Supermarket-free Me: catching the cold

Finally, I’m back on the blog!

Apologies to those of you who have been checking for updates and found that none were forthcoming. I had a few busy days and then came down with a horrible cold. Happily though the good news for me is that I am still supermarket-free, and the good news for you is that this is one virus that can’t be spread over the internet. I can sneeze and snotter as much as I like over this keyboard – you’re all safe!

I have been cooped up inside my home for five days now, plus there were a few days before that when I wasn’t feeling great, so little was done in the way of shopping. I don’t know about you, but in our house if someone is ‘coming down with something’ then a shopping list is drawn up and there is a dash made to the supermarket to stock up on essentials, and to ensure the patient has all of the tissues, medicines, vitamins, grapes, magazines and Lucozade that he or she may need.

Obviously this couldn’t happen but it didn’t seem to matter. Now that we are most of the way through Lent, we have a reasonable knowledge of the local shops so my other half has dropped into them a few times on the way back to work to pick up items we’re running low on, and we’ve muddled by not too badly.

I think what has probably saved us in this situation is that we already have our fruit, veg, eggs and milk delivered to the house anyway – by local businesses – so there’s always something to eat. Plus, because I am finally learning that living without the convenience of supermarkets means forward planning is helpful, there have been some meals cooked and frozen for when we need something quick and easy. I wouldn’t go as far as to say our diet has been varied or interesting while I’ve been a snottering, spluttering mess, but at least we’ve been eating!

Anyway, I think the worst is over and I’m hoping to make it out tomorrow and to get back to normal. I have eight people to feed on Sunday, so some serious shopping and planning is needed. I have a guest post to write for Local 4 Lent, and am hoping to squeeze a few more posts onto the blog before Easter Weekend so pass me that hot water bottle, I’m having an early night…

Supermarket-free Me: Mother’s Day 2014

Last year in this post I wrote about the sorry affair that was our household’s Mother’s Day spending. Of the three presents and cards we had to buy, all but one gift came from the supermarket. I did (and still do) find that depressing. Surely it implies a failure of the thought and time that we put into choosing these presents. Further, I am sorry that it’s recorded in writing, as a permanent blot on my copybook…

I pledged that Mother’s Day 2014 would be different, and, of course, because it fell during me giving up supermarkets for Lent, it was!

As ever though, there is room for improvement. The only gift that was passable in my eyes as ‘ethically sound’ was the one I received, and the credit for that has to go to my other half. He thoughtfully took the kids out to a local gift shop where they purchased a beautiful mug and two handmade soaps which – as you can see – escaped being wrapped in plastic.

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Perfect. Plus the children made cards with materials from our craft box at home. However, without wanting to sound clichéd, the best part of my Mother’s Day experience was watching their excitement as they ‘secretly’ planned and hid their presents, and then their attentiveness to me as they brought me my breakfast in bed. That was what was special!

The kids got it right but we, however, had gifts for two grandmothers and a great grandmother still to buy.

At this point, I really wish I could say that I had planned ahead and had made presents. The reality is though that Mother’s Day crept up on me and I ended going to a nearby shopping centre and purchasing gifts from chain stores, plus ordering through Interflora.

I like to think that the presents were thoughtful and well-received, but, in future, I aim to put more thought than money into Mother’s Day gifts, and not add to the mindless consuming that I’ve done enough of in my life to date.

I had planned to make Mother’s Day cards at the very least but, during the week, I found that I was busy and the thought of making time for a craft session was stressing me out, so I decided to buy some. Big mistake. It took me ages to pick two cards and cost me over £6 for them (and really, they were a regular size and quite simple). I genuinely think I could have made cards that were just as nice for half the price. I’d also have avoided the plastic packets they come in (why do they have to come in plastic packets??!)

I found this article in the Guardian, that tells us in 2013 nearly half of Mother’s Day presents came from the supermarket, where we spent no less than £240 million on these offerings. What I find especially depressing about that statistic is that, if you are a woman who is in the supermarket regularly, then surely you will be able to identify the origin of the product that is attempting to pass itself off as a thoughtfully chosen gift? Perhaps you would even know its price, and whether there was anything else on display that you’d rather have had!

Next year I want to improve. I will be aiming for home baking, a basket of flowers grown in the garden, cooking a meal or perhaps creating something crafty with the children. I know I can do better!

Supermarket-free Me: New Leaf Coop

I have finally paid a visit to the New Leaf Coop and, to celebrate, I’m writing a post dedicated to it!

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This is a shop I need to support – it’s exactly the kind of place I wish existed everywhere, but not as a chain! Let’s see lots of quirky independent shops with the same ethos (read more about that here) and let us be their dedicated customers – bringing our own bags and the kind of enthusiasm that, quite frankly, it’s hard to muster in the supermarket…

The New Leaf Co-op is in Edinburgh in an area called Marchmont, which I can get to within about 25 minutes from my home. I’ve blogged about Marchmont before in this post (which, if I may say, I enjoyed rereading. It shows me what a difference a year has made in my ability to shop without the supermarket!)

I digress…The New Leaf Co-op is easy to find on Argyll Place, nestled amongst other independent businesses.

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Even before you enter, you know it’s going to be a bit special as it has a bicycle hanging in the window. I’ve no idea why it’s there, but seeing it made me smile.

Prior to the bicycle though, I knew I was going to like the shop as I’d spotted this page on their website (if you can’t see it in the photo properly, click on this link):

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The canisters of unpackaged goods got me more than a little excited because I’m taking part in Plastic Free July and, between you and me, it’s still looking less like a challenge, and more like a nightmare! Those canisters though suggested that they might answer a few of my prayers…Here they are in all of their glory!

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The front of the shop had a variety of goods including fruit and veg, chilled products, biscuits, pasta and even candles. The prices I saw seemed cheaper than comparable wholefood shops that I’ve visited recently. 

This is a relief. I want to be able to justify ditching supermarkets on financial grounds, as well as for ethical reasons. So far though, I’m finding that if I’m spending less then it’s because I’m buying different things than I did at the supermarket, or because I’m using things I had anyway, not because the prices in the independent shops I’ve been to are lower. Some things are lower of course, but I’ve struggled to accurately assess whether I’m actually spending less overall.

Entering the back room of the shop, I felt like Alice going into Wonderland. Finally, here I was in a room full of unpackaged products – all I had to do was scoop them up, pop them in my Onya bag and weigh them. (The New Leaf Coop Shop have Onya bags! I have Onya bags! It’s a sign – I don’t know what of, but surely it’s a good sign!)

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Now I don’t want to burst any bubbles here but because this is my blog and because I do consider honesty to be important, I must confess that I was a bit overwhelmed with the choice of products, and the fact that I actually had no idea what some of them were. Clearly this shop has customers who take their cooking far more seriously than I do!

I was a rabbit caught in the headlights and I didn’t want to start scooping up bags of small black beans that I didn’t know how to soak, so I had to take a moment to calm myself down and think about what I might be able to buy that would be useful.

Moment over, I found there were quite a few things I recognised and that I could certainly stock up on in July, such as dried fruits, spices and oats. There were also products, like those in the picture below, that I didn’t know existed but knew what they were.

 

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Maybe in July, some Exotic Muesli may just be what I need to cheer myself up when I can’t wash my hair, do the dishes or use deodorant because there’s flipping plastic involved in all of these products!! (Kidding, I’ll find alternatives - I really hope I’ll find alternatives!)

I duly filled my bags and weighed them.

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It was easy to work the scales and a label was printed out, showing the full details of each purchase.

I was super-impressed by this, as actually (shopping geek that I am becoming) I do care about what country my product has been flown from and it’s great to be able to see what I’m paying per kg, so that I can price-compare on the internet with the supermarket.

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Of the loose products I bought, two thirds of them seem to be cheaper at the New Leaf Coop than the supermarket equivalents I usually buy.

I left the shop with a spring in my step. Although I won’t be visiting regularly because of my journey time (and because parking in Marchmont is difficult and expensive), I will be back. I’ll be organised so that I can stock up – if you buy a product in bulk, the price per unit of weight comes down.

I’d love to know how well the New Leaf Co-op is doing financially. It certainly had a reasonable number of customers while I was in but my worry about shops like this is that they aren’t appreciated as they should be. Although there are many good quality, special, independent shops in Marchmont, I notice that a Sainsbury’s Local has opened since my last visit, which is bound to have an impact on the area.

Here’s my final word for this post…If you have a special shop near you, then visit it! Spend money there, tell your friends about it, shout about it on social media – let’s love those places and keep them going because if we don’t, then the supermarket may be our only choice in the years to come.

Supermarket-free Me: Milk

One of the topics I want to be sure to cover in this supermarket-free blogging series is milk – a foodstuff that has recently found itself in the media spotlight…

A few years ago I didn’t think about milk at all really.  I bought semi-skimmed, usually from the supermarket - and that was about as far as my thinking on the matter went. I’m not even sure I knew what price I paid for it.

Then I had kids and suddenly the world was obsessed with milk. Do you breastfeed or use formula? Is your baby drinking milk and putting on enough weight? When do they move on to cow’s milk? Can your child tolerate it? When do you switch from full fat to semi? Are you giving them organic?

So now I think about milk. We have a fridge full of it – green and blue tops, and if I don’t use organic I feel as if I’m poisoning them. Not really. Sometimes though, I still over-think milk – it must be a hangover from the baby years…

At the moment though, the nation is thinking about milk too, as a result of Tesco dropping the price of 4 pints of milk to £1. £1!

As I mentioned in this post, I didn’t have my own reaction to this news because, by the time Tesco announced it to me (via email - they don’t seem to have got the message we’re not speaking!), my mind – and indeed my ability to make up my own mind - had been hijacked by my Twitter feed which thought it was a bad thing.

Is cheap milk a bad thing though?

Firstly, let’s look at the facts. It’s not just Tesco which is charging £1 for 4 pints. Asda, Aldi and Lidl have apparently been selling it at this price for some time, and Waitrose and Sainsbury’s very quickly followed Tesco’s lead. From what I can tell, the Co-op and Morrison’s, although not adopting the 4 pints for £1 formula (if you’ll pardon the pun), have also dropped the price on their milk.

Obviously the supermarkets involved are in favour of the new price, plus I’ll bet there are a lot of happy customers out there who appreciate paying less for milk. Or, to look at it differently, getting more milk for their money.

There have to be potential disadvantages (don’t there?) to milk being sold at such a low cost. The biggest one that jumped out at me while I was reading around this topic was the financial hit that farmers may take as a result. This is where I will hold my hands up and say that I don’t have the knowledge I would like on this subject, but it seems really obvious to me that if you, as a farmer, have a product that doesn’t sell for very much money, you aren’t going to earn a lot from it.

According to this article in the Guardian on 7 March 2014, Tesco, Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons say that dropping the price of milk won’t affect the level of farmers’ pay. It will be interesting to know though, in the long term, how supermarkets are going to protect the amount they pay farmers when milk is sold so cheaply.

It is also worth reading this post on the Big Barn website that claims that the move by Tesco to charge £1 for 4 pints will result in mega-dairies being set up, as small dairy farmers will go out of business. Gulp. I’d not heard of mega-dairies but Big Barn provides a link here if you want to read more about them. Big Barn is campaigning for it to become legal to sell raw milk more widely. They claim, it’s better for us and will keep thousands of dairy farmers in business. That also got me thinking of what is actually done to milk to allow it to be transported around the country and then stay fresh in my home for several days.  I’m not sure I’m emotionally prepared to do the reading around those processes yet…!

Another disadvantage, as raised by this article in The Grocer on 5 March 2014, is the issue of food waste. Just because supermarket shoppers are able to buy more milk for their £1 coin than before, there’s nothing to say that they are now able to consume this greater volume. For a customer who cares only about value for money, and not about food waste, what is there to stop him or her buying 4 pints, using whatever suits their needs and throwing what might be seen as the extra ‘free milk’ away?

I did a small price comparison to find out what it might be reasonable to pay for (non-organic) milk. Firstly, I found out the price that Tesco was previously selling 4 pints, which was £1.39. Next, I looked up the price that the farm that provides my veg box sells milk for (it is not produced on the farm) and discovered that it’s £1.25 for 2 pints of full fat or semi-skimmed, with no mention of organic.  Finally, I looked back at the price list that the dairy which delivers my milk gave me and found that the prices for non-organic milk were as follows:
1 pint: 82p
1 litre: £1.50
2 litres: £1.79
3 litres: £2.67

Both, therefore sell milk for significantly more than £1 for 4 pints. Whether or not this is a ‘fair’ price, I do not know.  What I am learning though, is that when price-comparing on any item, I probably shouldn’t be using the supermarket as a marker of what is reasonable because supermarkets are likely to have a lot of power with suppliers that I am not fully aware of.

As I’m at pains to point out, my knowledge on milk and dairy farming is limited and I daren’t extend the scope of this blog post as a result! If, however, you want to find out more about how dairy farmers operate and what they have to contend with then I recommend Chapter 3 of Eat Your Heart Out by Felicity Lawrence, Penguin 2008.

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It has information about the reduction in the number of dairy farmers, the pressure they are under to increase milk yields, mass milking, animal welfare and ‘middle men’ such as milk processors, who are involved in getting milk from the farm to the supermarket shelf.

It is fair to say that my fantasy of milk coming from cows who roam around outside, quietly enjoying their grass on the pasture until their farmer comes to milk them, is gone forever. Is it simply a matter of time until I no longer believe in the milkman?

Supermarket-free Me: What’s for dinner?

I think it’s time I wrote a post about food in this supermarket-free blog!

If you have given up the supermarket, is it changing what you eat? Are you cooking more? Is it exciting or a chore?

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This red cabbage soup was definitely exciting!

I have to confess that I’m usually a boring cook. I have a selection of meals that I cook and I only add to that repertoire when my children reject the dishes they are thoroughly fed up with!

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This vegetable crumble was great the first 20 times but now it’s getting boring – and we’re having the leftovers above for tomorrow night’s dinner!

While I enjoy cooking if I’m in the right mood, it’s something I pursue out of necessity as opposed to pleasure.

As a supermarket customer, family meals were typically either cooked-from-scratch  and made with lots of fresh organic produce from the veg box, or they were a combination of shop-bought items (e.g. veggie sausages, veggie haggis) plus the organic veg. Occasionally I bought things such as a supermarket pizza, a jar of pesto or a quiche. I usually had a few of these quick convenience foods in my freezer, alongside portions of homemade sauces, for days that I had no time or energy to cook.

Now, being supermarket-free over Lent, I don’t have the backup of their pre-made items and I’ve had to be more organised to make sure that I am always able to feed my family. I really care about the health benefits of food, so I welcome the push it’s given me to ditch the processed meals and get the freezer stocked up with my home cooking. It’s also helping me to reduce my food waste because I’m more motivated to use up everything I already have at home, now that hunting and gathering’s not as simple as popping to the supermarket!

Here are some examples of the food I’ve been making and baking over Lent.

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The pot on the left is a big tomato sauce made from as much of the veg box as it is feasible to use!  When my veg box arrives I get into ‘attack’ mode to try and reduce its volume, as the amount in it can be overwhelming.  I make this sauce at least once a fortnight and it’s a helpful ‘ready meal’ –  although I’m just waiting for the children to finally give this old favourite the thumbs down!

The pot on the right was the vegetable crumble filling which I prepared last night and was heating up to put in the oven with the topping for tonight’s dinner.

The fairy cakes were made purely to entertain the children while I was busy in the kitchen!  They happily stirred the mixture then licked the bowl while I got the healthy stuff prepared.

There have been a lot of cakes lately as I’ve been whipping up batches whenever we’ve had people round instead of buying biscuits.

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Carrot and raisin muffins made last night

Although packed with sugar, I like having control of the ingredients and appreciate the ability to reduce the amount of plastic I am consuming.

As a result of more cooking and baking, I’ve been buying more eggs.

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From a local shop

We’ve been consuming less shop bought juice and squeezing our own…

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Orange juice from blood oranges

So far, so good. I think I will be increasing my cooking to make sure that we do have plenty of food ready on busy days and I will be trying out a few new things so that the children don’t associate ditching the supermarket with less choice and even more of the dishes they are starting to get bored with!

I’m aware that giving up the supermarket could push someone else with less time, or perhaps someone who is driven by different motivations, to eat very differently – ordering in take-aways, eating out more or buying convenience foods locally. I’d love to hear about everyone’s experiences…

Supermarket-free Me: Talking politics

During Lent, I’ve been avoiding supermarkets, writing about them, reading about them, thinking about them, and now I’m starting to wonder why they aren’t more of a political issue.

What do I mean by a ‘political issue’?

Let me try and explain my new, and therefore, immature thinking, on the topic.

Supermarkets are a huge part of everyday life in the UK for many of us. We visit them regularly and spend a significant amount of money in them. Their success has allowed some of the larger chains to expand beyond grocery provision and sell most household items, as well as boast banking services, petrol stations, phone shops and even tv and music stations. They have money and power within the UK.

Supermarkets shape communities in a number of different ways – positive and negative. Here are some examples of the ways in which they do this:

As an employer – both locally in branches, plus nationally and internationally, if you include suppliers abroad.

Physical environment – a store will affect how an area looks, how much traffic is generated and even sometimes where roundabouts, pedestrian crossings etc are placed to allow access to the supermarket by both customers and delivery lorries.

Affordability – supermarkets set prices plus it seems to be the case that the same item can cost different amounts separate branches of the same store, depending on the neighbourhood.

Local business – large supermarkets are infamous for threatening the livelihoods of small businesses who operate nearby.

Foodbanks – some of the large supermarkets chains have initiatives where food is collected and donated to help those in food poverty within the area.

I am sure there are more examples but what I’m beginning to wonder is how much does the average person care about supermarkets and the way they operate? Further still, how much do they interest our elected members of local and national government?

I don’t have answers to these questions but I’m interested to make some progress to find out.

I know that there are people out there who do care about supermarkets and how they affect communities (see my post on Recommended Reading) but I also know that until a year ago I was someone who - almost without thinking about it - used supermarkets. I supported them with my spending (and still do, with the exclusion of Lent). Yet I am someone who says I care about the world and the people around me – do I just not care enough to consider what businesses and practices I’m supporting?

Do our political representatives have an interest in supermarkets and the power they have throughout the UK to attract income and shape communities? Some questions I have are:

• Do local councils negotiate with supermarkets who want to move into an area, for example, by asking them to finance the roads that will serve them or requesting they source any produce locally?

• Are there supermarket chains with links to political parties or that donate to them?

• Is the government initiative workfare operating in any supermarkets in the UK?

I hope it’s obvious from this post that I’m ‘writing as I’m thinking’ to some extent and am looking for answers, as opposed to speaking with authority. I want to see how supermarkets sit in our political landscape – who supports them, who doesn’t, and why.

Or is it just not that simple…

Supermarket-free Me: Learning about ethical consuming

After my wobble in this post, I’m feeling positive again about being supermarket-free for Lent. I’ve accepted that during this challenge, I’m not going to be able to find everything I need just when I want it and that planning ahead is really important!

One of the problems for me was finding ingredients for my bread maker in local shops.  However, I have now done enough research to know that I can get everything within a 10 minute drive, except for skimmed milk powder which I am able to get from Real Foods in Edinburgh about 30 minutes away (which also handily has an internet site).

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I visited the shop today and stocked up. I was pleased to remind myself that they sell a number of foodstuffs loose which should help me when taking part in Plastic Free July.

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As for the organic products that I was having trouble sourcing, Real Foods is able to provide some of the items I wanted, as are the Ethical Superstore online and a shop called Earthy in nearby Portobello.

Admittedly, in general, the organic prices seem to be more expensive than the supermarket, and shopping takes longer because I don’t have a one-stop-shop anymore, but I’m discovering some great products of a superior quality to what I had been buying pre-Lent, and, as a family we are enjoying the experience.

The children love the excitement of visiting different shops and spotting new things to try. For example, dinner was fun last night when we used the organic pasta animal shapes they chose.

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I picked up a beautiful Suma soap for £1 in Earthy and that makes hand-washing more pleasing for them because, not only does the new soap smell divine, but it has petals inside it which are released as it dissolves in water.

As a parent, I want to teach my children about sourcing the things we need more ethically. We had a wake-up call about our dependence on supermarkets the other day when our youngest child wondered why this organic cheese has a picture of a cow on it.

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My other half was explaining that cheese is made from milk and asked:
‘where does milk come from?’
to which our little one’s answer was…
…’Tesco’
Oh dear…

Needless to say we took this as a bad reflection on our parenting…Much teaching and explaining took place and we really must arrange a trip to a farm..!

It did however remind me of Tesco’s Eat Happy Project which is advertised in this Tesco magazine (acquired before Lent!).

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This initiative has amongst its aims, the target of helping children to understand where their food comes from. That’s great but I have to admit (as I’m sure won’t surprise you) that I’m sceptical of the initiative and why Tesco would be involved in it.

While, of course, all children should know that milk comes from a cow, I think that as consumers we need to know more than that – what conditions are the cows kept in, how fair are the farmers’ contracts, how is the milk transported? How far is Tesco going to take this ‘education’ and is Tesco really in the best position to be teaching about the origins of food?

Instead of trying to expand on this issue in my own words I will direct you to this compelling piece on the Fife Diet website which urges the Scottish Government to reject Tesco’s offer to get involved in primary school education. It is supported by some big names that you may recognise if you read about food.

Personally what my children eat is very important to me. I think to feed your children well is part of good parenting, and an extension of this should be to teach them the skills to nourish themselves properly in adulthood.

Neither of my own children is even at school yet, but I want them to start learning about food and, further, be able to make responsible consumer choices when the time comes. I am aware that to ensure that there is consumer choice for the next generation (that isn’t just different supermarket chains) I need to be getting out there and supporting local shops, businesses and ethical suppliers!

Supermarket-free Me: Card Making

In this recent post, I looked at some ways to both save some money and avoid the supermarket at the same time. One of my suggestions was to make your own greetings cards and I promised a blog post on that very subject so here goes….

My first disclaimer is, as ever, that my talents do not lie in being crafty! However I think that may be an advantage for this post as I aim to show that without much in the way of skill, time or resources you can easily knock together a half-decent card that already outshines its supermarket competitor because it’s homemade. In terms of showing someone you care, that’s got to count for something, right?

Also, because it’s homemade you have some control over the things that may matter to you such as how much the finished product will cost you, whether you use recycled paper or (in my case) whether you can reduce or eliminate the plastic used in the process – read more about that here.

Here are some examples of cards I’ve made - you can see that once I find a theme, I stick with it!

Thank you cards

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Cards I got the kids involved with (2 of the blue ones are mine)

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Moving Home card

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Hama bead card My children love making things with hama beads (plastic, I know…) Instead of hanging on to the finished products, we use them on cards

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I’ve been buying some of my materials in Hobbycraft but I’m very keen to find a local business that can meet my craft needs. I’ve also just learned that it’s worth checking out the craft pages of Etsy.com for supplies.

The blank cards I’ve been buying are £2 for a pack of 5 which is around what I’ve been paying for one greetings card at the supermarket. Plus all 5 cards just come in one plastic wrapper, although I need to find a way of buying cards loose for Plastic Free July!

The ladybirds are £2 for a pack of 10 and the airmail cards were £2.30 for 12 so my finished ‘product’ is still cheaper than its supermarket equivalent.

I bought the alphabet stampers (£7.50) and ink (£2) which have been a good investment as I’ve used them a lot.

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I’ve only been making my own cards for a few months but I’m aware there are loads of things I could do to make them less expensive and more eco-friendly. Some ideas I have involve upcycling old greetings cards and other bits and bobs that are around the house anyway such as old yale keys, newspaper print, buttons or photos. I am yet to get involved with pinterest but I know it could be perfect for this kind of project.

If you have written a homemade card post, please feel free to put a link in the comments section - I need all the inspiration I can get!

Supermarket-free Me: Solutions not problems!

In my last post, I wrote about some of the negatives involved in ditching the supermarket for Lent. For me, the big problems so far are not being able to buy all of the ingredients for my bread maker locally and being restricted in the range of organic products I can find….then when I do find them, they seem to be more expensive in general than in the supermarket. Sigh.

I have been full of optimism about giving up supermarkets for Lent and, in fact, a few weeks ago I could hardly wait to be shot of them and get writing about my experience! I would love to be supermarket-free altogether and I rather hoped that this challenge would take me much closer to that.

The problem is that I have conflicting priorities:

1. I desperately want to stop supporting the big supermarkets which between them are often in the media for unethical practices (e.g. the low wages of some of their suppliers, food waste and the horsemeat scandal) and get behind local businesses which can help to keep local money within the community. But…

2. I passionately care about what I give my family to eat. I spend a lot of my energy sourcing healthy food and cooking – hence the homemade bread and the organics. As a stay at home parent, who has temporarily put a career I enjoyed on hold to look after them as best I can, I cannot tolerate having to compromise on what we eat. It is also worth noting that, before I had children, I was far from a domestic goddess and was barely acquainted with my oven! My need to properly look after my kids inspired a huge change in me…

So with all of this in mind, I have been pondering over how (or indeed if) I can bring my two priorities together and achieve both in the longer term.

I’ve thought about it a lot in the last couple of days…

…there was maybe even a small rain cloud above my head as I considered the issue…

Gradually though, I realised that I was feeling unnecessarily down about the dilemma. I am only 8 days into Lent! Although I have some local knowledge left over from going supermarket-free for four weeks last year and, although I’ve been in most of the local shops in the past week, I still have a long way to go!

Excuse me while I have a little word with myself…

Giving up supermarkets isn’t easy – if it was, then they probably wouldn’t exist on such a huge scale because many people would most likely choose to avoid them.

Practice surely makes perfect.

I still have a lot of ground to cover. I have yet to explore the Farmers’ Markets in my area, and there are many specialist shops in Edinburgh (a short journey from home) just waiting for me to turn up and scour their shelves. I need to get out and about and find out who sells what. I need and work out a way of accessing items when I need them.

Part of the power of supermarkets is that they are able to make goods affordable to customers. I already know, however, that this may be at the cost of someone else in the supply chain so perhaps I have to be prepared to pay a bit more for organic products. (If you want help to find out more about this please see my post on recommended reading.) Perhaps I am even jumping the gun as I don’t yet know if there are affordable organic products within the area that I’m prepared to travel, maybe there are!

Further, when I am in local shops, silently bemoaning the lack of the items I’m looking for, I should be asking the staff if they would consider ordering them in instead of swapping pleasantries about the weather! I love to talk to people and there’s a good chance that the feedback would be appreciated. Maybe for that matter I should also be contacting the supermarkets and letting them know why I am striving to find alternatives to them in the longer term.

Okay!

That sounds like enough for me to be getting on with at the moment. I am feeling much more optimistic about giving up supermarkets for Lent – in a way that will allow me to feed my family to my own standard. I will take things one step at a time but I hope that at the start of March 2015, I am using the supermarket less than I was a fortnight ago.

I’ll keep you posted…

Supermarket-free Me: Shopping Local

I am going supermarket-free for Lent. As long as I don’t set foot in a supermarket (or buy from a supermarket internet site) then I will pass the challenge. However, it is important to me that I achieve a little more than that so I am trying to shop locally where I can, and/or from ethical suppliers.

In the past six days I have been in numerous local shops, picking up things I need here and there, hoping that I have all bases covered. It’s been convenient enough for me because, as the mother to small children, I am out and about in the community anyway. Anything – even a trip for toilet paper – can be turned into a mini expedition!

I live in a town with a good selection of shops – there is a mix of chains, franchises and independents but even so, I have discovered I can’t find the range of items that I am able to in the local (huge) supermarket. I was prepared for this (having gone supermarket-free for 28 days last year) and have been happy to change what I eat to some extent and to get creative with the weird and wonderful items I’ve already got in my kitchen – see this post. Last year, for example, in this post I remember searching high and low for mozzarella cheese and soya mince. I bought some in the end but they were expensive. I can live without these items but the two categories of food I’m struggling with at the moment are ingredients for my bread maker and organic products.

Outwith the supermarket I’ve not been able to find bread flour, skimmed milk powder or yeast in my local shops. I’ve not scoured every single shop (although I have visited those most likely to stock them) so I may find that I am able to update you on this one. On Saturday, I drove to a nearby locality and found the flour and yeast but not the skimmed milk powder. I’m sure I’ll be able to source it on the internet but had the local shops sold it, they’d have got my business.

The lack of organic products I’m able to find is also bothering me. I have got used to buying organic wherever I can and my local supermarket has served me well – I can get lots of everyday items as organic versions such as butter, mayonnaise, cheese, juice. Locally though, I’m struggling to even find organic milk while I’m waiting for my milk delivery direct from a dairy to start.

Maybe buying so many organic things sounds unnecessary but in the supermarket they are affordable and accessible and I’ve come to think of them as everyday items. Before I had children, I didn’t think or care much about organic (and maybe it wasn’t so readily available) but now I feel like I’m ‘downgrading’ to settle for less.

I’m also struggling to price-compare every item when shopping on the High Street. In the supermarket, prices are clearly displayed and there’s the opportunity to look at the cost of things online before you venture out of your home, although, I’ve read that the same supermarket chain in different areas can have varying prices – do leave a comment if you have any information on this! In some of my local shops, you don’t know the price until you reach the till or ask an assistant – which doesn’t seem customer-friendly.

However, before this post starts to sound like a big moan(!) I am still thoroughly committed to ditching the supermarket for Lent and supporting local business. I still feel that I have choices – I have an organic veg box delivered each week plus I am happy to use non-supermarket websites to buy any other organic products I want and the Ethical Superstore is great for many of these items.

I was also really delighted to discover that a shop a short drive away (or a long walk away) sells a number of items ‘unpackaged’ which include store cupboard staples…

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…soaps

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and even laundry detergent. This is a fantastic find for me as I am attempting to give up disposable plastics in july (see this post) and so far it’s looking like it’s going to be really…well…difficult!

All in all, so far the positives of giving up the supermarket for Lent are outweighing the negatives. Let’s see how this challenge progresses…