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There is a saying that goes, “There is no such thing as a free lunch," meaning that every meal costs something to make. This applies when one considers the amount of resources it takes to manufacture the packaging of a frozen pizza, for example. The packaging materials, which usually consist of plastic and cardboard, are resource intensive. Consider what happens to those materials once the pizza has been removed from the package. Usually, the materials go straight to the garbage.
Ryan Cappelletti and Angela Topp are addressing these issues and more when the addition of a bulk food grocery store at Treehuggers (947 Wealthy St. SE) opens in June. The store will feature vegetarian and vegan food with a very strong focus on food locally produced and grown in the West Michigan area. Most importantly, it will be package free.
Cappelletti, who helped launch Bartertown Diner (6 Jefferson street SE) last year, described the new bulk store as “taking a Meijer and breaking it down to what you actually need.”
Topp said that bulk grocery was always part of the original plan for Treehuggers, and was able to revisit the idea after meeting Cappelletti. "We are coming at it from both angles. I am from the standpoint where I was sick of going to the grocery store and everything was wrapped in plastic and that was also wrapped in plastic," she said.
Growing up in New York City, Cappelletti purchased his grocery essentials from neighborhood bodegas. He recounted buying staples like fresh greens and produce, beans, sauces, flours, grains and other ingredients to make a vegan meal. The bodegas were essential to the neighborhood, because “you can’t just drop a Meijer in the middle of the city,” he said.
Cappelletti believes it is urgent to educate the community about sustainability and local food choices. He and Topp hope to provide an “instant connection to the community” by providing a unique and educational experience. Cappelletti believes the gist of the problem stems from people being “afraid of bulk.”
How does one who has never bought in bulk or prepared vegan or vegetarian meals begin to shop at the store? The new store will offer classes and workshops for the general public in an effort to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable choices when it comes to food as well as the health benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet. Cappelletti stated that people tend not to buy in bulk because they don’t know how to prepare the food. “We will teach you,” he said.
The need for education about preparing healthy food and eliminating wasteful packaging is the motivating factor for Topp and Cappelletti to open the store. “The more you educate yourself how to cook, the more you eliminate waste,” said Cappelletti.
The goal of the store is to “market how to actually be sustainable” and to “learn how to recycle in the truest fashion, in a sustainable fashion,” Cappelletti said.
Topp describe the partnership with Cappelletti as "two worlds collaborating."
“The bottom line is this,” Cappelletti said emphatically, “education is sustainability.”
Steven Davison was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mi. He holds degrees in English, Environmental Studies and Geography.