ethical food store

The 3 Most Ethical Grocery Stores to Shop Without Guilt

Where we get our food matters…a LOT. Food is something we all need, and if we want to stay alive, it’s something we’ll need forever.

Unfortunately, the way our food system works right now is a bit of a mess for our health and our money. Almost 40 million peo­ple (or 12.8% of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion) were liv­ing in low-income and low-access to food store areas in 2017, accord­ing to the USDA.

That means nearly 40 million Americans “lived more than 1 mile from a food store in urban areas or more than 10 miles in rural areas.”

On top of that, the US is wasting a ton of food! I mean it, we waste so much food it’s almost like we are growing food just to throw it out. The USDA estimates that 30-40% of all food grown in the US is thrown out each year.

And as a final blow to all of us, agriculture accounted for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions from the US in 2021. Industry farming uses a lot of fossil fuels to do everything from powering the tractors to the chemicals used in fertilizers.

Industrial farms produce a lot of nitrogen emissions in particular through fertilizing and irrigation practices. These kinds of emissions contribute to a warming planet, which is bad for all of us.

All of this means that shopping at ethical food stores is important from a personal health perspective and a planetary health perspective. So where can we find ethical food stores to support?

Best Budget Ethical Food Store: ALDI

An Aldi I popped into last week

In terms of chains, ALDI is one of the more sustainable. Aldi is known for its low prices, which keeps grocery shopping affordable. However, Aldi also has several major wins for being an ethical food store.

Of the major grocery chains, ALDI scores the best on actions to reduce emissions of climate super pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are super powerful greenhouse gases that commonly come from things like air conditioning and refrigeration, both of which grocery stores use in huge amounts.

Aldi also has a more general commitment to lowering waste. If you’ve ever been in an Aldi, you know the stores are very bare bones. Many of their products use minimal packaging, there’s few marketing signs, and there’s just a very minimalist vibe to the store.

ALDI requires that its suppliers review and adhere to ALDI ethics. They have an ALDI Corporate Responsibility Principles, ALDI Social Standards in Production, ALDI U.S. Code of Conduct, ALDI Human Rights Policy, and the ALDI Child Labor Policy.

Many large companies don’t have policies like a human rights policy, so I give ALDI credit for even acknowledging the issue in a formal document.

From a labor perspective, ALDI offers healthcare plans that cover employees spouses, and families including dental and vision, which sounds incredibly basic but is increasingly rare in the US!

Some highlights from their benefits package include a 401K match, 7 paid holidays,  and for full-time employees, up to six weeks of 100% paid parental leave.

Like any large company, ALDI isn’t perfect. But I think it’s a more ethical food store option for those on a budget.

Best For Supplier Transparency: Wegman’s

Wegman’s puts a lot of corporate emphasis on where they get their food from.

From their own website they say “We operate our Organic Farm & Orchard in Canandaigua, NY with a mission to source more organic vegetables and extend the East Coast growing season. Using the farm’s research and development, we’re able to work with local grower partners to supply our stores with vegetables that have the most amazing flavor.” 

On their website, you can actually see suppliers by state.

According to Indeed the average Wegmans hourly pay ranges from approximately $11.64 per hour for Dishwasher to $29.51 per hour for Stocking Associate. Wegman’s was also named to FORTUNE magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, every year starting in 1998, ranking #1 in 2005 and ranking #3 in 2022.

Workplace benefits also include medical, dental, and vision coverage, including access to a Personal Health Advocate.

Best for Bulk Purchases: Costco

Costco kind of sets the standard for the big bulk stores, like Sam’s Club and BJ’s. Costco is famous for treating their employees well, something that many, many companies simply don’t do.

As of November 2023, the average hourly pay for a Costco employee in the U.S. was $22.20, according to ZipRecruiter. Compare this to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Both full-time and part-time employees who work for 180 consecutive days qualify for Costco’s health benefits plan, which includes medical, dental, and vision coverage.

The CEO makes an annual salary of $1.5 million, which is a lot. But compare that to Chase’s CEO salary of $36 million annually. Costco doesn’t participate in the overblown CEO pay at the expense of the lower-down workers, which many companies of its size do.

Locally Grown Food is Always The Best Option

Since people will be reading this from around the world, I can’t say “shopping at X farmer’s market is the best!” We’re all at different farmer’s markets!

However, locally grown food will always be best for your body and the planet. Eating locally means getting food when it’s fresher, which means it’s at both peak tastiness and peak health.

Eating locally also cuts down dramatically on carbon emissions from transporting food. A strawberry grown two towns over from you in Charleston SC, has less distance to travel than a strawberry from California or Chile.

Finally, eating local helps support the local economy, which is good for your entire area. In many countries, smaller towns lack the job market to attract people to live there, and communities are dying.

Buying local food and other local items helps keep businesses open and hiring people, which helps keep small towns viable options.

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