Have you ever gone for a quick visit to the supermarket to grab some essentials for dinner and half an hour later pulled up to the register with a whole basket or trolley full of food you never intended to buy? You’re not alone, in fact supermarkets are designed to have this effect on buyers. Essential items (bread, milk, meat, fruit and veg, toilet paper etc) are all in aisles that typically follow the outline of the building so you need to walk through the whole shop just to grab a few items and in case you resist the temptation to veer off path the outside of the aisles are fitted with strategic lighting and packed with enticing products and specials easy to grab on a whim.
There’s several reasons supermarket shopping should be cut back on but this one is a biggie because it has a snow ball effect on our health (we are less likely to read the nutritional labels on impulse buy products), bank accounts take a hit and of course the environment is greatly impacted.
Regular household food shops are already getting larger which means more food waste (about 7.3 million tonnes per year just in Australia) and all the conveniently packaged food is a major contributor to plastic waste (about 40%) so with impulsive buying equating to up to half of shopping hauls more food is being wasted and more plastic is ending up in landfills.
This brings me to the next big concern with supermarket shopping. There are two main supermarket chains that dominate the market in Australia and thanks to their clever store layouts, marketing teams and buying power they share in around 100 billion dollars turnover each year! Supermarkets have become the middle man between us the consumers and the food producers and have a strong control over the food we buy. When shopping we purchase the food that is available to us but its not very often we think about how much choice we have in what the supermarkets stock and whether they have our best interest in mind. Over the last few decades there’s been a big shift from locally sourced foods to pre-packaged and internationally manufactured foods. Aside from the health effects of this style of eating the environment also suffers with all of the carbon emissions associated with mass production of food in factories and transporting it all over the world. Most of the supermarkets marketing is aimed at selling us convenience and with the overloaded schedules most households face these days who could resist?
Pre-chopped and seasoned vegetables, one tray oven ready meals, everything a child would seemingly want in a lunch box pre-packaged and sitting within a single well lit aisle. Our lives are getting busier and more stressful and the supermarkets are seemingly there to offer up a solution.
so what’s the issue with convivence food products? A big proportion of what we buy in the supermarket is not ‘real food’ instead it is ingredients, additives and chemicals manufactured and marketed as food. Lets look at the fore mentioned kids lunch box aisle as an example. Every product is heavily processed, most contain at least 1/3 of the recommended daily sugar intake for children and the list of additives is often mind blowing. Two general rules to help with choosing what processed food is a ‘no go’ 1. if your great, great grandmother wouldn’t recognise it as food don’t buy it and 2. if it contains ingredients a 10 year old couldn’t pronounce don’t buy it!
The easiest way to have a more nutritional diet, cut back food shopping bills and limit the environmental impact of being a human being and needing to eat is to reduce how often you visit a supermarket and restrict what products you buy there. Buying fruit and vegetables from a farmers market means they are fresh, in season, organic produce is generally cheaper than at supermarkets, there is no unnecessary packaging and the farmers profits are not undercut. In a nutshell its better for your health, community and environment. As a side note farmers markets are synonymous with weekends and for some households weekends mean kids sports, birthday parties and general errands from dusk til dawn so if making it to a market isn’t practical then check out your fruit and veg grocer they generally source from the same local farmers that attend the markets.
Support small business, visiting the local baker and butcher shop means your putting money in their pockets and food on their tables, they will notice the financial benefits of an extra regular customer to the same degree a supermarket would notice an extra 1000. Just like the local farmers the bread and meat you buy from the local baker and butcher is fresher, better quality and more natural. The fresh bread from an artisan baker contains only basic ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, water) compared to supermarket brand bread which is full of preservatives and additives to extend shelf life and alter the foods appearance.
If time is an issue for you and you need some alternatives to processed supermarket meals to speed up weekday cooking there are a few things you can do.
- invest in some tools – A multi function mandolin!! innovation at its finest. A few back and forth movements with a vegetable and it is sliced, shaved, chopped whatever shape or size you want.
- The air fryer aka ‘game change’ this was a recent purchase of mine and with plenty of budget options available its a great machine to save some time there is a multitude of meals you can cook in it, no need for oil so its healthier and you just put the food in and forget about it until it beeps at you.
- Pre-cook meals yourself- once every week or two we put on a big slow cook or make a few extra dinners to chuck in the freezer this eliminates needing takeaway and saves on time during the week.
- pre-chop veggies to put in freezer bags to pull out for stir fry’s etc (most vegetables can frozen) or cutting carrots, cucumber, celery etc once a week and placing in containers in the fridge is great for convenience to throw in salads or lunch boxes and helps with healthy snack choices.
It may seem like a big task to stop shopping at supermarkets all together and to be honest it’s not something I really plan on doing. I still do a small staple shop consisting of things like tinned tomatoes for soups and pastas, dried pasta, salt, flour, oats, milk and toilet paper but my main shop is made up of food and produce that are locally sourced where ever possible and only bought in small amounts so our food waste is limited.
Don’t let the cost of fresh local produce scare you away either as large processed food shops at supermarkets often just as costly. Be smart about your purchases, plan ahead with meals and try to use up what you have in the pantry and fridge before restocking anything. Make food from scratch to cut costs, just as an example a 750g pack of frozen sweet potato fries in the supermarket is around $5.50 compared to buying a 750g fresh sweet potato to prep yourself is about $3.00. Just switching out this processed food item for fresh on a weekly basis would save $130 per year.
Even if you start small eliminating or swapping one or two supermarket bought products, every little bit counts and efforts of any size are going to make a positive impact on your health and the environment.