The supermarket. I hate it. Pushing your trolley around like a drone, avoiding the other drones… everyone walking around as though they’re half-asleep. Everything packaged in plastic. The innocuous music. The checkout lady who pretends to be interested in your life. The forced conversation while they sneak a look at their watch. It’s so sterile and lifeless and false.
I hate it. The principle, the process, the sameness. It’s so dull. So… nothing.
For so long it’s been a necessary evil in my life. With a toddler, a disabled partner and a house full of animals, my weekly shop has to be quick, organised and specific. I get everything I need in one stop while my mum babysits. I’m an efficient machine. But I hate it. And inevitably by midweek there are things we’ve run out of and I have to go back again, this time with Nookie in tow.
The products themselves do my head in. The fruit, vegetables and meat are all sold at massively inflated prices. All the offers are baffling and usually a con. You end up coming back with allsorts you don’t need and spend a fortune.
So last week I finally decided I’d had enough. After planning a monthly budget, recording exactly what we’re spending and totting it up I got a huge shock when I saw our food bill! How could it be we spend so much on food?! We cook almost all our meals from scratch, don’t waste anything, and don’t buy much rubbish. Yes we buy a few expensive luxuries like good coffee and bread, but otherwise we don’t fritter our money away.
So that was it. I decided to try an experiment… to go into our town centre and buy as much as I possibly could from the markets and local shops. I knew it would take longer and mean a long walk with heavy bags, but I was determined to try it. Anything I couldn’t buy would be bought at a smaller, cheap supermarket (Aldi for my UK readers). Then I would see whether or not my experiment was successful.
And how it refreshed my soul. I love the markets. When I was a poor student with nothing but time I would visit the market every week and get virtually everything there (this was a considerably bigger and more diverse city market compared to our little working-class town market), and I loved it. But I’d forgotten just how much I like it. To touch and feel the fruits and vegetables. Not a plastic container in site. The meat and fish fresh and inviting, not sterile. The noises, the people… awake and smiling. The stall-holders, with their friendly and joking characters, charm and will to give you a good deal and make a good first impression in the hope they’re securing a new regular customer. It’s so diverse… so alive.
I didn’t mind that I had to lug my shopping around with me from stall to stall. I didn’t care that I had to spend time figuring out which stalls sold the more exotic things like bean-sprouts and ginger. I didn’t even despair when I saw all the things on my list that I couldn’t get (which included French bread… you know you live in a working-class town when you can’t buy French bread in any bakery in the town!). I was too exhilarated… breathing in the refreshing experience.
Even the cheap supermarket was better. One of the problems with big supermarkets is the choice. All you want is baked beans and you’re confronted with twenty different brands, types and volumes. In the cheap supermarket, you want beans, there’s one type of beans. It’s sooo much quicker and easier. Even the checkout workers are less fake and more interested in the task at hand. They scan the items at light-speed and there’s no awkward conversation. And everything is so cheap.
In truth the price isn’t my main motivation to continue the ‘experiment’ (although it’s a nice side-effect). It’s just so nice to get fresh produce that isn’t wrapped plastic from people who actually care about your custom. The fruit is ripe. The vegetables aren’t all exactly the same size and shape. You know you’re giving money to someone who works hard and not to a massive supermarket chain who are doing nothing but destroying communities and contributing to environmental damage.
As it goes I couldn’t get the pet food I needed anywhere at a reasonable price, so the big supermarket will still have to be an inevitable part of my life. I also couldn’t get the herbs, spices and other ‘exotic’ things I needed. But I guess I can’t have everything, and even if I can’t avoid buying everything at the supermarket, at least I can avoid as much as possible. As they say, every little helps, aye Tesco?
What about you? Do you shop in supermarkets or local producers? How does it work for your family?