I still have toilet paper and toothpaste, there’s food in the fridge and cupboards, some of it’s even in packets. It’s taken a while, but I’ve found almost everything I need from other sources. And, although I am yet to really analyse the money side of things, I don’t feel I’m spending more than I used to, as I’ll explain in a moment.
So why ditch the supermarket?
There are three main reasons I decided to stop shopping at supermarkets and they all come back to this quote by author and sustainable food guru Anna Lappe: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” This is the motivation behind my decision:
- I’d prefer to support local businesses than faceless, nameless corporations.
- I’m uncomfortable about the fact that two mega companies control more than 80% of the food and grocery market in Australia. Why? Because together, they control how much we pay – and that can be too high, or too low (in the case of the $1 milk scheme that has put numerous Aussie dairies out of business).
- Supermarkets are designed to make you overspend, buy unhealthy food and cheap, toxic cosmetics, cleaners etc
Where do you get all your stuff?
Coles and Woolworths only began to dominate the food and grocery market in Australia from 1995 (source). Before then, most people shopped at independent stores and specialists like butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. Today, of course, you can buy candles in Coles and these independent stores are few and far between. But they’re still there.
In my area, a small peninsula of 50,000 people, we have three Woolies and two Coles, with another on the way. But even in an area so heavily dominated by the Big Two, there are plenty of smaller shops. And of course, there are other ways to buy what you need that doesn’t compromise your ideals (too much).
Here’s a snapshot of where our food and groceries come from:
- Veggies: Food Connect box, delivered to our organic store.
- Milk/yoghurt/butter: delivered by Food Connect Aussie Farmers Direct or from locally-owned IGA that stocks local milk (Cooloola)
- Meat: awesome local butcher and Mitchell Grass Meats
- Grains & nuts: organic store or in bulk from Go Vita, muesli from Aussie Farmers Direct
- Juice: Aussie Farmers Direct
- Spices, tea, beans/pulses: Sunday market stall
- Cheese: the Cheese Man at Sunday markets and 1kg blocks of Kenilworth cheddar from an independent supermarket
- Cleaning supplies: organic store or Go Vita
- Personal care products: chemist, market, organic store or Go Vita
- Night-time plastic nappies, wipes: Go Toddler (online store)
- Toilet paper: Who Gives a Crap
- Oils: Olive oil in 5kg containers from our Sunday market (olives from SEQ and Northern NSW) coconut oil from the health-food shop, peanut oil from Kingaroy [updated]
- Asian essentials (soy sauce, sesame oil, black-bean etc): Asian supermarket
What have I missed? Put it in the comments and I’ll tell you where I get it!
Written like this, it looks like I spend all my days schlepping around, gathering. This is absolutely not the case. With a freezer full of meat and vegetables delivered weekly, I only need to go to one of these sources per week depending on what I need. The point I’m trying to make is that there are alternatives to the big supermarkets.
The benefits of shopping locally and more widely
When I talk to people about how I shop, they focus on what I’m missing out on: the convenience, the cheap own-brands, the variety, the specials! Here’s what else I’m missing out on: the shopping centre, those parent-hating “rides” that swallow $2 coins and cause massive tantrums, the carpark jammed with angry people, the absolute tedium and monotony of traipsing up and down aisles with two kids and a trolley.
My kids come with me when we visit the “vegetable shop” or the “peanut butter shop”. We visit Go Vita on the bike, or stop at the bakery or butcher on the way home from day care. We talk to the proprietors, the kids are often involved in what we buy – choosing it, carrying it, paying for it. It’s a better experience in every way.
Isn’t this a really expensive way to shop?
In my experience, no. Why? Because I have a small list, and I tend to stick to it when I go to smaller shops. The minute I get into a supermarket, my defences are down and I become a mindless a consumer, lulled by all those marketing trickeries. While it’s true the acutal pricetags on certain items are higher, I simply don’t spend money on stuff I don’t need. DVDs, clothes, magazines, cheap snacks – they practically leap into your trolley at the supermarket. This is far less likely to happen in an independent shop.
Final words (I promise)
I went cold-turkey and can honestly say that I will happily never shop at a non-independent supermarket again. But I’m not suggesting anyone boycott the supermarkets, and I get that they are very convenient and that we’re all crazy busy, but I do ask that you think about where you’re spending your money and what kind of a world you want for your children – one where you can ask your butcher for a recipe, or one where you can read it on the back of the packet?
UPDATE: It has now been four months since I wrote this post and I am completely gobsmacked by the response. I had no idea so many people felt trapped on the hamster-wheel of supermarket shopping and have been thrilled to hear your tales of going supermarket-free. I no longer source my oil and fish from Aldi and now keep it strictly local. I can honestly say I do not miss the perceived convenience of the big supermarkets and can’t imagine I will ever go back to them.