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The Slow Shopper: Six Months Without Supermarkets

Submitted by on April 1, 2012 – 10:45 pm9 Comments

Wandering round the supermarket aisles on a Friday evening, I couldn’t help noticing that despite the fact that the weekend was just beginning, the majority of my fellow shoppers didn’t look particularly cheery. In fact, as I dodged an angry-looking businessman and attempted to squeeze past a harassed mother and her double buggy, I thought the general ambiance was one of frustration and annoyance. I can’t quite put my finger on why supermarket shopping brings out the worst in people, but here are a few things that, in my opinion, are contributing factors:

1. Harsh lighting. After a long day at work when I’m rumpled and most of my makeup has rubbed off, the dazzling halogen lights makes me want to run and hide behind the tower of BOGOF baked beans.
2. Convenience overload. Supermarkets are designed to propel you in and out the revolving doors as quickly and ‘conveniently’ as possible, with minimal human interaction. As a result, the weekly shop takes on a hurried air of almost military urgency.
3. We’re spoilt for choice. I need some margarine; so I go to the fridge section and am confronted by olive spread, omega 3 spread, low-fat spread, cholesterol reducing spread, super low-fat spread, spread that tastes like butter… the complexity of the choice and anxiety over choosing the wrong spread transports me to a zombie-like state of confusion.
4. Other people. For the reasons outlined above, the army of shoppers cluttering the aisles like a human obstacle course are rarely keen to share pleasantries.

And this is before we even get started on the deeper moral minefields of beans air-freighted from Chile, supermarkets piling pressure on small UK farmers, unsustainable fish supplies and so on.

All these factors add up to make me a little bit sad. I’m actually a big fan of cooking, and I’d count eating food as one of my top favourite hobbies, so why does shopping for food have to be such a nightmare?

That particular shopping experience got me thinking about how difficult it would be to give up supermarkets altogether, and embrace a wholly more ethical approach to shopping. Rather than shopping with convenience and price as my main considerations, could I adjust my thinking and place ethics, local produce, seasonality and sustainability at the head of the list? As well as helping me avoid the unpleasantness of the supermarket aisles, I suspect this challenge would make me feel better about how I spend my money, and could lead to all sorts of interesting discoveries!

So I’ve laid down the challenge: Six months without supermarkets, or any big chain retailers in fact. I know it won’t be easy. Despite my convincing reasoning above for why supermarkets are rubbish, there are a few very good reasons why I shop in them, namely:

1. They are cheap. I know what people say about getting fruit and veg cheaper from the market, but when it comes to things like pet food, cleaning products and toiletries, prices can be massively higher in independent shops or your local corner shop.
2. Everything is in one place. OK, that ‘one place’ is a harshly-lit soulless palace of doom, but it’s one place nonetheless.
3. They fulfil my culinary whims. I have decided to cook stir-fry of pak-choi and enoki mushrooms with a side of lotus root chips. I know I can go home safe in the knowledge that my (freakishly well-stocked) local Morrisons branch will have all the obscure ingredients that my heart desires.
4. They are open late. Very handy after a long day at work.

Even so, I think it’s a worthwhile venture and I’m looking forward to exploring the various ethical shopping avenues at my disposal!

My attempt at homemade bread. Not that pretty, but it tasted nice!

My six month stint has started today, the 1st April, but I promise you it’s no April Fool. I’ve started as I mean to go on by baking myself a loaf of bread rather than nipping out to buy one (thank goodness I’ve started on a Sunday) and planting some herb and veg seeds. Produce doesn’t get more local than your own back garden, after all.

I’ll keep you posted on my ethical shopping exploits. Any tips and encouragement to get me going are very welcome!

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