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Home » Members Blog

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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  • Jo says:

    Bread looks good, and I’m sure it tasted a lot better than the slices from a packet anyway! I did a ‘supermarket-free’ month last year, and really enjoyed it. When I worked out the cash side of things, it turned out that I hadn’t spent any more money than I usually would, I bought slightly less (as I didn’t have to buy those giant family sized packs of fruit and veg) but none was wasted and all of the fresh stuff seemed to last a lot longer.

    Before the month off supermarkets I didn’t stick to just one shop anyway, so going to several different places wasn’t an issue, but I did find that the more I visited local shops the more they remembered me and were very chatty and friendly, to the point that when I forgot my purse they let me take my shopping and pay next time I was in! I still don’t use supermarkets as much as I did, but reading this post is tempting me to completely stop using them again!

  • Dee Weaver says:

    Check out Totally Locally for loads of indie shops offering a surprising range of goodies.


  • Laura says:

    I’ve been shopping without supermarkets for a few years now. Very occasionally I might pop into a Lidls (like once every few months) for a bottle of wine, but that’s about it. So much cheaper to do without the rip-off supermarkets, and so much less soul destroying.

    Best tips: Internet shopping from smaller firms. For example, pet food I get from petplanet.co.uk, based nr Edinburgh, small company, good prices, delivery to your door. Also Animed Direct for pet supplies. Some other bulk buys, like toilet roll, I get delivered from The Natural Grocery Store or ethical Superstore. I’m lucky to have a fantastic range of good, cheap, local shops (mainly Turkish, Caribbean and Chinese), and I get a local veg box delivery. I love to cook, but will tend to cook according to what I can buy fresh and in season, rather than going out with a shopping list. Makes shopping and cooking more fun I find 🙂

  • Ken says:

    Hi Emma,

    I applaud your quest and look forward to how you get on. We changed the way we shop dramatically last year and haven’t regretted it for a minute, and we save about 20% (thats about £50)on the grocery bill each month by using Sowerby Bridge market. We haven’t been able to cut out supermarkets completely for the stuff you mentioned like cat food (ours is on a vets diet) and washing powder but I’d love to be able to do it. We have managed to reduce the amount we spend at supermarkets by over 50% though.

    Like Dee says, check out the Totally-locally website and the hidden gems there. Good luck and get thee to a market.


  • Emma R says:

    Thanks so much for all the tips and supportive comments! I’ll definitely have a look at Totally Locally and the pet food tip is very helpful Laura.

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  • Adey says:

    I’m a Tesco refusenik as they exploit their workers and the supply chain for obscene profits. I mainly shop at a local Turkish Food Centre which is about the size of a Metro-style supermarket, Wholefoods and Waitrose. I especially like Waitrose because of the quality and staff who are ‘partners’ in the business. Personally I think there are great supermarkets that can be good for the local economy, shoppers, workers and supply chain.

  • Bernadette says:

    Hi. It’s mavellous to read that you are using local suppliers for food. Fortunately I work near Leicester Market. The produce and price is very good. After work (5pm) I cut through the market and the produce is practically been given away. I always chop up veg/fruit into portions and freeze it for later. The meat/fish market has a wide choice and a great price. Supermarkets have shoppers institutionalised. As QUEEN sang…”I want to break free”. Well done Emma on your journey. PS I have a baking morning and freeze the goodies for later. Thank goodness the skill of baking and cooking is is being re-ignited.

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes! Finally someone writes about cupcakes nyc.

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