Monday, 10 March 2008

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind...

..into ethical shopping

Recently I've been reading the book 'Shopped:the Shocking Power of British Supermarkets' by Joanna Blythman, which is all about how the big supermarkets are taking over the world, destroying communities, encouraging eating of processed food and decline in cooking skills, and basically ripping everyone off for their own gains. It makes very interesting - but depressing - reading and has really spurred me on to find some kind of alternative to my shopping experience.

Doing the fortnightly shop in Tescos (used to be weekly, but I kept putting it off) seems to me to be the most spiritually and emotionally disatisfying way of buying food. I'm not saying that going shopping should necessarily be the highlight of the week, but the experience of traipsing round aisle after predictable aisle of unappealing, packaged, processed stuff, trying to get even vaguely inspired to buy and cook food is really enough to make the most cheerful person selfharm. I've always been a bit of a hopeless cook, but after years of being a Tesco customer I think I've become even more deskilled when it comes to choosing and cooking food.

Anyway, today was the first day of our attempt to change our buying habits. No car trip to Tesco today. Instead we got out the wooden hand trailer which the kids sometimes play with in Summer and walked to our local shopping centre. I figured the Co-op would be a good place to start for fair trade, organic and ethical products. Ok, so it's still a supermarket, but we had to start somewhere. We managed to find fairtrade organic hot chocolate and fair trade coffee (Coop's own brand coffees are all fair trade now). They had fairtrade wine (not needed today) and we picked up fairtrade bananas. There were no local products (well, not that I could see) which was disappointing, and the cheese was all the usual pre-packed dreary cheddar. Ds2 found some British Cheddar 'that's good isn't it?' he said.

A few things that I had on my list weren't there at all (I'd planned the next few days menus to try and be more organised) such as sour cream and much of what we did buy was much more expensive than our usual penny-pinching trip to Tesco. Ds1 asked in a concerned voice (obviously worried that I was planning some new home education project) 'is this going to be our homework?'.

Then we went to the greengrocer, which had much of what we wanted. A lot of the produce had obviously been flown/shipped in as much of it was out of season (peppers, courgettes and aubergines for instance), and they had some rather exotic asian vegetables displayed on a central stand - mooli, yam etc. After that there seemed few other shops that could provide what we wanted and there was no sign of any little independent food shops/suppliers.

We came back having got rather wet in the downpour on the walk home. The kids were grumpy and fed up because it had taken me so long to find what I wanted in Co-op and dd1 was grumpy because I hadnt' let her ride in the wooden trailer on the way back 'you'll squash the tomatoes and they cost me a fortune!'. I unpacked. We didn't seem to have much food. Probably about a third of our usual shop. And it had cost me about a third more than my usual shop!

I think next we'll have to investigate farmer's markets. There are several that are held nearby, fairly regularly, but when I've been previously the stalls have mostly sold meat (not much good for a predominantly vegetarian family!). Perhaps I should look at organic veg boxes again, though with some of our veg supply coming from our allotment it can be quite wasteful to double up on certain veg in the veg box each week. Farm shops are also worth looking into, though in my previous experience they have always been very expensive. I guess I just need to look around.

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