Fight the good fight: Why you need to stop shopping at supermarkets

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  Sundays are definitely my favourite day of the week. Saturdays are for running errands and getting sweaty. Sundays are for slowing down and tasty food (for me anyway!). If I’m on call on the weekend I would usually start my ward rounds at the crack of dawn on Saturdays (hello, 6-6:30am starts!), but Sundays were always for a slightly slower morning (to the relief of my residents)- a 7:30am ward round start-time is a luxury- and we’d always make time for a coffee and a sanity-saving chat. But I digress.

  My favourite Sunday routine is to have nothing exciting planned. I still wake up early (6-7am), and always try to hit up the farmer’s market at a reasonable time. Friday/ Saturday is when we plan our meals for the week, so I try to get the majority of our fresh produce at the market (it’s cheaper and lasts ages), with a top-up shop as needed later in the week. I’m usually at a barre class before the market, but now that it’s getting hotter Down Under I’m trying to get to the market at opening time while it’s cooler, and off to barre class straight after.

  I usually bring my straw basket and a large square tote if I’m on my own. I’ll drag along my partner if we have a bigger shop and need the “granny trolley” as well :). I also always have a selection of cloth bags to put more fragile produce in, and usually bring rubber bands and egg carton trays back to the stall holder to re-use. We used to also bring a couple of glass Pyrex containers for tasty fried Indian snacks for our market breakfast but have stopped doing that now in our efforts to consistently eat better.

  The farmers market I go to almost every week is by far my favourite: Farm Direct Markets S.A (Lightsview). I love the ethos behind it (created to help smaller farmers/ producers stay on the land, who otherwise would not have much of an income as the bigger chain supermarkets will usually pass them over), the people who run it and the sense of community it has created. I love that it’s smaller and less “pushy” and pretentious compared with the other markets in Adelaide, and I actually feel relaxed while shopping there. The stall holders know me now and always ask where “hubby” is if he’s not there. I especially love that the chain of markets have opened up in the more socially disadvantaged areas of Adelaide- to be able to provide all people an opportunity to eat fresh, cheap local produce can only be a good thing, not just for now but for the generations to come. For too long the big supermarkets have dictated that it is only the “rich” who can afford to eat fresh healthy produce, and many people ask me, “isn’t eating healthy just for wealthy people?” I dare say it’s not, but when the big supermarkets jack up the prices on cold-stored produce that lasts 2 days in the fridge, and continually slash prices on Coke and chips, and you only have a limited food budget for the week- it comes as no surprise that being reliant on nutritionally- poor food is a reality for most people.

  Our average weekly fresh produce shop at the market usually costs us about $25- give or take a few dollars. $10 on top of that every fortnight for a tray of free-range eggs. This is for 2 adults and 1 hungry rabbit. This makes up the bulk of 3 main meals a day and snacks in the fridge, as well as fresh fruit. This leaves us plenty of money for top up things like bulk grains and nuts, meat and fish for the week (and any top up fresh produce) and stay within budget. The healthier we have chosen to eat, the less we are actually spending on food during the week- we’re eating more seasonally, eating less grains, we’re not spending money on junk food.

  It’s also fun to eat seasonally- as opposed to expecting that all fruits and veggies are available all year round, you get used to looking forward to and celebrating produce as it comes in season. I have sadly said goodbye to oranges and mandarins now, but today welcomed my first bite of a yellow nectarine, and could not stop sniffing new season garlic fresh from the Riverland- still encrusted with dirt 🙂 I’m a firm believer in finding joy in the simple things, and re-discovering Farmers Markets have reinforced that.

Why you need to break up with supermarkets (i.e. the DUOPOLY/ “Colworths”)

  1. Produce is fresher at the markets, you can often buy direct from the producer, and it’s in season. Yes, sometimes the food looks imperfect and not as shiny- but that’s what food looks like out of the ground. At supermarkets they continually reject perfectly good produce based on looks alone- which means a lot of food goes to waste, or that smaller farms aren’t able to meet the “attractive quota” of vegetables- there are stories of small farmers running their produce into the ground because they are not good enough. This needs to end. Also sometimes the “fresh” fruit and veg sit around in cold storage for months on end- so you are paying for the storage of your produce- Why not buy direct from the farmer and store it in your own fridge for cheaper?
  2. Shopping at farmer’s markets puts the money in the right pockets- the farmers. The supermarkets are renowned for starting pricing wars with each other, and in the end it is the farmers who are bearing the brunt of the advertised low prices. When you look at some cases- the farmers are almost being blackmailed into giving their produce away for free to the supermarkets, under the fear that if they say no to unreasonable demands- their contracts will be dropped. For example- Woolworths have a campaign with Jamie Oliver. Where did the “extra” money come from to fly the big guy over for some token media appearances and print his face on sauce bottles? The already struggling Aussie farmers- They were “told” to make a “voluntary contribution” for each pallet of produce (under threat of being dropped)- what choice did they have? They paid for it. Jamie Oliver turned up and waved asparagus in our faces. Woolworths became richer.
  3. It makes environmental sense. Eating local produce that hasn’t been cold stored means that you don’t have the issue of food being shipped halfway around the world just so you can eat grapes in the dead of winter. The majority of produce at farmers markets are unpackaged, and if you bring your own produce bags- it’s a win- win.
  4. It connects you with the food that you put in your body. Buying at the market means you can see, touch, smell your food. You can talk to the person who grew your food. You start to celebrate fresh fruit and veg for what they are, you start getting inspired to try things you’ve never had before- because it just looks so good. I don’t think you can develop that relationship with food by buying packaged produce at the supermarket- when it’s wrapped in layers of plastic and styrofoam and curiously doesn’t *smell* like anything- alarm bells go off. Sure it’s clean and sterile, but you know- you could always just *wash* your veggies!
  5. Teach your children about fresh fruit and vegetables. It is a disturbing trend nowadays that a lot of children don’t know where food comes from, that someone has grown it so they could eat it and grow up healthy and strong. Taking them to the markets will hopefully lead to them begging you for a peach or watermelon, as opposed to nagging you at the check out for a chocolate bar filled with sugar and chemicals. Exposing them to the purchase and preparation of fresh produce will hold them in good stead for life. And with the alarming statistics on childhood and adult obesity nowadays- I challenge you to pick a hole in this argument.
  6. You will be healthier. Eating seasonally means you get the maximal nutrients and minerals that your body thrives on. As above, being exposed to fresh food all the time will inspire you to eat better. I never leave the farmers market wanting to go out and eat hot chips, mainly because my mind is obsessed with the idea of how best to prepare the two eggplants I just bought.
  7. Vote with your dollars– every time you spend money you are voting for the kind of world you and your children want to live in. Giving the big corporation supermarkets all of your money every week is saying: “I want fresh produce to be more expensive, less fresh and seasonal, less variety, less accessible for everyone”; “I want the Australian fresh food industry to collapse as farming becomes less financially sustainable, thus converting a previously self-sustaining country into one that is reliant on imported produce to feed itself, thus opening itself to severe food shortages in international trading were to cease”. If you want your children to grow up in a country with decreasing food security then by all means- keep buying the majority of your food from the supermarket. My number one choice is farmers markets, and if I’m unable to get there for whatever reason I choose to shop at my local greengrocers- who will run round the back to grab some carrot tops for the rabbit, or ply me with tasty snacks and free coffee. Really- I have no reason to shop elsewhere.
  8. Bring back the sense of community. As time goes on, we are all becoming more detached from each other, from our food, and from our environment. Waking up early on a Sunday morning, and braving the elements touching food with dirt still on it- It grounds and connects you. Seeing the same familiar friendly faces each week and having nice chats with strangers- bliss. Having that sense that you are a part of something bigger than just yourself- that you are supporting the Australian farming industry, that all the people here are working together on the same cause- keeping fresh local produce in our lives- it’s a feeling that can’t be beat. If you can find that feeling vacuum sealed in styrofoam at your supermarket then hats off to you 😉

There are probably a hundred more reasons to ditch the supermarkets but this is all I can come up with at the moment with my tired brain 🙂 As a side note, when I *do* shop at a supermarket I shop at IGA/ Foodland- there is more of an emphasis on local produce and they are geared towards competing with “The Big 2”- Can’t say fairer than that.

p.s. When I refer to a duopoly or “The Big 2” I refer to the fact that the Australian fresh food industry is dominated by 2 major chain supermarkets- Coles and Woolworths. They probably have at least 80% of the market, and it is amazing how this has been allowed to happen. The effect of this is they can dictate prices, they have price wars with each other, and are renowned for shortchanging fruit and veg growers and dairy farmers. Just. Say. No.

p.p.s. If you live in Adelaide- please check out Farm Direct Markets S.A. and support them. Little markets with a lot of heart and soul and the best of intentions. They run from 8am- 1pm on Wednesdays (Old Spot Hotel 1955 Main North Road, Salisbury), Saturdays (Old Spot Hotel), Sundays (Lightsview (Corner Folland Ave and Cityview Boulevard, Northgate); and Gawler (485 Main North Road Evanston)), with plans to expand to new sites as council approvals progress. If you don’t live in Adelaide and don’t currently shop at a farmers market- look one up, show up, and support!

Keep fighting the good fight,

Lisa xx

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