Supermarket-free Lent 2015: Day 8

I am amazed that in the last week, I’ve done so little shopping. Admittedly, we have been living to some extent on what is already in our cupboards, but I must’ve spent significantly less than I usually would in the same period.

Throughout January and February, I was becoming alarmed at how often I found myself in the supermarket.  We always seemed to be short of something, or I needed to find something easy for dinner. Somehow I never left the supermarket with the couple of items I was just popping in for. I really was wondering how on earth I was going to manage being supermarket-free this Lent.

However, with double portions of fruit and veg being delivered to our doorstep (as a result of me increasing our veg box order), we are all eating a lot more of this lovely fresh produce as snacks. The pears and apples that are in season just now are delicious, and I’m finding that I’m having to limit how many the children eat to prevent sore tummies. This makes me realise that the Pom Bear/Oaty Bar ilk of treats I’m used to stocking up on, have been somewhat unnecessary!

I have also now visited my first physical shop – twice in fact! The farm shop I grew to rely on during my last two supermarket-free stints has closed, and a bigger better shop has opened in its place. Initially, this sent me into a bit of a panic because the new shop looked decidedly like a supermarket.

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I searched for it on the internet however, and discovered that the Nisa sign above the door is actually good news for me.  Nisa stores are franchised, and are essentially local businesses (local businesses – yay!) that get support to help them compete for their share of the market – you can read more here.

The store is great!

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It has a variety of products, including its own bakery counter and a small café area. The prices seem competitive and, although I haven’t taken the time to work out whether I would pay more or less in my local supermarket for an equivalent shop, I found that I didn’t spend a scary amount.

Also, I hardly bought anything on impulse – partly because there were less of the extras and wild deals that I’m so used to in the supermarket, and partly because I used a wheelie basket and ran out of space to put anything else in it! (The trollies took £1 coins and I didn’t have any). In addition, I had the kids with me, and they were getting in everyone’s way dragging the basket around – fun for all the family – so I wanted to get out as quickly as I could!

My final thought for tonight is that Mothers’ Day is on Sunday 15th March. Last year I wrote this post which makes for depressing reading (I wonder if I blew the whole issue a little out of proportion!).  I wrote with a heavy heart about buying my Mothers’ Day gifts and cards from chain stores. It seems that they lacked the personal touch – I have no recollection of what they actually were! This year I need to do Mothers’ Day differently if I want to spare you another self-deprecating post…I need to get planning!

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Supermarket-free Me: Lent 2014 has finished!

Lent is finally over! No doubt there have been celebrations across the land – from forbidden chocolate melting on tongues, to alcohol being knocked back in portions larger than the government recommends. What about those of us who have been shunning the supermarkets? Have any of you rushed out and taken part in a desperate version of Supermarket Sweep at your local store?

For the past six weeks, I’ve been supermarket-free and proud. I undertook this challenge to push myself into shopping more ethically. I wanted to say no to the large corporations who seem to prioritise profit above workers’ conditions and food waste, and I aimed to support local suppliers and those businesses that care about more than just money. I hoped to learn about the origins of the items in my shopping trolley, and I wanted new and enjoyable shopping experiences. Plus it was important for me to document it all on my blog and connect with those of you out there who have opinions (whatever these are) on this topic.

So how’s that all worked out for me?!

First and foremost, I have avoided the supermarket so the job’s a good ‘un! My mission’s been accomplished…and that feels good! For the most part, the challenge was fine and I didn’t feel my supermarket-free life was very different. I definitely haven’t been champing at the bit for Lent to come to an end, so that has to be a good sign!

Advantages of the challenge

It was good to live without the guilt of using supermarkets. Over the past year, I have read a lot about their practices and shopping is no longer an experience of blissful ignorance. I can’t pick up a piece of cheap clothing made abroad without thinking about the Bangladesh tragedy of last April, and I am only too aware that inexpensive fruit and veg may be courtesy of struggling farmers, rather than the supermarket chains.

It’s been simpler to shop without multi-deals, vouchers and BOGOFs. In the past I have stood in supermarket aisles at a loss as to how to buy an item at the lowest price. Do I buy it singly, or as part of a multi-deal? Will the price come down further if I use a voucher that came in the post or will that be invalid if the item is already part of a deal? Will I even use the ‘get one free’? If I’m looking for a bargain, it sometimes feels as if you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t make a purchase! I enjoyed being cut loose from those confusing feelings by simply purchasing items locally with one price. Life is tough enough!!

Although I will admit that I enjoy the experience of shopping in a supermarket (I just do, alright!), my kids generally don’t, and come up with creative ways to inject fun into such an outing. One of our last visits to the supermarket involved my youngest gleefully racing down an aisle at high speed, with me chasing after (in a skirt and inappropriate footwear). The whole thing ended with said child on the floor in peals of laughter and me, off-balance and out of breath, with a shop assistant looking on. I can’t tell you what the assistant’s expression was as I was studiously not looking. It’s been therefore liberating to do lots of small shopping sessions that each take a fraction of the time of the supermarket, even if the total time in separate shops adds up to something significant. There’s less opportunity for the children to get bored and we have stopped losing big portions of the day to hunting and gathering because they are mostly accommodated in our daily routine.

I’ve had some new experiences over Lent. I spent a lovely morning with my youngest in Edinburgh while we explored the New Leaf Coop which you can read about here. We were both fascinated by this shop and enjoyed the sight of the huge canisters of unpackaged foods on the walls – plus we made a morning of it, wandering round the area and snacking in a nearby coffee shop. I have embraced craft and have made several greetings cards and even stretched to creating a birthday present! As I was previously a very reluctant crafter, this has been welcomed by the children who love nothing more than a bit of glittery messy fun. I have surprised myself by finding it both enjoyable and therapeutic.

Although my blogging slowed considerably half way through Lent, I’ve enjoyed the writing. For me, the blog gives makes me accountable to my readers and I want to achieve my task. This motivates me and helps me to really think about what I’m doing and why. I enjoy the community that evolves when I blog on a specific topic. There is great support out there and I must give a big shout out to Zoe of Eco Thrifty Living who has been so encouraging of me on Twitter. Zoe is undertaking some of the same challenges as me for her blog, plus a whole lot more! I’ve also loved connecting with Local4Lent who have a supermarket-free following that spans across the different areas of social media, and I was honoured to write my first guest post for them which you can read here.

The last positive I’m going to highlight is that I’ve had some interesting conversations in ‘real life’ about going supermarket-free. Although I blog anonymously, I have mentioned my challenge to a few friends. The reactions have been positive and I can see that ditching the supermarket is not something the people around me have given much thought to before. I think it suggests that if more people were informed about the ways supermarkets operate, and saw that there are alternative ways of shopping, they might actually make some changes to their consumption. I find that exciting and it spurs me on to keep writing on this topic.

Disadvantages of the challenge

I’d love to say that there weren’t any and that I’m never going back to the supermarket but, as I’ve said before, it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge if it had been easy!

The biggest issue for me (after getting past my middle class problem of struggling to find organic products and ingredients for my bread maker!) is that it’s been hard to source the variety of food that I feel I need in order to cater properly for my family.

Before having children I was happy to call Dairylea on toast ‘dinner’. Providing food of quality has been something I’ve had to work hard at, and I endeavour to improve further. I have somewhat of a limited repertoire of healthy meals, for example. By avoiding the supermarket, I didn’t have access to all of my usual ingredients (without lots of research) which made me jumpy and it was tricky to provide different meal choices.

A further problem is that I boast a handful of food allergies so I can’t just eat whatever is to hand. Food in my household therefore needs to be planned! Near the start of Lent, I enjoyed putting in some effort into overcoming such problems. I started to discover new recipes and do more cooking, but when I caught a horrible cold a few weeks ago, I was good for nothing for several days. It felt like I was failing in Home Economics and my motivation for working towards a supermarket-free life evaporated like a puddle on a hot day.

I have recovered now and my motivation has returned but I have concluded that I don’t simply want to go ‘cold turkey’ on the supermarket. Providing healthy food for my family is important and this challenge actually highlighted that I have work to do in this area anyway. It would serve me well to sit down and source a good variety of recipes and make sure that all of the food groups are included in our diet. Once I am satisfied with this, I can get to work on finding out where I can get everything I need out of the supermarket.

Another negative associated with my challenge is that I found it near-impossible to work out for sure if I was saving money by going supermarket-free. I probably was because I was using food that I already had in my kitchen cupboards, and there were a lot of things I just wasn’t buying because I didn’t come across them. While it is lovely to be saving money due to consuming less, I’ll admit that it isn’t something I’d want to be forced into for longer than a few weeks!

I was disappointed that my blogging slowed down. As well as feeling unwell, I was busy with other things and was spending a lot of time on tasks relating to going supermarket-free such as card-making, juice squeezing and cake baking! However, it’s been a valuable lesson that I need to pace myself, and that the powers of forward-planning can’t be underestimated -I should have filled my freezer with supermarket-free homemade food before the challenge began! I would have liked to have covered more on the blog – writing up posts on food waste, farmers’ markets and homemade bread would have been interesting – but I will accept my limits.

Lastly, I found there to be a clash with giving up the supermarket and focusing on my other eco challenges. Avoiding plastics, for example, was harder than I’d anticipated, although I’m still convinced that, with practice, they are complementary challenges. My knowledge on where to find items was limited so often I ended up having to take something whether or not it was swathed in plastic. Also, a number of times I found myself accepting plastic bags because I still haven’t got into the way of carrying the really big reusable shoppers (which I previously only used at the supermarket) on my person at all times. This needs to improve immediately!!

Conclusion

Giving up supermarkets for Lent is a great challenge! It wasn’t easy but it was worthwhile. It forced me to learn more about food, the supermarkets, my local shops and the way I cater for my family. Ultimately it has reinforced that I am committed towards further reducing (and ideally eliminating) my spending in the supermarket.

I have diverted approximately £367 from supermarkets over Lent. This total was worked out by dividing the amount of money I spent in the supermarket in January (£247.82) by 31 (days in January) and multiplying it by the number of days in Lent (46). A year ago I think I’d have diverted much more but I’ve significantly reduced my supermarket spending over the past 12 months. I definitely feel that this is a big achievement for me.

I don’t think that you will be surprised to hear that I am planning to return to the supermarket. I will, however, be working hard to continue to support local and ethical suppliers and, hopefully if I give up supermarkets for Lent next year – which I intend to – then it will be a breeze!

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: 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: 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: Planning!

If you are thinking about cutting down on supermarkets, cutting them out or even joining me on my Supermarket-free for Lent challenge, then I’ve a few strategies that I hope will make your experience easier.

Obviously everyone’s situation and geographic location is different. Each of my suggestions therefore will suit some people more than others but one thing that it’s fair to say is that a little planning before giving up on supermarkets is likely to make a huge difference!

Here are some actions that I’m hoping will make it easier for me to source what I need outwith the supermarket for lent:

Veg Box

I have a weekly delivery of organic fruit and veg placed literally on my doorstep each week from a local farm. This has this diverted hundreds of pounds from the supermarket on my behalf since this time last year. Plus, because it is all organic, I prefer it. The box covers most of my fruit and veg needs for the week. The farm website has a blog that occasionally price-compares to the supermarket and provides a breakdown of a sample box. This shows that its prices beat the supermarket equivalents. I have not undertaken this experiment myself but I have written a previous post on what I got in my veg box, how much it cost me and how I used it to feed my family which I hope you will find interesting and useful.*

I think it is common to be able to select extras as part of your box and I recently included organic free-range eggs. On browsing the farm website again today I have found a huge range of products are available to buy from bread to nappies to beer. Without carrying out a proper comparison I’d estimate that the prices are more expensive than I’d pay in the supermarket but again, many of the items are organic and not ‘budget’ brands so the price could possibly be justified by the quality.

Milk

In November I undertook some ‘research’ on suppliers in my locality that would home-deliver milk. My investigations were basic – I used a search engine and key terms (‘milk’ and my geographic location). I came up with at least three suppliers, including my veg box company, and phoned them. Any would have been fine. The company I chose to go with won my custom because they deliver some of their milk in glass bottles and as I am taking part in Plastic Free July, this will be necessary to get me through a challenging month! I have yet to activate my order but I am hoping to set it up within the next few days. I’ll keep you posted…

Local shops and suppliers

The start of lent, 5 March, is 10 days away so now is the time to start researching the local businesses in your area that might be useful for this challenge. When I gave up supermarkets for 28 days last year, my local knowledge was pitiful – despite having lived in the area for six years. I’d relied on the supermarket and nearby chain stores for most of my shopping and although my local high street was only minutes away, I really didn’t know the shops nor had I visited any farmers markets.

If you can relate to my experience then now is a good time to take a wander and to find out what’s out there and stock up. (It’s not cheating to stock up before the challenge starts as long as you’re not using the supermarket!). I find following Twitter accounts and websites that have been set up to promote the area to be great sources of knowledge and although I’m not on Facebook I’m guessing this would also be true.

You can also check out http://www.bigbarn.co.uk/ which, as mentioned in my previous post, is a Community Interest Company, aiming to promote local trade. You are able to search for local businesses on your post code, check it out here!

Where else do you shop?

Despite the growing monopoly of supermarkets (and I have several near me) I do shop in other places. Last year when going supermarket-free I found it helpful when I was anywhere that sold anything (from chain stores to garden centres), to pick things up as I saw them out and about.

Ethical shopping

While shopping anywhere that is not a supermarket will allow you to pass this challenge, I have to admit that I have become a more ‘ethically minded’ consumer in the past year. Although clearly I do use supermarkets just now (what sort of a challenge would it be to give up something you don’t use?!), I feel guilty about it and the same goes for shopping in some larger stores. Big business and big profits can sometimes mean questionable practices, as we know from the Bangladesh tragedy last April and the tales of tax avoidance that have been in the UK media for a good while now.

I like to use the Ethical Superstore for many of my household needs. This site has a huge range of products from groceries, to toiletries, to clothes. Although of course there are drawbacks, such as having your purchases transported across the country with the pollution this inevitably causes, the site does at least provide you with a certain amount of ethical information about its products. Prices will typically set you back more than supermarket budget brands but the site has had regular promotions such as 20% off sales since I started using it plus you can accrue reward points. (At the time of publishing this post there is a Fairtrade and clothing sale).

To source other products from shops, suppliers and the net that you can rest easy doing business with, get busy with your search engine! Type in your key words and do your research. There are businesses out there with some sound ethics, it’s just a case of finding them.

If you have any hints, tips or ethical suppliers that will make being supermarket-free easier, please do share them in the comment section below.

*If, like me, you are a veg box enthusiast there are links to all of my veg box posts within this post……!

Meaner Greener Me: Plastic Free July Day 7

Ooooh noooo! This isn’t going so well. Shopping, while avoiding single use plastics, is really difficult!

I know that Plastic Free July is becoming an international challenge so maybe experiences are different in other countries, but it’s really hard to avoid them here in Scotland without changing your shopping habits completely. Of course, this is a reason Plastic Free July evolved – because of the excessive use of plastic in so many countries, resulting in huge environmental issues.

On Day 2, I headed to the supermarket to do my food shopping. As is widely documented throughout my blog, I gave up supermarkets for 28 days earlier in the year and have changed my shopping habits dramatically ever since. One result is that I have seriously cut down on what I buy at the supermarket. I visit less it often than I used to and, when I do, I feel guilty about what I consider to be their bad practice (see my previous post). I am therefore reserved in what I spend there and I avoid deviating from my shopping list.

For this trip, I had the goal of avoiding as much single use plastic as possible and buying instead whatever brand could offer me packaging made of alternative materials. It wasn’t that simple. Here’s what I bought that included plastics:

photo (83)

The most disappointing item had to be the swede which was wrapped in plastic (surely completely unnecessary) and the organic peppers which came in plastic bags, although they sell normal peppers (which I can only think of as ‘pesticide enhanced’ peppers), loose.

The strawberries and blueberries were for a recipe that I’d promised the kids I’d make, otherwise I’d have avoided them. I couldn’t find an alternative packaging for buying cow’s milk – it was plastic all the way and really annoying was the fact that the juices, although appearing to come in cardboard containers, all had plastic pourers glued to the top of them.

Here’s a picture of the things I bought that (I think!) are plastic free.

photo (82)
I avoided buying yoghurt because of the plastic tub (despite it being a big favourite in our house), organic carrots (again you can only get them in a bag, although usually carrots are loose), I took the sweet potatoes to the checkout without a polythene bag and I took my own shopping bags to transport the food home.

I came home feeling disappointed. Although I am not expecting to reach the gold standard of excluding single use plastics altogether, I didn’t realise I’d have such limited choice.

The following day my veg box arrived – you can see a sample of the things I get in it here. The fruit and veg (and now organic free range eggs too) arrive in a reusable plastic crate and mainly the produce is either loose or in brown bags. Only items that really benefit from plastic come in small poly bags, some of which are fully compostable. After my shopping trip I arranged to increase my order further so that I can hopefully completely avoid supermarket plastic on fruit and veg.

I have been thinking a lot about Plastic Free July this week (read more here) so when I went to visit a friend for a play date with the children on Day 4, instead of taking a packet of shop bought biscuits, I baked banana bread and wrapped it in foil. The children enjoyed helping me make it and the majority of the ingredients came in plastic-free packaging.

My Meaner Greener Me blog has the aims of ethical consumption and responsible waste disposal so on Day 5 I attempted a shopping trip on my local high street to avoid the supermarket and to support the local economy.

It was a really pleasant outing – a sunny day, happy children and conversations with local retailers but….
photo (84)

…really not good for avoiding single use plastics. Despite us travelling on foot, taking our own shopping bag, buying fair trade organic banana chips and purchasing milk supplied by a local dairy, it was definitely a Plastic Free July fail!

If you’re taking part in Plastic Free July or, like me, just trying to be a bit more responsible in your consuming, do get in touch! I’d also love to hear any suggestions you might have to help me with my challenges.