We all know that supermarket produce can be inferior to the stuff we get at the local greengrocer’s. The problem is that half of us don’t have access to a local greengrocer anymore; and the half that do, don’t have time in their busy schedule to do a proper high street shop. It seems the days of spending the morning in the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers have gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Or is that just what the supermarkets want us to think? After all, passing the time of day with a friendly neighbourhood grocer is a lot more pleasant than standing in a queue under fluorescent lights, catching cold from other people’s grandkids while sulky teenagers pass pre-packaged produce over barcode scanners with a disdainful bleep. And the amount of time it takes to pick vegetables (or, even better, get them picked for you) in a greengrocers is no greater than the length of time you spend trying to find a decent banana in a supermarket.
Here are a few reasons to perhaps shop less at a supermarket . Paying dairy farmers less for their produce than it takes to make it, shipping in goods from far-flung countries at the expense of both environment and local producer; using endless amounts of packaging. It’s true that some things are cheaper in a supermarket than they are on the high street: cheese, for example, and special products like vegetarian mince. As far as vegetables go, though, the average greengrocer doesn’t charge any more for its produce than the supermarket does: and I’ve seen free range eggs from local farms on sale in both greengrocers and butchers, cheaper than you get them in some superstores.
In the past, localism has been confused with small mindedness or even prejudice. But that’s really confusing one issue with another. In terms of produce and production, keeping things local is about cutting down on transport and packaging costs, while keeping local producers in business. It’s about enjoying a better quality of meat and vegetables; or rediscovering the joy of seasonal fruit.
The thing that makes a strawberry special is that you only get them at the right time of year. Buying local lets you look forward to the changes. Spring to summer, summer to autumn. With supermarkets hauling in blueberries from all over the world (at huge expense to the environment), the name “summer pudding” has all but lost its meaning.
There’s no reason not to shop in a supermarket for things you genuinely can’t get cheaper anywhere else. But where we can, maybe we ought to start thinking about the consequences of convenience shopping.
It’s taken us a while to get the hang of recycling. It took even longer for us to realise that large-engined cars are not a Chelsea birthright so much as an expensive way to ruin what’s left of the ozone layer. Why not carry on the good work and have another good look at what kind of food we buy, and where it comes from?
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live in a world where summer pudding only happens in summer.
Some useful links for more information:
Big Barn – a new way to buy local produce, even when your nearest high street is miles away…
Farms Direct – excellent information on local produce issues.
Ask Granny – the online guide for grandparents.