...Food and Recipes, One Planet Living, Sustainable Living

Twelve Alternatives to Supermarkets

March 21, 2017

I was going to start this post by saying “there’s nothing wrong with supermarkets”, but that would be wrong. There is a lot wrong with supermarkets, but I guess what I want to say is that I accept that supermarkets are a part of most of our lives. They have done good things in terms of making good food cheaper, and they are the place that the vast majority of us will do our weekly shop.
And that’s ok.
But there are other ways to shop, that are built on more sustainable models that fit with our ethos of ‘slow food’, and that have a focus on people and planet as well as profit. Here are twelve of them:

1) Farmer’s Markets
Find your local farmer’s market. Most towns of any size will have one happening at least once a month. You will find inside a collection of amazing fresh produce direct from the producers in your local area, everything from bakers, to beef, and veg to local honey.
The money goes straight to the producers, there is no middle man taking a cut, and you get to support farmers directly.

2) Food Assembly
The Food Assembly is a great concept that is like a farmer’s markets but with the convenience of online shopping. Each local assembly creates an online site where local producers come together to display their wares in a virtual store. You can order online and then collect from a designated pick up point once a week, where you can also meet the local producers and do some taste testing too!

3) Veg box schemes
There are some national veg box schemes such as Riverford, where you can not only get fresh, seasonal, organic veg delivered to your door, but also organic meat and dairy products too.
But if you do a little bit of research, you will undoubtedly uncover a local version, run by local growers and producers. You can search for organic veg box schemes here.
4) Local shops e.g. butchers, bakers etc
Take a walk down your local High St and see how much of your weekly shop you might be able to source from local independent retailers. Do you still have an independent butchers, or a greengrocers, or a bakers. If you do, then support them! They are a font of knowledge about their own products, and will often be comparable on the supermarkets, if not cheaper. And your money stays in the local economy, and helps a local business put food on their family’s table, rather than lining the pockets of supermarket shareholders.

5) Grow Your Own
When I posted last week with Ten Ways to Eat Sustainably, and asked “what have I missed off the list?”, the answer that kept coming back was “Grow your own”!
Most of us won’t have the space to be entirely self-sufficient, but we can all devote a couple of pots on the patio to some herbs, or a tray on the windowsill for some cut and come again lettuce. I am not green fingered at all, but along with the satisfaction of eating something you have grown yourself, I love the feeling that what I am doing is like a gentle form of activism. Like mending, it is quietly disrupting the status quo, and I love that!

6) Community Fridges
The first of these in the UK opened in Frome last year and one has recently opened in Brixton in London. They aren’t yet commonplace, but should be because they are a great idea! If people have food in their fridge that they know they aren’t going to eat because they are going away on holiday, or have just misjudged their shopping, they can simply pop it into the community fridge and anyone who wants it can take it. Local businesses also use it to get rid of any leftover fresh goods at the end of the day, and it seems to work really well.

7) Pay as You Wish Supermarket
The Real Junk Food Project recently opened the first pay as you wish supermarket stocked with food that would otherwise end up in landfill. Customers shop for food that has been thrown out by supermarkets and other businesses, but that is still entirely edible, and they are then invited to pay as they see fit. It’s a brilliant idea and one that could be replicated up and down the country.

8) Foraging
This is slightly dependant on the time of year and your enthusiasm for all things foraged, but even those who shudder at the thought of nettle soup must still delight in the thought of fresh blackberries plucked straight from the bush in the Autumn sun.
Autumn is the best time to take advantage of nature’s larder – here’s an article I wrote for the Mirror with some things to look out when the time is right.
9) Olio
Olio is a food waste app, where you can sign up and post any food that you have that you need to get rid of, as well as keep your eye out for things that your neighbours might be offering up. It is still getting off the ground in many areas of the country, and needs to reach a critical mass for it to work well, but it’s well worth signing up for.

10) Freeganing
I will admit that freeganing is only for a few hardy souls, but it’s worth a mention. Amongst other things it involves ‘urban foraging’ aka dumpster diving into the bins and skips round the back of supermarkets. I understand that there can often be lucrative pickings, but it comes with Health and Safety, and legal implications…!

11) Farm shops
Local farm shops can be a brilliant way to source your weekly shop from local producers and seasonal produce. Some of them have policies of only sourcing things from within a set distance away to limit food miles, and others will grow a lot of the produce right there on the farm. You probably already know where your nearest and best ones are, but just in case you don’t you can search here.

12) Incredible Edible
If you are lucky enough to live near an Incredible Edible project, you could have all the benefits of Grow Your Own, with much less effort. These community growing projects use communal land, and small spaces within towns to grow fruit and veg that is available for anyone to help themselves to.

OK, so what have I missed?!
Has all this inspired you to think about exploring some other options for your weekly shop? If you fancy a challenge, think of a goal (e.g. one shop every  month, or sourcing all your meat from the local butchers, or starting up with a veg box scheme) and do share below in the comments, or pop over to the Facebook group to join in!

PS. I’ve just created a FREE One Planet Living Year Planner (a little late in the year I know!) to help you to set sustainable goals for 2017, and more importantly, to take action to create real changes and live more sustainably.
You can get hold of your copy here. 

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4 Comments

  • Reply Hazel May 25, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Food groups! Get together with friends and family and buy direct from a wholesaler. We buy from an ethical co-operative wholesaler called Suma: huge range, no ethical worries about the food production, and….it’s cheaper. It can take a bit of time to get it organised and as you buy in bulk it helps to have a bit of cupboard space to store things. But it’s a great make do and mend way to stock up on everything from flour to peanut butter and even washing up liquid. (Plus it’s so much more fun nipping round to collect your order from a friend’s house rather than taking round the supermarket…)

  • Reply Helen March 23, 2017 at 7:27 am

    PS I meant Food Assembly not Community Fridge. The latter sounds a brilliant idea, though knocking on neighbours’ doors or taking the food with you and sharing it with your companions is what I normally do.

  • Reply Helen March 23, 2017 at 7:22 am

    There is also pick-your-own… and not just for strawberries. Again only seasonal but a fun day out.

    The Real Junk Food Project has started up Fuel for Schools (http://fuelforschool.info/) – my daughter’s school is involved, so this morning I’ll be popping onto the playground to see what I can get. Having lost my maintenance last November, it’s great for us financially as well as giving us some interesting new foods to try.

    Anyway, I’m going to look into the Olio app. I tried the Community Fridge link but sadly the nearest to us is an hour’s drive away. Still, it sounds a good alternative to supermarkets.

    Health food shops are another alternative. Their food might not be local but they are usually independent stores and the food is often organic/Fair Trade.

  • Reply Carol in CT March 22, 2017 at 12:05 am

    I literally buy directly from several gentlemen farmer’s. I tell them what I need/want, they tell me what they have, and they sell directly to me. I get my tomatoes (I ask for “seconds” for a better price)for my annual tomato canning needs as well. One is my source for organic, free range eggs @ $4/dozen-unbelieveable price. : ) I am a frequent flyer.

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