I was thinking about this incremental effect on Thursday morning, when I put another 700g of dried kidney beans on to soak. We didn’t need the beans immediately for dinner, but since there were none left in the freezer, there was space available and I had a few seconds to spare, it seemed sensible to put them on to soak. Thursday evening, I took a minute to drain the beans, spoon them into a recycled bread bag and shove them in the freezer. I’ll probably cook them next week in the pressure cooker, use a third for dinner then box up the remaining 2/3 and freeze for two more meals. (700g dried beans gives 3x500g boxes of cooked beans. Approximately the same as 2 cans of beans from the supermarket).
What does this have to do with incremental gains? By planning ahead, not only do I save time but I also save money. It costs the same to process one can’s worth of dried beans as it does to process 6; about a penny’s worth of gas for 30 minutes in the pressure cooker. The cheapest tin of kidney beans is 30p in Tesco, whereas they sell 2kg of dried beans for £4, which gives me the equivalent of 17 cans-worth for 24p a can, a saving of 6p. That 6p/can saved can be utilised elsewhere. It adds up, quietly, in the background of day to day life*.
Small things add up. The principle of incremental gains works whether you’re trying to keep your living costs low or attempting to tread lightly on the earth by keep your petroleum pollution down. Dried beans aren’t just cheaper, they need less energy to ship and store than the equivalent weight of cooked, canned beans. Plus there’s the energy saved from not having to manufacture the cans or mine, ship and smelt the metal. Remember the recycled bread bag? It’ll be washed out, dried and reused until it starts to fall apart, when it’ll go into the recycling. (It’s labelled “can be recycled with shopping bags at bigger stores”. Our council recycles shopping bags, so will recycle the bread bag.).
“What’s the cost of one bread bag?” you might ask. Not a lot, but that’s not the point. It all adds up. Just as you can’t learn and become fluent in a language in a day, so you can’t expect everything you do to create an immediate “Big Bang” impact. You hear people muttering “why bother? It’s only...” but if everyone does it, then it’ll have a big impact.
* In the UK, there’s at least two, rival television programs that demonstrate how much of an impact these small savings have to your grocery bill, Eat Well For Less and Eat Shop Save. The participants always look shocked when the savings are added up. (Schadenfreude TV, I love it.)