Big supermarkets ensure big profits at the cost of our hard working farming communities and often our environment. It’s not a good situation, so for 2023 I finally decided to take my own little stand.
I decided to go supermarket free for a whole year.
You can read more about why I’ve opted to ditch the likes of Tesco, Lidl and Asda in my January supermarket free article but today (it being the end of the month and all) I decided it was time to let you know how my supermarket-free experiment has been going.
The good news is we haven’t gone hungry yet.
In fact I’m pretty certain we’ve been living on a more healthy diet than we did in 2022. With more vegetables, less dairy (especially cheese) and less sweet treats in our daily intake, plus the addition of more beans, pulses and seeds, something must surely be feeling the benefit of our supermarket-free diet.
But has living supermarket free been more expensive?
That’s a good question, especially in the middle of a cost of living crisis. It’s one I’ve really been looking forward to the end of the month to answer. I’ve had my suspicions all along but now I’ve raided the bank statement and done the adding up, I can confirm that…
Well it’s a bit complicated.
By avoiding supermarkets, we actually spent a bit more on food in February 2023 than we did in February 2022. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. It was only a small amount more so I decided to factor in food inflation for 2022. I used the suggested 16.9% increase in food prices in the 12 months to December 2022 from the Food Foundation and guess what I discovered?
Supermarket-free food can be cheaper than supermarket food.
£7.99 cheaper to be precise. Like I said though, even without inflation and percentages, the whole ‘I can’t afford to go supermarket free’ thing is complicated. Grains, nuts, seeds and pulses (of which we’re eating more) are cheaper to buy online in bulk so I’ve spent more on some things at the start of the year in the hope I won’t need to buy them again over the next few months.
But some shopping bag items have been far more expensive.
Cheese would be a good example. And teabags. And coffee. And (my current mission if you have any tips) olive oil. These items (plus a few more) cost far more outside the supermarket than they do in it. My answer to this has been simple (but controversial).
Eat less cheese, teabags, coffee and olive oil.
I’ve found lots of ways to cut down on cheese. It is now for example, more likely to be sprinkled on top of a dish than included in a sauce, and adding homemade pickle to a cheese sandwich makes the smaller cheese portions less noticeable. I’ve also started using teabags more than once and have swapped olive oil for vegetable oil for most recipes.
I’ve started looking at the concept of ‘cost’ in a different way.
For so many of us the word ‘cost’ has by necessity to be related to our ability to spend enough money to keep our families warm and fed. In difficult times we might extend this to our wider families or perhaps at a push our neighbours. But what if we saw ‘cost’ as a wider concept. What if we looked at our communities as a whole and saw that the ‘cost’ of super low supermarket prices to our farmers was too much for society as a whole to bear?
It’s an interesting question.
But more useful perhaps might be a few supermarket-free tips. It’s definitely early days here in the Land-of-No-Supermarkets and there are plenty of other issues (organic, plastic, delivery costs) I’m not yet fully addressing but I think we’re getting there.
My (initial) five top supermarket-free shopping tips.
- Find a way to buy local meat from a local butcher. I buy mine through a local wholesale supplier who decided to support the community with domestic sales during the pandemic and hasn’t stopped yet (thanks Devon Fresh!)
- Work out whether any of the Zero-Food-Waste, Food-Sharing apps would suit you. I use Too Good to Go (getting better in my area all the time) but there’s also Karma (currently best in London) and Olio (great but quite supermarket-centric). The Love Food Hate Waste website by the way is an excellent source of information and recipes if you’re looking to get the most out of the food you do buy.
- Get to know your local green spaces. You’ll be amazed what you can easily find to forage, and I’m not just talking about berries here. Our local copse is already bursting with Three-Cornered-Leek, which is great in pesto and as an onion substitute when I’ve run out. But I also know where I can find rosemary, bay leaves, sage and fennel in the local parks.
- Investigate buying in bulk. We’ve just put our house on the market so I’m not going to be stocking up with too much at the moment but it’s amazing how much money you can save on some things if you buy lots of them. Despite there only being two of us, I buy potatoes in sacks and share them with family and friends (as well as planting some in the garden). I’ve also bought muesli ingredients in bulk (we currently have a bran flake surplus) to mix together (I add crystallised ginger and chocolate for luxury).
- Use what you have instead of buying more ingredients. This month I’ve made lemon curd because a friend gave me lemons (I also make jam), beetroot cake because an app gave me beetroots and I even made cucumber relish on the day the supermarkets starting rationing them (oh the irony of four appearing in my fridge at once!)
- DON’T PANIC! I’ve added this one because I have panicked a few times. Mostly as things have run out. I have for example, just used my last tin of tuna and the last of the cocoa powder (not in the same recipe, even I’m not that inventive!) Each time I do run out though (and have finished panicking), I try to find alternative sources (my Twitter friends have been very helpful) or I find ways to do without things.
Which brings me on to the not-enough-time thing.
It’s been a busy month. My career as an outdoor writer has taken off big time (long may it fly) and 2023’s DofE training has already started. Which means I haven’t had as much time to wander around local shops or do online research as I would have liked. As a result, most of my supermarket-free shopping has been completed quickly online, which to be fair has taken less time than going to the supermarket each week.
What does take more time (at least until you’re used to it) is creating meals from supermarket-free food. Cooking from scratch is more complicated than buying jars of sauce or ready meals but it’s far better for you and much more satisfying. I’ve used my slow cooker (bought second hand) a lot (another way to save money) and we’ve had some great meals from it.
But all of this has taken up some time.
So I’ve started looking at how much time each evening I spend in front of the TV and trying to use some of it more usefully. Crocheting blankets (currently for the dog) allows me to watch a show but I also enjoy cooking or preserving whilst listening to the radio in the kitchen.
So what do I think of supermarket-free life so far?
On the whole I’m loving it. Of course there are moments when I’d like to find an almost-ready meal in the cupboard. Or pop to the shops on the spur of the moment. Or not have to do so much thinking. But supermarket-free life has brought me a new challenge (I’ve been cooking for my family for forty years now) and I feel as though I am making a difference (even if it is a very small one).
The truth is there is that as long as we have enough, there is pleasure to be found in living frugally and thinking about my diet in new and innovative ways is allowing me to do just that.