Refreshing My Soul

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?

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Filed under Random, Thrifting

7 responses to “Refreshing My Soul

  1. I used to shop at markets all the time too and then slid into the convenience of supermarket shopping – I will have to revisit the practice as you’ve done. We do some shopping at Aldi or Lidl too and are also discussing buying our cat food in bulk from Amazon (!) as the pet food bill is getting silly. We also buy our flea treatments in bulk on-line now (our cats are FIV+ and very flea sensitive so it’s not an optional thing) we buy Effipro – much cheaper and better than Frontline in my experience.

    As for fresh veg etc. I can’t get to an allotment without taking a bus journey and my garden is overtaken with play items so it seems a possible return to market shopping is my best bet for savings on fresh food. I so, so wish I had an acre or two of land – I’ve always said that given the choice I’d rather have more garden than house (though both would be nice :-)

    Certainly, I can’t buy all the things I’d like to – I used to eat much more diversely but money is so tight these days. Like you, the one thing I do tend to indulge in is good bread – I like a bit of variety, as well as the standard wholemeal we buy I often have at least one other loaf on the go and various bread products in the freezer. As for more exotic goods – I also used to visit a local Asian store once a month for herbs, spices, grains etc. (much cheaper for the amount you get) thanks for reminding me that such a visit is overdue!

    • You can buy pet food on Amazon?!!! I have to check that out! As you can imagine our pet bills are crazy. To insure the dogs alone costs nearly £50 a month! I was trying to find somewhere cheaper to buy their food but so far the supermarket remains the cheapest by far. But I’ll take a look at Amazon.

      Yeh we always get our flea stuff online. The cats need doing again actually but we just can’t afford it at the minute. :/ Money is getting really tight. Everything is just getting more expensive and we were already barely getting by. Gotta cut back more somehow.

      Yeh I’ve never been the green-fingered type. I keep having a dabble in a few things but I have an astonishing ability to kill plants! Ha ha. My latest basil plant lasted all of two weeks. The only thing I’ve had success with is some pepper plants that I managed to grow from seeds and they’re still alive, though they haven’t produced anything but a couple of tiny peppers. Ha ha.

      Yeh Asian stores are one thing I really really miss about living in a city. When I lived in Leeds there were Asian stores everywhere. I used to get herbs, spices, exotic fruit, rice, etc all in bulk. But here there isn’t a single one that I’ve managed to find. I guess there isn’t a market for it, since we don’t have a large Asian population here (not that the high numbers of BNP supporters would believe it!).

      • Yep, much of the Amazon pet food is also delivered free so it’s well worth checking! I have never insured a pet – in my experience, with multiple pets, it’s been better to put money aside each month in case of future need so I can’t suggest any savings there. Hardly any of my previous cats got ill (one lived totally healthy till 18 or so) and when they did get ill it was mostly with silent conditions at the end of their lives that were beyond treatment by the time symptoms showed. I started off unable to afford insurance and it just went from there – it’s also a generational thing I think, vet insurance is a new development I don’t recall hearing about when I got my first cat! I would say though, to shop around re: vet prices – they can vary a lot and it pays to find the best affordable one before you actually need them.

        None of my previous cats were de-fleaed regularly – they never seemed to get them or were good at grooming themselves. The key thing for me was keeping the house flea free and I can’t say it has usually been an issue. Occasionally I would use some natural product to help indoors, and now I keep chemical stuff as a back up, but I do all I can to rely on elbow grease.

        One of my current cats isn’t defleaed, she’s semi-feral and refuses outright to let me do it :-) As for the other two, the highly allergic one (Livvy) is done every five weeks or so and the other one according to need (though he prefers to be manually defleaed with a comb). Certainly, we’re finding the Effipro not just a lot cheaper but also a lot more effective – this year
        Livvy has actually had a winter with almost healthy skin and I am so pleased for her.

        I sympathise with the green fingers thing, I used to have a glorious garden full of flowers and would get up at 5am in the summer to garden for a couple of hours before going to work… but I have never had much success with growing food! Odd, certainly, but true!

        We also have a small town near us that is a notorious hive of BNP activity – and there is an element in the city… but having spent much of my training career as an equalities specialist I like to think I have helped a bit to reduce the problem… not so sure actually, or if it’s just that I changed myself so much… but I do know I’d struggle to live in a nearly all white area (and not just because of the lack of Asian shops!) Now don’t get me started on diversity issues or I’ll be typing all night! lol!

      • I did check out Amazon but they don’t seem to sell the brands our cats like. So the supermarket remains cheaper. Never mind.

        Yeh we don’t bother with insurance for the cats. It would cost far too much. But we got the dogs insured after some bad experiences… in particular a puppy we had that choked in the night and we had to use an emergency vet… he died and we were left with a bill of nearly a thousand pounds! Viktor’s insurance has paid off, as he has trouble with his knees and hips that have required ongoing treatment and investigation. However, we decided to cancel it last week. After re-checking I discovered that his premium had gone up nearly 100% since I last checked! So it was actually costing us more like £70 a month to have them both insured (which we just can’t afford anymore)! As we can now go to the PDSA we decided to cancel it (we just don’t like using them as the PDSA hospital is miles away from here and getting an appointment isn’t easy). We kept Arthur insured though as his is only £20 something a month, and you can only register a maximum of three pets with them (we figured it’s better to leave two potential cat spaces).

        Yeh lots of things with pets are generational I find. My mum never dreamed of getting her cats vaccinated or insured… they’re just left to it. As it is our cats aren’t vaccinated either… we just can’t afford it, but the dogs are. We tend to give the cats flea treatment just when we know they need it, and we have tried in vain in the past to worm them, and have the scars to prove it!

        Maybe we should try that Effipro then… we always use Frontline. It’s good but it is very expensive.

        I’d love to have some flowers. Every year I get flower envy at all the neighbours. We live in a neighbourhood of largely elderly people who spend lots of their time gardening. Our garden is like the one squalid garden in a neighbourhood of beauty. Ha ha. I was just saying to Hedgehog this morning actually that I might start taking the dogs out to do their business in the back (a communal bit of grass behind all the houses) so I can plant some flowers in the front. The front garden really needs to recover too. After a winter of near-constant snow and rain, with two big dogs stomping all over it three times a day, the front garden is starting to look like a muddy nightmare. All the grass is dying and there are big patches of mud. It needs to recover. I’m no green-fingered gardener but surely even I can manage to grow a few daffodils or something! Ha ha.

        Ha ha. Same here. I guess we do now have a large eastern European population, but I honestly don’t understand what the problem is. I know it’s a generalisation, but whenever I see any eastern Europeans they are so pleasant. The parents seem to spend time playing with their children… I always see them at the park even in winter when all the British children are locked indoors. And Nookie finds it fascinating that the children speak a different language. What a wonderful time we live when there is so much diversity. So, yeh, you can buy plenty of Polish food in my town but there are no Asian shops that I know of. :(

  2. I love this! We have farmer’s markets, as well as markets that only sell local produce. Because of the dogs and chickens I always get extra carrots, beans and broccoli, they like those a lot!

    • Yeh we have farmer’s markets too but they tend to be very expensive and VERY middle-class. The town markets aren’t always local but they are very cheap. I’m still going every week, and gradually finding which stalls are best for what and getting to know the stallholders that I visit regularly. It’s lovely.

      • It’s a bit of the opposite here, farmer’s markets are cheap, and there happen to be a lot of local farms that sell right out of their yard. Not a mile away we can get strawberries, green and purple beans, squash and some cucumbers.

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