Supermarket- it’s over between you and me.

Hi everyone!

When I started this blog a couple of weeks ago I had no idea that I was going to get such a big response. I’m not really sure why I even decided to do it but I just thought I’d give it a shot, have absolutely no expectations and be open to see what happened. So far I’ve had loads of positive feedback, advice on making the blog better, tips on cooking, starting the food co-op and offers to link me up with other like-minded people and projects. It’s been a big boost for me to have that support and it has given me the belief that this is a worthwhile venture.

As there have been no recent major events in the ‘personal journey towards sustainable living’ I thought I’d do a blog explaining a bit about my relationship with supermarkets.

What I used to be like:

Before going on the Otesha tour I loved the supermarkets. So much so that if I had a spare half hour I’d go there to see what was on offer. In reality I was going to the supermarket because I was hooked by the idea that there could be an absolute bargain to be had inside the supermarket and I’d be damned if I was going to miss out! I’d often walk out holding the newly purchased item that I was missing from my life even though I had no idea I needed it when I went in. The supermarket had done it’s work well, lured me in and I’d willingly handed over my money for something that I didn’t need. Evidence for this manifested itself at a recent car boot sale where I sold many unused and unworn things (the clothes store sales always have the same effect on me), and when emptying the pantry last week to find piles of food past its sell by date which I never even opened. I found myself saying ‘I can’t believe I bought all this rubbish, what a waste!’

At the same time I thought that I was a really savvy shopper because I’d check out all the latest offers and for my regular products I had a little routine of where to get the best deals. I knew the prices of EVERYTHING in every shop, so I thought I was playing the game! Little did I  know that this is actually how it works- draw customers in with the special offers and while they are in the shop, 9 times out of 10, you can sell them a load of other unneeded stuff. This survey by DEFRA states that 15% of all our food and drink purchases are wasted.

What happened:

While on the tour I found out a few things about supermarkets that left me feeling really disappointed and realising that I’d been played by the supermarkets. Basically they have been doing a lot of things that are totally unethical and unfair behind the scenes and I feel deceived. In the UK the supermarkets have dominated the milk production industry meaning that small farmers have been paid less for their milk than it cost them to produce, not to mention the effect that profit loss will have on the standard of animal welfare (link).

Things like the uprise in industrial farming methods (see monocultures and; petro-chemical fertilizers) are closely linked to the restrictive demands that supermarkets put onto farmers, knowing that they will have nowhere else to sell their product (link). The usual argument is that how are we going to feed the world using small farms?  According to a 1992 U.S. Agricultural Census report, relatively smaller farm sizes are 2 to 10 times more productive per unit acre than larger ones (link). This is because of the cost of fertilizers, pesticides, machines and fuel make the large scale monoculture farms less productive. Doing crop rotation with a variety of crop, getting animals to fertilise the land naturally, and using less machinery due to smaller but more diverse crops all comes at a minimum cost.  Even things like packaging have got completely out of control in the supermarkets and although I have thought this was a wasteful practice I didn’t think there was anyting I could do about it.

Another experience that changed my mind about using supermarkets was when we visited a place called Hawick on the Otesha Tour. All that could be found was one lonely fishmonger selling local produce. The owner explained that Hawick had once had a high street with 16 or so green grocers selling local produce not to mention butchers, bakeries and fishmongers. Then the supermarkets moved in and drove the prides down so low that the local businesses couldn’t compete. When the local shops had all gone out of business the supermarkets put their prices back up. So instead of having the choice of 16+ local shops now the community has only got the choice of 3 supermarkets selling out of season veg with massive food miles, tonnes of packaging and they would have to go miles out of their way to buy any locally produced food. It also means that local producers have fewer opportunities to sell their produce, as supermarkets won’t buy from small producers. Farmers in Hawick are restricted to selling in farm shops (two of which were for sale in the wider area), which were miles out of town and therefore inaccessible to people without transport.

After hearing this story I thought about Swansea and how many supermarkets / express stores keep popping up all over the place. I live near the marina and used to use a local newsagents, that was until the Tesco express opened up and I started going to Tesco instead as they had a bigger range and better prices. Now the little newsagents has had to cut it’s opening times to its most profitable (lunch times) because all their business was taken by Tesco. I already knew this but I was bought over by the few quid I would save and didn’t give a second thought to the small business. Its sad but constantly buying from the big supermarkets is going to cost us more than the money we save. Our communities will suffer, we will have less choice, less autonomy and less power.

What I am like now:

What is different after the tour is that I know that I am responsible for my own actions and the maxim ‘actions speak louder than words’ comes into full force here, it’s no good me talking or complaining about the way things are and just doing nothing. I have to use the little power that I have- the power to control my actions and where I spend my money. The main aim of my post-Otesha life is to have a supermarket ban, and to concentrate on rewarding the people and companies that have ethical practices.

Since living (all of 3 1/2 weeks) supermarket free I have had a few experiences which have made me think differently about food production. When I received small apples and aubergine in my veg box I felt a bit short changed. When I visited Elaine in the health food shop in the market she wanted to know if I’d had my much anticipated veg box yet and I explained what I had received and my opinion on the quality and size of the produce. Elaine wisely pointed out that because the weather had been so shocking this year that apples had really struggled to grow and she said that her aubergines had been really small this year compared to previous years.

This conversation made me realise my total lack of awareness of the natural food cycle. Yeah sure I ‘knew’ how it all worked but at the same time I never made the connection, and therefore I wasn’t expecting the recent weather to have any effect on the size of the produce I was going to buy. I suppose what I mean is that I need to start thinking more about the whole cycle rather than just thinking of things in isolation and how it directly affects me (ie all this rain means I can’t dry my washing or ride my bike when I want). In future I will be thinking of how things are affected all along the chain.

Lastly I’d like to say that I recognise that I am in a very opportune situation at present in order to make all these sustainable changes. I finished my degree in June meaning that I’ve been seeking employment since then and had quite a lot of free time. I know that many of the people reading this (mostly my friends) are not able to explore the sustainable food options in their area because they have full time jobs, children to look after or both! This is part of my motivation to do it because I can easily do the detective work and my busy friends can use this blog as a resource to find out what brilliant alternatives there are to supermarket shopping, if they wish to follow suit. It is also a way of putting a face to local producers and businesses that need support (if we don’t use em, we’ll lose em). I’ve already seen loads of activity in Swansea and I can see that there is a thriving local produce scene here which I have totally ignored (for 8 years!) due to my supermarket obsession.


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