Small natural foods stores and co-ops have been an essential part of Boulder’s zeitgeist since the 1970s, when New Age Foods, Green Mountain Granary, and the Pearl Street Market started changing the way food was retailed. These pioneers blazed trails for Alfalfa’s, Wild Oats, Lucky’s, and other more upscale stores.
Every single one of them—ostensibly devoted to sustainability—has had to face the packaging and bagging dilemma. How can you tout yourself as “natural” when your organic GMO-free fair trade dried apricots are leaving the store in plastic or paper bags unlikely to be recycled or reused and end up in the landfill?
Boulder’s newest grocery store may have a viable answer. Nude Foods Market, at 3233 Walnut Street, is missing almost everything you expect in a supermarket. It is not a clothing optional establishment. But it does strive to be zero-waste in every aspect of its business
When you walk into the market the difference is obvious. Naturally, no shopping bags are provided, but more importantly, none of the hundreds of items on the shelves ranging from lentils to keto doughnuts are packaged in anything that could end up in a landfill.
However, Nude Foods Market isn’t is a bulk foods place with bins of self-serve nuts and oils. You bring your own shopping bags but not your own containers to weigh and fill up, a factor that has always dissuaded your average grocery shopper. Almost everything in the store is packed in reusable glass jars that require a $1.50 deposit. Customers bring the jars back, and the store staff washes, sanitizes and reuses them.
Bread and other items are sold in cloth bags that can be washed and reused. Eggs are sold in hard recycled plastic containers that are also washed and reused. Most of the products arrive in bulk containers that are reused.
The limited produce selection is primarily rescued, meaning lots of seconds—slightly blemished or misshapen fruits and vegetables.
When Nude Foods Market originally opened in October 2020, the pandemic forced the company to pivot to pickup and delivery. Most of the market’s deliveries are still done by bicycle, with others, especially during bad weather, dropped off by electric vehicles.
Other aspects of the zero-waste approach are less obvious, like having no energy intensive air conditioning in the store or open top coolers or freezers. The jars use semi-reusable labelling and soy ink on recycled paper. There are no paper receipts since almost all purchasing and checkouts are done on the store’s app, although cash is still accepted.
I like the store because it rides that fine line between convenience and Boulder’s crunchy-granola ideological purity. A good example is the single most popular item so far: orange-hued dairy-free vegan “cheese” puffs made in Boulder. “We have a hard time keeping them on the shelf,” says store manager Nena Rowan, who gave me a tour.
On the shelves in jars is a wide selection of pantry staples like rice, spices, dried fruit from figs to goji berries, peanut butter, maple syrup, olive oil, and non-edible products like cleaning supplies and body lotion.
The coolers feature jarred, house-prepared sauces and meals made with rescued produce such as salsa, marinara sauce, lemony lentil soup, sweet potato chili, and pickled red onions. The wise-use approach means that perfectly tasty and affordable day-old bagels from Moe’s are on the menu.
The store’s devotion to transparency means it’s easy to identify the items as GMO-free, soy-free and gluten-free. While it carries many vegan products, Nude Foods Market is not vegan. It does sell local sustainably raised meats. The eggs are rescued, pasture-raised pullet eggs that are a little smaller because they are from young chickens.
Shoppers will find that all items are not always available. For instance, the day I stopped by there were no eggs because, as a sign noted, “the pullets are molting.”
I was happy to see the market featuring notable locally produced foods that share a devotion to sustainability such as Samosas by Susan, Pastaficio, Fossil Fuel doughnuts, bean and seed tempeh from Project Umami, Mountain Girl Pickles, Green Belly hot sauces, On Tap Pretzels, and Himalayas Chai’s delicious momo dumplings.
At the very least, a visit to Nude Foods Market will open shoppers’ eyes to the mountain of landfill waste their family creates in a typical week.
A Thanksgiving warning
Last year Thanksgiving was only memorable because it was so far removed from the traditional gatherings we always loved. In November 2021 we will be able to shop and gather safely but the table may be missing traditional foods your family loves.
In a nutshell, the food supply chain is compromised by COVID. Container ships are backed up on the West Coast. Truck drivers are impossible to find in Europe. Fuel prices are also spiking. Every store owner and chef I talk to complains about the items they can’t dependably source. They cite the rising price of everything including produce and the aluminum pans for pumpkin pies. Local food deliveries to stores and eateries are already often delayed or cancelled for lack of warehouse workers and drivers.
If there are foods that you deem essential for your feast including large turkeys, you better buy them now. The same advice goes for any imported food and beverage items you plan on gifting or serving during the end-of-year holidays.
Words to chew on
“Making conscious choices about what we eat, based on what the earth can sustain and what our bodies need, can help remind us that our whole society must begin to balance sustainable production with human need.”—Frances Moore Lappé, author of 1971’s Diet for a Small Planet
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:20 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, kgnu.org)