Oh my. A tricky one… Supermarkets, despite their best efforts, are not exactly sustainable. Here are just some of the issues involved: excessive food miles, imported products, rows and rows of packaged and processed foods, energy use, plastic bags, marketing tactics to encourage you to buy more than you need. The list goes on and on, and I anticipate a few other suggestions in the comments (go on, let rip!).
In Australia, we are in the unique situation of having just two supermarket chains control up to 85 percent of the grocery market. (Other countries have at least four competing for your trolley dollars). The danger of this duopoly is that consumers are at the mercy of prices fixed by these two giants, local businesses/producers suffer – or completely disappear – and that we are trusting two corporations with our most precious commodity: food.
It should be a no-brainer – if you’re at all concerned about the environment, community and sustainability then you should avoid supermarkets, right?
Well, guess what? I shop in the supermarket. I have tried, honestly, I have tried NOT to shop in the supermarket. I was going great guns until we ran out of loo paper and tissues. I visited a locally-owned store, but guess what? No recycled tissue products in sight. And the price was almost double. I don’t mind paying more to support local enterprise, but paying more and not getting what I want? Well that’s not my cup of tea, I’m afraid.
With a lot of hand-wringing and earlobe rubbing, I continue to shop at the supermarket (I choose Woolworths, for the record, as the greener option), but I try to spread my very meagre budget around to local businesses and markets as well. When I do shop at the supermarket, I choose organic, recycled or otherwise eco products as I believe it sends a powerful message to suppliers.
A world with no corner store
The other day, I went to buy a second-hand sleeping bag for Edith. This took me to a newly developed part of South-east Queensland, where band-new housing developments hug the freeway and stretch for as far as you can see. I needed to change a $20 note to pay for the sleeping bag, but drove past the servos on the freeway, preferring to buy a drink from an independent store and get the change I needed. I drove through development after development, all with names like “Freedom Lakes” and “Hope Springs”, but there was not a single shop or corner store. No takeaway, no newsagent, no florist. Nothing but big houses.
In the end I phoned the lady I was going to visit and asked where I could get change. The nearest shop was eight kilometres away, a Coles Supermarket in a shopping centre.
This kind of thing makes my blood run cold. Is this the future for our society? Completely dependent on cars and at the mercy of two supermarket chains?
So should you shop at the supermarket? Well for some, it is literally the only option, I get that. Wherever possible, I encourage you to buy from butchers, bakeries and markets. It’s definitely more hassle and can be more expensive (although usually not because you only buy what you need, not what’s on special), but it’s worth it in the long run.
When you do shop at the supermarket, stick to your list, make green choices and stay away from packaged foods.
Do you shop in the supermarket? Is is possible to avoid it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments x