists.
posted by maudlin at 5:47 PM on May 3, 2013 [20 favorites]


That said, I've seen how suburban relatives drive their SUVs to various grocery stores on weekend, going for the best price at each store. They may well come out ahead with delivery.
posted by maudlin at 5:49 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Any excuse to use Subscribe & Save!
posted by bq at 5:50 PM on May 3, 2013


... if you are not physically capable of biking or walking a distance most people can handle, or because your suburban neighborhood has been designed to kill pedestrians and cyclists.

Not to mention gardens, personal or community.
posted by DU at 5:55 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Neither a personal nor community garden is going to provide a significant fraction of one's food supply.
posted by Justinian at 6:02 PM on May 3, 2013 [14 favorites]


Now if we can just get the smart fridge that'll be online to do the ordering for us.
posted by sammyo at 6:03 PM on May 3, 2013


It's kind of obvious, isn't it? If you can fit 100 deliveries in the truck and drive a delivery route that's in any way more optimal than returning to the store in between each customer address, then you're bound to come out far ahead in efficiency even if the truck is slightly more polluting than the 100 SUV's that would otherwise be making the trip.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:04 PM on May 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


Webvan? Home Grocer? Right here.*

*Limited delivery areas. Controversial business philosophy. Possibly not good guys, when considered as a corporate entity. This implies no aspersion on individuals who work for said megacorporation.
posted by mwhybark at 6:05 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Food delivery isn't really very convenient since you have to be home or all your ice cream will melt.
posted by octothorpe at 6:13 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Neither a personal nor community garden is going to provide a significant fraction of one's food supply.

I've got to disagree here: during the summer months our small (total of 4x10 maybe?) garden has saved us up to 40 bucks a week on groceries, and a couple of tomato shrubs provide us enough San Marziano toms to use every week for the rest of the year.

It's not out to sustain a family, but if you have the time, it can make a legit dent.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:15 PM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't see where you're disagreeing. That's not a significant fraction of your food supply.
posted by Justinian at 6:17 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow. I'd never realised you didn't have grocery deliveries as a matter of course in the US. I think they only make up 5% at most of the UK market, but that's enough for the delivery vans to be a pretty common sight on UK roads.
posted by ambrosen at 6:18 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Grocery shopping takes the vast majority of my available energy outside of work, school, and home. I have multiple chronic illnesses, so I have to grocery shop when I have energy to do it, which is random, thus I can't often take advantage of many price discounts or bulk savings. I have longed for something like this for a very long time.
posted by strixus at 6:20 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


octothorpe: "Food delivery isn't really very convenient since you have to be home or all your ice cream will melt."

There's an old-timey dairy delivery where I live; I don't use it, but they give* you these high-tech coolers when you sign up and deliver the refrigerables (well it's a word NOW) into it. The ice cream will stay cold all day. You put your glass milk bottles into it when you're done with them and the diary guy takes them back from there. I don't know if this works in Arizona, but it works in the high summer in the midwest. The problem is actually if it gets far enough below freezing, the cooler can't protect the bottles from breakage due to freezing milk. But heat is not a problem.

*I mean, you pay a deposit.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:21 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do people ...not have Fresh Direct in most parts of the US? My NYC dwelling relatives used to be able to call up the markets and get stuff run over all the time back in the 50s.

Then again I'm of the mind if you can't walk to and from the market you should just get it delivered and it would be a net gain for everyone ( lower CO2 emissions, less cars on the road, less impulse buys, more awareness of meal planning)
posted by The Whelk at 6:25 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Neither a personal nor community garden is going to provide a significant fraction of one's food supply.

It used to supply close to 100% of one's food supply and for some it still does. Last summer, it supplied..maybe 30-40% of mine (because I mainly ate salsa when I could, along with beans and squash).

I know a lot of people that belong to some kind of CSA and base their week's meals around whatever they get that week. I'm less tolerant of new foods than that, but they seemed to come up with a lot of recipe for kale and whatnot. I don't know what you consider a "significant" fraction, but I think 10% must qualify. It doesn't sound like much until someone suggests you go on a diet for that amount...
posted by DU at 6:26 PM on May 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Another way of expressing these results: delivering to several well stocked bodegas scattered so they are within walking distance of most homes would save even more emissions than having only one supermegamart with huge parking lots that serves everyone within a 30 minute drive. It would dilute profits, though.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:26 PM on May 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Do people ...not have Fresh Direct in most parts of the US?

Never heard of it and I've lived in a lot of places around the US.
posted by DU at 6:27 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the context of this thread I'm using it to mean "such that it renders having groceries delivered unnecessary", since that was the implication of the original comment I replying to.
posted by Justinian at 6:28 PM on May 3, 2013


Oh knock it off garden-hater.
posted by Mister_A at 6:30 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't hate gardens, some of my best friends are gardens.
posted by Justinian at 6:30 PM on May 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


DU: It used to supply close to 100% of one's food supply and for some it still does.

Was that every really true for anyone other than 'farmers' and 'subsistence farmers'?
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:31 PM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Touché, my friend.
posted by Mister_A at 6:32 PM on May 3, 2013


ambrosen: "Wow. I'd never realised you didn't have grocery deliveries as a matter of course in the US. I think they only make up 5% at most of the UK market, but that's enough for the delivery vans to be a pretty common sight on UK roads."

I'm not perfectly sure why, but while there's plenty of food delivery in the US, it's all prepard food. It probably has to do with the profit margins of grocers. The grocery store market is pretty cutthroat. Wal-Mart, the much maligned behemoth, has a 3 percent profit margin. Kroger, another grocer, sits at 1.5 percent. Amazon is happy when their margin is positive. Other factors I can think of include the increasing number two income households, a rise in unpaid overtime among white collar workers, and just a general increase in wealth.
posted by pwnguin at 6:37 PM on May 3, 2013


It's not all bad.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:38 PM on May 3, 2013


Was that every really true for anyone other than 'farmers' and 'subsistence farmers'?

I don't know what these scare quotes are supposed to mean, nor why you seem to think that farmers were an insignificant fraction of the population. It used to be basically everybody except for the very rich (who could afford to buy everything) or the very poor (forced to work for the former in industrial centers).
posted by DU at 6:40 PM on May 3, 2013


DU: I don't know what these scare quotes are supposed to mean, nor why you seem to think that farmers were an insignificant fraction of the population. It used to be basically everybody except for the very rich (who could afford to buy everything) or the very poor (forced to work for the former in industrial centers).

I didn't say they were an insignificant fraction of the population. However, I am trying to think of a time during history when people worked full careers outside the home and farmed enough food to mostly feed themselves, and I am failing to think of any time except for during WWII, and I'm not even sure about that.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:49 PM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I guess I don't have the same "working for other people is awesome" bias most of the population has. If I could provide 100% of my family's food (and even more difficult, medical care) without doing working for someone else, I'd do it in a heartbeat.
posted by DU at 6:52 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Justinian, if you don't know anyone whose household gets a significant fraction of their food from a personal or community garden, you need to make friends with more hippies. Meat share plus backyard garden plus CSA down the street equals very few summer grocery store visits in my circle of friends.

Interesting study. It sounds to me like this highlights the fact that the light trucks of small business are one of the best places to target emissions/fuel standards/electric vehicles, too.
posted by daveliepmann at 6:53 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know what these scare quotes are supposed to mean, nor why you seem to think that farmers were an insignificant fraction of the population.

Scare quotes are supposed to keep away silly claims. They usually fail.
posted by srboisvert at 6:56 PM on May 3, 2013


DU: I guess I don't have the same "working for other people is awesome" bias most of the population has. If I could provide 100% of my family's food (and even more difficult, medical care) without doing working for someone else, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

If you can afford the start-up costs, you can still buy a farm and be a small-time farmer and grow most of your own food. I just don't think it's nice to be judgmental about other people who'd rather be molecular biologists or auto mechanics or website designers and leave the farming to someone else.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:57 PM on May 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


Food delivery isn't really very convenient since you have to be home or all your ice cream will melt.

Pre-dawn delivery!
posted by Artw at 6:59 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't see where you're disagreeing. That's not a significant fraction of your food supply.

Yeah, I forgot to mention that we only spend 75 bucks at most for 3 people and a dog each week. So saving 40 bucks a week, 5 months out of the year, somewhat significant fraction.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:00 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know a lot of people that belong to some kind of CSA and base their week's meals around whatever they get that week.

I subscribed to a CSA last year. $45 a week for a basket of fruits and vegetables that, while delightful, (a) I couldn't use up and (b) were simply not going to be near the entirety of my diet. The nontrivial expense plus the feeling that I failed it somehow led me to cancel it without blinking.

But I've been curious about trying out my local grocery delivery, so maybe I just need to give in to my lazy yearning for convenience.
posted by psoas at 7:07 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I get my groceries delivered, but not for that reason. I can't walk very well any more and the nearest grocery is half a mile away, and I don't own a car. So it's either get a friend to drive me (and I don't want to be a bother) or get Safeway to deliver.

Safeway's online ordering system is really well designed and it's a pleasure to use it. The delivery people are really nice, too.

The truck that delivers my food is quite large, but I doubt it could carry 100 people's deliveries. For one thing there isn't enough time in a day for one truck to make a hundred deliveries. I figure they average fifteen minutes each, including driving, unloading, hauling up stairs, and so on. They deliver my groceries to my apartment door, and then patiently stand there while I limp back and forth between my door and my kitchen.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:07 PM on May 3, 2013


I'm currently living in a rural area, so I suspect this would not work (of course, I totally understand this study is focusing on urban dwellers). UPS even refuses to deliver to my house. :(
posted by steamynachos at 7:10 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


We've tried delivery but I'm never happy with the quality of the produce that gets delivered. I want apples non-bruised, damn it! Anyway, grocery shopping on Sunday morning when everybody else in my extreme right wing county is in church has become sort of a ritual for me and Mrs. COD.
posted by COD at 7:42 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Many stores have double/triple coupons and price matching. I kind of doubt you could take advantage of that without actually going to the store. The key to getting the poor and working class to help preserve the environment is inside their wallets, and then convenience follows.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:47 PM on May 3, 2013


I use the bus to go to the grocery store. If everyone used buses (or PRT) we could get rid of those ridiculous parking lots and build something useful on them.
posted by Kevin Street at 8:06 PM on May 3, 2013


I walk to the grocery store a lot, too, but I'm single and I don't have kids. Can people with a bunch of kids really do their shopping on foot?
posted by Justinian at 8:10 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, you can't efficiently transport $200 worth of groceries by bike, foot, or bus. Perishables not withstanding, not everyone lives in a mild climate year round. Also, most parents don't have that kind of extra time.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:16 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I've got two kids and a job (in Minnesota) and there is no way that walking to the grocery store, or growing my own food, are options.

I would consider getting them delivered, except that the weekly trip to Byerly's is sort of a highlight of my week, these days. I'm out of the house! There is sushi! And fresh bread! And a coffee shop right in the store! And I can bring the kids! And at Byerly's you drive up and they load your car for you! If I didn't go grocery shopping, I wouldn't go anywhere...
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:32 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd never realised you didn't have grocery deliveries as a matter of course in the US.

I think they kind of disappeared from the US in the postwar period and are only recently coming back to many areas. My guess is it's because the car-centric suburb both makes them impractical (a bit too spread out) and undesirable (the suburbs are supposed to be reminiscent of living in the country, and food delivery is a city thing not a country thing).

No, you can't efficiently transport $200 worth of groceries by bike, foot, or bus.

Well, if you're shopping on foot, Brockton, you probably don't buy $200 of groceries at once. If there's a store five blocks away from home or on your route home from work, it makes perfect sense to go to it every day or two. Your food is fresher, you don't have to plan your meals as far in advance if you don't want to, you can take advantage of short term sales and price fluctuations, etc etc.; and it really doesn't take much time.

(It's beside the point, but it is quite possible to efficiently transport a small family's groceries for a week on a bike; I know people who do, without being especially athletic or gung-ho. But doing it on foot wouldn't be easy at all.)
posted by hattifattener at 8:45 PM on May 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, you can't efficiently transport $200 worth of groceries by bike, foot, or bus. Perishables not withstanding, not everyone lives in a mild climate year round. Also, most parents don't have that kind of extra time.

You can if you have a cargo bike, which I do, but that is an investment in itself. And I do live within walking distance of three grocery stores as well, because I have the privilege of having been able to choose an urban neighborhood that makes this possible.
posted by padraigin at 8:54 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Neither a personal nor community garden is going to provide a significant fraction of one's food supply

I garden, and love my garden. And I get this. A lot of people don't. Many ask me if I live off of my garden during the summer. That simply wouldn't be possible. The types of things we traditionally grow for ourselves are calorie poor. First off, trying to put 2000+ calories into your belly daily via spinach, tomatoes and squash would require more bulk than our bellies could handle. The calorie dense foods, like grain are incredibly hard to process. Even then getting 2000 calories x 365 days x 4 family members in a household planting strikes me as near impossible, unless you have a lawn measuring dozens of acres and scads of free time. Potatoes may be a saner option for something calorie dense. There's corn, but remember each stalk produces one main ear and a secondary vestigial ear and that's it. Figure about 20 ears per day every day per family member to hit 2000 calories and it starts to add up. At some point, concentrating your calories into something like a cow starts to make sense. But these aren't really options for any but the most rural of us.

So for the most part, people living off their personal gardens doesn't strike me as particularly viable. A fun dietary supplement that works wonders to defray the cost of pricer produce and "luxury" ingredients (it costs a couple bucks to grow an amount of basil your local Walmart would charge hundreds for portioned into 2 oz packs), sure, but the idea of someone somehow managing to produce even, say, only 500 calories (about 25% of your daily calorie requirement) daily year round for everyone in the household from a garden makes me want to have them define "supplement" for me.

So perhaps people are defining "significant portion" by dollar value and budget, but I define it by energy production.

I think we should all try to grow just one loaf of bread this year as a fun experiment. Anyone got any idea of the square footage required to grow about 3 cups worth of flour?
posted by sourwookie at 8:56 PM on May 3, 2013 [20 favorites]


I believe that's correct, sourwookie. You can grow a lot of small and expensive stuff in your garden. It's much more difficult to grow a lot of calorie dense stuff. It takes a lot of room.
posted by Justinian at 9:00 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, the the internet suggests it takes about 30 square feet to make one 1lb loaf of bread. That seems like a lot to me!
posted by Justinian at 9:04 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bingo. Which is why historically people would grow veggies (the low calorie, non starch kind) and raise a few animals--usually small grass and garbage-eaters, and purchase their calorie dense foods (grains, hardcore taters, big meats) from someone local who had the resources and space and water to specialize in that stuff. I don't think at any point in history your average family was keeping themselves in their own flour supply. Which is to say for most of civilization people were likely supplying some of their own calories but buying or bartering for most of them.
posted by sourwookie at 9:09 PM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, lets assume that farm land costs $1000/acre, and I follow a heuristic that you want to make enough off it in 10 years to pay for the land. That would mean $100/acre/year. Flour costs $0.50/lb retail, and three cups is about a pound. So that acre would have to produce 200 lbs of flour to be profitable, one two hundredth of an acre is about 200 square feet. So that's an upper bound. The land could cost the better part of an order of magnitude more, the farmer is seeing less than half of the retail price (I'm guessing) and faces substantial capital costs, fertilizer and herbicides. So 30 square feet is plausible by this rather detached line of argument.
posted by wotsac at 9:12 PM on May 3, 2013


... if you are not physically capable of biking or walking a distance most people can handle, or because your suburban neighborhood has been designed to kill pedestrians and cyclists.
Honestly though, walking with groceries is kind of a drag, especially if you have heavy stuff like beer, milk, ice cream, frozen stuff, etc.

Biking with groceries is not too bad.
posted by !Jim at 9:32 PM on May 3, 2013


Neither a personal nor community garden is going to provide a significant fraction of one's food supply.

What? I'm a vegetarian and if I had a bountiful production garden I could easily eat 90% off of that alone in season.
posted by threeants at 9:32 PM on May 3, 2013


Also, it's odd that there seems to be a debate going on over whether it's possible to grocery shop without for a family without a car. This is...like...extremely not hypothetical.
posted by threeants at 9:37 PM on May 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


I wonder how grocery delivery compares in 'green-ness' with the weekly grocery vans that would come to our neighborhood (in Hawai'i) back in the 60's. We would line up to buy produce, fish and even some canned goods and rice from the back of the van. It was a lively neighborhood event.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:41 PM on May 3, 2013


Threeants: Yes, that "if". We aren't discussing vegetable vs. meat, we are discussing how to get a significant portion of your calories from a personal garden. Being vegetarian doesn't change the fact that you still need appx 2000 calories a day to survive. By your statement you would be satisfied with 1800 of those coming from your garden--"if" it had bountiful production. A garden providing 1800 calories in vegetable matter a day, every day, for every person that lived there would have to be supernaturally bountiful. Or huge. And possibly staffed.

So while I do see delivery being more economical than everyone-for-themselves transportation, I don't see backyard gardens really making much of a dent in how much driving is done.
posted by sourwookie at 9:46 PM on May 3, 2013


Well ... years ago I shopped for groceries for my family either walking or by bus. (I wouldn't drive then; was a rabid environmentalist in the '70s.) It just meant shopping more often. It didn't seem odd, since the Europeans I knew at that time did their food shopping daily.
posted by Surfurrus at 9:47 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


And in other news, drop weight by cutting your nails.
posted by zouhair at 9:58 PM on May 3, 2013


Justinian: "that was the implication of the original comment I replying to."

You can't know the implication. All you truly know is your inference of the implication.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:57 PM on May 3, 2013


And can anyone ever really know anything?
posted by Justinian at 12:06 AM on May 4, 2013


Justinian: "And can anyone ever really know anything?"

Yes. A person who implies something, by definition, knows what their implication is. There are others, but I don't have the time.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:40 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's odd that there seems to be a debate going on over whether it's possible to grocery shop without for a family without a car.

My mum had to do the grocery shopping for a family of usually seven, depending on how many foster children we had taken in at the time and she did the weekly grocery shop on her bike. She also roped in one of us kids, often me as liked doing that shop. Two bikes with the same bags me and my brother used to deliver newspapers attached can hold a shedload of stuff and we'd use them to get all the staples from the Aldi (including a lot of soda).
posted by MartinWisse at 2:07 AM on May 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Getting back to the original idea of delivery being greener than going shopping yourself, George Monbiot put forward a series of proposals in his book Heat on how to save the world from climate change which included this.

It's not just the CO2 cost of driving to and from the supermarket versus that of a delivery van, but also the cost of delivering to supermarkets from distribution centres as opposed to from distribution centres directly to the consumer, as well as the cost of running a supermarket versus one of those centres. Having all that lighting and those massive cooler displays means a lot of energy wasted that you don't need to provide in a warehouse the public won't ever see.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:12 AM on May 4, 2013


Threeants: Yes, that "if". We aren't discussing vegetable vs. meat, we are discussing how to get a significant portion of your calories from a personal garden. Being vegetarian doesn't change the fact that you still need appx 2000 calories a day to survive. By your statement you would be satisfied with 1800 of those coming from your garden--"if" it had bountiful production. A garden providing 1800 calories in vegetable matter a day, every day, for every person that lived there would have to be supernaturally bountiful. Or huge. And possibly staffed.

So while I do see delivery being more economical than everyone-for-themselves transportation, I don't see backyard gardens really making much of a dent in how much driving is done.


Well, think of a meal like beans and rice. You could buy huge quantities of them in one trip to the grocery store and that would last weeks. All the stuff to make that taste good though would come from the garden, your tomatoes and peppers and herbs and stuff. You would save money and save trips but the calories would still come from the store.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:14 AM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've got an anecdote proving you wrong here somewhere...
posted by Brocktoon at 2:42 AM on May 4, 2013


I did shop on fog with two children. As a result, I have pretty horrid arthritis in my shoulders. It can be done, but I don't recommend it. If I could have used a bike, I would have. My vision precluded that and driving. Even though they fixed my eyes, they don't work together.
So I would have been totally delighted with some decent food delivery service when my kids were little.
Sadly, Safeway doesn't deliver here. I wish they did!
One store here, Fiesta Foods does bring foot/bus shoppers home with their purchases. You still pick out your stuff, and they bring you home in a van and help you take your bags up the stairs. Shopping there is frantic for me though. Loud music, kids running everywhere...
I like to see the meat I'm buying, and the vegetables.
Mr. Roquette and I do garden. We mainly grow stuff that is expensive, or hard to get at he quality we like.
Home grown Brussels sprouts, cilantro, rosemary, salad greens, collard greens REAL baby carrots.
Spring onions, stuff we don't have in the budget. I use these to make pasta salads.
We are not vegetarians. We grill meat ahead and freeze it in the warmer part of the year. We can just microwave it or re-heat with vegetables that way.
I find shopping physically a pain.
I am lactose/casein intolerant, also we don't eat pork. So label checks are a part of shopping.
And beans, I like beans, but nothing can stop the absolutely horrific gas that beans give me.
Did you know that Hormel's 'No Beans' chili is full of soy?
Found that out after ruining sleep for poor Mr. Roquette!
So delivery would mean I would have to know ahead what's in everything. I would seldom try new processed foods. Probably that's a good thing.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:53 AM on May 4, 2013


For me it's a choice between getting the stuff delivered or spending two plus hours every weekend going to get it on foot, and given I work a lot of weekends already spending the 5 euros or so delivery charge is a no brainer. I really don't care about environmental impact, not having to spend a substantial amount of my free time carrying heavy groceries around and not having sore arms and shoulders every Monday is totally worth it. I guess the other alternative would be to buy a car which we would then use for other things too, so it's probably still an environmental win to get deliveries.

Going more often and buying less each time isn't really acceptable because each trip still takes a lot of time plus shopping more often always ends up more expensive due to impulse buys and whatnot. Having one delivery every two weeks has cut down on our food bill by a significant amount. Convenience isn't an issue because they deliver quite late at night or in the weekends so we can always schedule a time that suits us. Plus the guy brings the containers right into our kitchen so there is no lifting at all for me. We get all the same coupons and savings online that you would in the store, but it's a lot easier to comparison shop and make sure we get full value so we save there too. Choosing meat and vege isn't an issue because we buy all our vegetables and some of our meat elsewhere anyway, and the remaining meat is pretty uniform so we know what we're getting. But even just getting the heavy, bulky stuff like cat litter, washing detergent, tinned food and bottles of milk delivered makes such a difference to my quality of life. Really I don't see any downside to the whole thing.
posted by shelleycat at 3:21 AM on May 4, 2013


You could buy huge quantities of them in one trip to the grocery store and that would last weeks.

This still assumes someone somewhere has a car. Either you drive your own or you take a taxi/public transport or you get it delivered. Then you also need space to store all that extra food until you need it. All of those things cost money.

I used to garden a lot and it did cut down our food budget by more than half in the summer. We grew all of our vegetables except for flour and (occasionally) corn. But we still needed to buy other food, including fruit which takes up a lot more space and lead time than vegetables (apple trees take more than a few months to make apples). Since there was no delivery or public transport options available to us then we owned a car primarily to do the grocery shopping. Plus winter time. Having a garden working to the point that you no longer need some form of transport for getting groceries to your house is not a trivial thing and is really not going to happen for the majority of people living in urban areas. That doesn't mean gardens aren't awesome and desirable, just how it works for a lot of us. I don't see how this is even debatable?
posted by shelleycat at 3:33 AM on May 4, 2013


If there's a store five blocks away from home or on your route home from work, it makes perfect sense to go to it every day or two. Your food is fresher, you don't have to plan your meals as far in advance if you don't want to, you can take advantage of short term sales and price fluctuations, etc etc.; and it really doesn't take much time.

This all makes no sense to me. I'm a single, fit man living in a moderately upscale urban environment with 3-4 grocery stores within walking distance [so in an ideal situation to take advantage of this proposal] and I can barely find the time to get groceries once a week. Granted, I don't practice meal planning, but beyond that the idea of going every couple of days sounds (a) incredibly time-consuming--buying fewer things is not faster, since time spent getting there and waiting in the checkout line is now multiplied--and (b) pretty expensive, since getting smaller quantities of fresher ingredients eliminates bulk discounts.

Also, the two nearest options are a corner-convenience-store place and an organic boutique supermarket, both of which mean markups.
posted by psoas at 5:35 AM on May 4, 2013


Small potatoes: The wife bought an unfortunately fuel inefficient car....I went to carbonfund and terapass to offset it. It cost me $90/yr to do it.

I was shocked it was that low. But, I guess the individual in the car is not a big percentage of the problem.

*Yes, I know it would be better to not emit than to pay for emissions in the first place but my wife is not as ridden with liberal guilt as I am.

*Yes, I know a lot of small potatoes adds up to ginormous harvest of difference but I can't see how stuff is going to change on a large level....America is built on the very model of over-consumption.
posted by skepticallypleased at 5:55 AM on May 4, 2013


Low emission cars are great and all, but when does the focus shift toward low emission cargo vehicles? Low emission airplanes? Container ships?
posted by Brocktoon at 6:43 AM on May 4, 2013


This is fucking awesome. I am literally the last holdout in our neighborhood that doesn't use Amazon grocery delivery, and my misgiving (aside from the cost being slightly higher) was that it seemed massively wasteful when there's a grocery store 7 blocks away. We have two boys and mom and dad are extremely busy so groceries are a chore and we can't get by with just stopping at the store on the way home from work, we have to go and blow $300 every 2 weeks on a carload of groceries. It is one of the last chores for which I depend on a car. I don't know if this is enough to convince me to finally dump the car entirely, but I think we may be signing up for Amazon Fresh now.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:59 AM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know. I have some concerns about how this would really play out.

We're a carless household of single/childless people who live near several (admittedly inner city and thus high prices, bad produce) grocery stores, so we wouldn't use a delivery service if one was available anyway. I add that while I could probably do a week of shopping for a family using a bike cart, that would add a level of difficulty even for someone who bikes a lot and lives close to the store; for someone who bikes irregularly and lives more than a couple of miles away or a long bad roads, it would be pretty impossible.

Okay, wouldn't it play out like this:
-Amazon gets majorly involved
-people order itty packages of pre-made organic quinoa imported from Bolivia by way of Italy, reducing the environmental improvements
-grocery workers lose their already inferior but tolerable jobs and have to take new ones working in Amazon's slave-labor-like warehouses (seriously, those things are a nightmare and I don't think it is totally unfair to compare the working conditions to certain forms of slavery),
-people demand that their organic quinoa be delivered Same Day instead of thinking ahead and being on a regular grocery route
-Amazon decides to compete on the basis of "one hour delivery" or something, creates an entirely new form of shitty and abusive job, probably bans tipping like most corporate giants do
-all these abused workers get poorer and poorer - and there will be a lot of those workers! - and sicker and sicker
-the economy circles the drain because the abused workers can't, like, spend any money on anything
-the people who are still rich think it's awesome, because hey, organic italian quinoa product in 45 minutes or your money back!

I realize that I have lost my faith in the ability to improve any aspect of US life for anyone except the elite.
posted by Frowner at 7:04 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


martinwissse: Having all that lighting and those massive cooler displays means a lot of energy wasted that you don't need to provide in a warehouse the public won't ever see.

Ah, but that's where the competition comes in! Without competition, we couldn't have a just society, and prices would shoot through the roof and we'd all starve. Never forget that those fluorescent lights over the frozen vegetable bin are the price of FREEDOM.
posted by sneebler at 7:12 AM on May 4, 2013


Also, pneumatic tube delivery system.
posted by sneebler at 7:19 AM on May 4, 2013


I live across the street from my supermarket. It's a Wegmans. I consider myself the luckiest woman in the world.
posted by Lucinda at 7:25 AM on May 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I used to live a few stories above a grocery store. After a while, you start to wonder if you really need a fridge.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:01 AM on May 4, 2013


I hope I'm not the only one thinking "This is lovely and all, but if I order online, then Grocery Store has a neat little record of everything I buy, and that's exactly why I don't sign up for Socialist Shopper's Cards."

I dunno. Perhaps it's overly paranoid of me, but I'll take a modicum of privacy in driving to the store and paying in cash over being maybe just a little greener and all the more ripe for exploitation of my data, personally. I like to think I can make up the difference in other ways.
posted by po at 8:14 AM on May 4, 2013


grocery workers lose their already inferior but tolerable jobs and have to take new ones working in Amazon's slave-labor-like warehouses

That's a decent point.

In the Twin Cities at least, many grocery jobs are unionized. Some of the grocery delivery options here are available from some of those unionized stores, don't know about all of them.
posted by gimonca at 8:25 AM on May 4, 2013


Justinian: "Can people with a bunch of kids really do their shopping on foot?"

Do it all the time (though I only have the one kid my father lives with us). I start work 2 hours before my wife so I'm off two hours earlier so my daughter and I walk to one of the local supermarkets twice a week or so. We use a folding wire wheelie cart to carry the bags back. There is a green grocer and a deli on the the way to the Safeway so we're pretty well covered except for the occasional stop at the Costco (which I drive by on my way to work) for rice and ketchup.

I've managed to score a couple of pneumatic tires off a bike baby trailer so I'm going to be building a taller non folding cart that handles snow better as we sometimes have trouble in the winter.

Brocktoon: "No, you can't efficiently transport $200 worth of groceries by bike, foot, or bus. Perishables not withstanding, not everyone lives in a mild climate year round. Also, most parents don't have that kind of extra time."

Sure you can unless you are talking about $200 of rice. I guess if you live in the sort of place where you just can't walk outside even at 7AM then you're thwarted but otherwise it's totally doable.

On the Significant Portion of your food from the home garden discussion. We get all our snap beans, tomatoes (24-32 plants IE: a lot of tomatoes), soy beans, winter squash, parsnip, beets and cabbage for holopchi and sauerkraut from our 1000 sq ft or so of garden (plus assorted vanity plants like peppers and egg plant. We also get enough cherries, sour cherries, apples, plums, grapes, pears, apricots (and hopefully kiwi) off our trees/shrubs to make all our jam for the year and gorge ourselves sick during the season. I'd plant another 1000 square feet of potatoes if there weren't wire worms in our soil that I haven't had any luck controlling. I don't grow corn because it's just too dry where I live (besides it's very cheap to buy from several local producers).

And I'd have enough chickens to produce all our eggs (with some chicken as a bonus) if it wasn't bizarrely illegal to have urban chickens where I live. Though I not sure how much that would count because much of their feed would come from grain not grown by me.

And yes the eight months that I lived across the street from a small supermarket was glorious. One could just slip out for any ingredient you needed or say a litre of chocolate milk when the craving struck and be back before your water boiled.
posted by Mitheral at 8:58 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yo, 'Merica: Public transportation and non-motorized vehicles.

It ain't that difficult.
posted by nowhere man at 12:48 PM on May 4, 2013


Just because something is possible, doesn't mean it's the only ethical response. I'm sure that some people are able to be great substance farmers/ranchers and others are not due to a lot of issues (distance, ability, children, jobs, etc). So, yes, it may be possible for some, even all, but that doesn't mean people who get their groceries delivered are somehow making a wrong choice. Sometimes, it's personal preference. Sometimes, there's no need for a smarmy comment that looks down upon anyone who doesn't walk/bike to the grocery store or raise their rutabagas themselves.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:10 PM on May 4, 2013


... if you are not physically capable of biking or walking a distance most people can handle, or because your suburban neighborhood has been designed to kill pedestrians and cyclists.

Once upon a time, I used to live in Brooklyn. There was a (reasonably OK-ish) supermarket a few blocks' walk from my apartment. I would trundle over there with an armload of reusable bags, purchase a hand-basket's worth of groceries carefully selected for weight and squishyness, and then schlep everything back home.

There was also a farmer's market on Saturdays within walking distance, so I would repeat this in that direction for all my produce, eggs, honey, artisanal jam, maple syrup, etc.

Sometimes I would ride my bike to Trader Joe's or the bigger farmer's market near Prospect Park. Sometimes I would stop at Whole Foods after work and schlep a couple bags of groceries home on the subway.

Either way, the task of obtaining sustenance for myself seemed endless, because physically carrying everything you plan to eat home under your own muscle power SUCKS. I can't even imagine how people shopping for families in that environment make this song and dance work, aside from doing grocery shopping as a family and enlisting spouse and kids on schlepping duty.

Then I moved to Los Angeles. There is one supermarket I could walk to, in a pinch. It's... not really OK, but if I need one or two things that I know they carry, I'll go there rather than drive all the way to somewhere better. My real grocery shopping options are:

- A suburban chain supermarket a 15 minute drive from home.
- A suburban chain supermarket conveniently located between my office and the freeway I take home.
- This truly AMAZING ethnic grocery which is also a 15 minute drive from home, but in a different direction from the suburban chain place.
- Ordering online.

I usually drive to the supermarket near work, telling myself that since I drive right past the place to get home, I'm "saving gas" and "being ecologically sound".

Sometimes I order online, because I'm lazy.

Other times I'll do the 15 minute drive for groceries. I feel bad about it, but there's really no other reasonable way for me to get food. And keep in mind this is in a relatively dense part of a major urban area, the second largest (by population) in the US.

So, I mean, short of knocking down the entire country and rebuilding it as one gigantic Brooklyn from coast to coast (and fuck you if you don't love personally schlepping everything you eat), what is to be done? If ordering online is the most efficient way to do it, then I say order online.
posted by Sara C. at 7:16 PM on May 4, 2013


> Many stores have double/triple coupons and price matching

I never see these, and I do all the grocery shopping for a family of four. I feel like it's come up on MeFi before, but I don't remember: are double- and triple-coupons a regional thing, or what?

> people demand that their organic quinoa be delivered Same Day instead of thinking ahead and being on a regular grocery route -Amazon decides to compete on the basis of "one hour delivery" or something, creates an entirely new form of shitty and abusive job, probably bans tipping like most corporate giants do

At first I don't think there was a way to tip on Amazon Fresh, but now when you place an order they suggest, rather firmly, that you tip your delivery person. It's done as you check out.

I don't order from Amazon Fresh that often now, as I have a great grocery store a short drive from me where the prices are a tad better and I have the time to shop, but back when I had two small kids at home most of the day (one of whom was given to meltdowns in stores) it was a life saver.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:55 PM on May 4, 2013


I've been thinking about this "grocery shopping for a family without a car" on and off all afternoon. I live in urban area, albeit a part of the city with single family homes (on small lots). I generally shop at a unionized supermarket about 2.5 miles from my home, which I can walk to (or bike to) but it's along busy, heavily-trafficked roads with a lot of shopping centers with lots of inlets and outlets. I would not feel safe doing that route on foot or bike with my small children. Generally I find if I go by car, I can a) take both my kids, who are both at home when I'm at home and require constant adult supervision; b) buy two weeks of groceries at once and fit them in the car; and c) buy bulkier items like toilet paper, diapers, laundry detergent, cat food, etc., all in that same trip instead of having to make a separate trip to somewhere like Target. I think this is reasonably green, with a short trip in an efficient car on an infrequent basis that consolidates many errands into a single errand. Not the greenEST, but reasonably green.

Nearer my house there is a quickie-mart sort of place with a small, expensive selection of staples (milk, bread, wine, hot pockets). Hurricane stock-up staples, convenience foods, and junk food, basically. Walking by myself, I can walk there in about 10 minutes and it's a reasonably pleasant walk. Walking with my small children with small legs, it takes us easily half an hour or 45 minutes. This isn't a bad outing if I realize at 3 p.m. that I'd like some wine with dinner or I need some bread for tomorrow -- I don't mind taking nearly two hours (including time in store) to mosey over there, pick up a couple items, and mosey back with both kids in tow, tiring them out. But it's not so great if it's 5 p.m. and I'm trying to get to dinner being ready. Or if it's very hot or very cold (or storming), it becomes impractical or possibly dangerous to do the walk with the kids, when it might be unpleasant but safe for an adult.

Anyway, when you have little-little kids, shopping FOR a family of four also frequently means shopping WITH a family of four, since you often have to bring at least one child with you, and that changes the calculus of what's manageable in terms of carting groceries from store to home, and how often that undertaking is possible, and how long it's going to take. I would probably take advantage of grocery delivery at least sometimes if it was available from my preferred store and I could be very very specific about what I wanted, but when my kids were babies, frequently the grocery store was the only place I got to go all week, even if it was a giant hassle, so maybe not as frequently as you'd think. :) I'm sure the calculus for all of this will change as they get a little older.

We actually do have a very large vegetable garden, but, again, with children under 5, there are serious time constraints on how much time we can put into gardening without taking away from necessary tasks for the kids or fun time with the kids. (And they do help in the garden, but then you're trading off toddler-fun-and-learning with tomato yields because their help is not so helpful.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:58 PM on May 4, 2013


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