A few months back I finally gave up shopping at supermarkets...
I'd come across a pretty damning report by Corporate Watch about the effects of supermarkets on people & planet and decided to do what I could to challenge the status quo. I'd read about the 'cheap food myth' whereby the consumer really pays three times over: once in the store, a second time in taxes to subsidise farmers and a third time in more taxes to clean up the pollution left by industrial agriculture and subsidise the road transport infrastructure. I discovered how supermarkets guzzle their way through as much energy as factories with their bright lights & open chiller cabinets. (Imagine leaving your freezer door at home permanently open!) I was already aware of how supermarkets bleed small farmers dry. How they cut a swathe through the High Street and suck money out of local communities to far-away shareholders. How 276 jobs are lost every time a large store opens in the UK. How buyers select products for maximum shelf life and appearance rather than taste. I could go on... The question was: How was I going to do it?
I was off to a running start in as much as I don't eat meat or dairy products and base my diet around fruit, vegetables and pulses. I was already getting a reasonably priced weekly delivery of tasty Herefordshire-grown organic veg from Boxfreshorganics, who I can phone to order delicious extras ranging from mushrooms to apple juice to fair trade coffee. To fill in the gaps, I got on my bike to do a tour of the local independent shops. Unfortunately Northfield and Selly Oak, my nearest shopping centres, are dominated by supermarkets and poorly endowed with independent shops. But over in Kings Heath I found a marvellous wholefood store called Thyme Out, run by a friendly couple called Jo & Gareth, where I buy items like pasta, tofu, cooking sauces and spices at reasonable prices. If I can't be bothered to bake it myself, Leverton & Halls in Bournville do lovely fresh bread and stock organic veg grown in the UK. They also have bins of rice, flour and sugar and a barrel of washing-up liquid, allowing you to refill your own container and avoid packaged goods. Just over the road there's an organic butcher, where I can buy meat for my wife & daughter. For heavier, bulkier items like 2 kilo bags of muesli and cartons of soya milk, I pop into Holland & Barrett during my lunch hour or on my way home from work.
So, all in all, after doing a bit of scouting around, giving up supermarkets has been no great hardship. I might spend a little more on organic food but as far as I'm concerned the quality of what I put in my family's mouths is a top priority. In fact, my new weekly shop has become a real pleasure -it's good exercise, gets me out & about, and it's lovely to meet shopkeepers who really care about their customers, their food and where it comes from.