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!!
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!