Keeping Food Nude, Local and Free: there’s more to zero waste than packaging-free stores

Keeping Food Nude, Local and Free: there’s more to zero waste than packaging-free stores

Contrary to popular belief, zero waste living is not all about shopping at hipster packaging-free stores. Yes, packaging-free stores can be pretty exciting when you’ve gone several months without something like ground turmeric, and yes, when we do go grocery shopping we certainly go to stores with bulk bins (whether that’s an old-school Bin Inn, an organic shop that smells a bit like incense, or a slightly austere but oh-so-hip zero waste store). However, for us, the backbone of low-waste living is about going back to basics and tapping into many of the resourcefulness skills that previous generations have honed over centuries (which sometimes we worry we’re in danger of losing…)

As we travel around the country we’re often in parts of NZ that don’t have packaging-free stores (and in fact, for our first 2.5 years of rubbish-free living we were in Wellington where it’s also pretty slim pickings in the central city). Now we’re travelling we also no longer have access to our own veggie garden. When we arrive in places with low-waste/bulk bin stores (which actually is most places in NZ), we do stock up on certain staples (especially grains, seeds and legumes), but on a budget of $20 a day, we’re quite limited in how much we can splash out!

Despite these limitations, in over 10 months on the road we have managed to continue our zero waste lifestyle just as successfully as we did while living in Wellington. The trick, we’ve found, is to learn to look for food all around us, and to avoid having a set idea of what we want to eat. Instead, we work with the food we can actually find unpackaged in the place where we are. Turns out that wherever we’ve been, there’s always been plenty to eat.

We’re currently on Stewart Island for a week (where there is no packaging-free store). We came to the island with very few supplies (apart from some staples that we’ll use for our zero waste snacks at our talk on Thursday). However, coming over with only a fraction of the ‘mobile zero waste pantry’ that we usually have with us didn’t concern us. We were confident that we wouldn’t need to resort to buying anything in a packet. Please note that we aren’t tramping the Rakiura track. If we were, we’d certainly approach the situation differently (see our post on zero waste camping/tramping).

Our table of foraged and swapped foods

Indeed, as we walked around the island yesterday morning, we picked up food we found along the way. We came back with onion weed, chickweed, puha, lemon balm, rosemary and potatoes (and there’s plenty more where that came from!) We brought it back and sat it next to some of the food that we got at the awesome Invercargill Crop Swap on Saturday – Māori potatoes, chillis and apples (which we swapped for a large amount of walnuts that we foraged in Mackenzie and Central Otago), and some thyme we foraged on the mainland too. All this beautiful food was not only packaging-free and locally-grown, it was also free.

So, we didn’t wake up yesterday morning with the plan of eating purple rosemary gnocchi with fresh chickweed and onion weed pesto, followed by apple crumble in a mug (there’s no oven where we’re staying, so operation microwave back-up is in play!) and a cup of lemon balm tea, but that’s what we ate thanks to the kindness of Papatūānuku and the abundance of the Crop Swap we attended last week. This all worked out well with the bulk flour, sugar and oats (foraged at The Pantry, a low-waste store in Invercargill) that we did bring over from the mainland, though all those ingredients are sold in bulk sized paper bags at the Stewart Island Four Square, if we were to get desperate. 
Our homemade purple gnocchi from foraged and swapped potatoes before cooking. We didn’t take photos of anything else because we were so busy eating 😉

After last night’s dinner success, today we looked to Rakiura’s bountiful shorelines instead (though of course NO foraging in marine reserves!!) where we found both mussels and bull kelp – woo! So this evening we’ll be having mussels with kelp fettuccine and a cauliflower and onion weed “cheesy” sauce (we”ll be using some white wine vinegar we got on tap from The Pantry in Invercargill, and the cauliflower is store bought not foraged – though without packaging of course). Bring on dinner time!

Foraging on Rakiura/Stewart Island

 Would you like to forage and swap food more? Check out these resources:


IMPORTANT: we have done research on foraging and we’ve also attended a couple of workshops with people in the know (not to mention spent a lot of time learning from older individuals with bucket loads of knowledge!). We only pick things when we know for sure what they are. We would recommend that if you are just starting out with foraging, do some research before just going for it because there are poisonous plants in NZ (i.e. trial and error is not a good approach as you can get seriously unwell if you pick the wrong thing). For many people, looking at a picture in a book will not be enough (for us, we needed to physically see the plant the first time in order to be able to identify it again on our own).

Basically the NZ Forager’s bible!

 Some great resources to look out for in New Zealand to help you forage are:

Swapping Food

  • Crop Swap Aotearoa (which is taking NZ by storm) is absolutely amazing and you should definitely check out if there’s one in your area (and if there’s not, consider setting one up!). For an in-depth understanding of how Crop Swap works, its benefits and how it reduces waste in the food system, check out our podcast with the founder, Franziska von Hunerbein
  • Sharing Sheds – spots where people can drop off excess produce which anyone is welcome to take, for free. There’s a great Sharing Shed in Te Awamutu, but this model is now popping up all around the country in different forms. It can be as simple as some bench space, set aside for people to leave excess produce, as we saw in Fairlie, outside Heartlands Fairlie Information and Service Centre.

    Sharing Shed at Te Awamutu

Planting and Growing Food in Public Places

  • Organised planting of food in public places in towns, such as Incredible Edible Geraldine and Fairlie Incredible Edibles
  • Community Gardens – there are so many awesome community gardens around New Zealand – not only a great place to learn how to garden and identify edible plants, but also a great place to get unpackaged, fresh food!
  • Guerilla Gardening – an awesome concept that’s all about taking matters into our own hands if we want to see more edible plants in our public places. Read more about it here.

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