A friend of mine recently alerted me to the Keep Trade Local Challenge, which technically started two days ago and runs until August 4th. However, I reckon it would work well at any time of year. It’s actually something that I’ve been thinking about for a while, as I’ve been following the A Year Without Supermarkets blog virtually since its inception. Since the beginning of 2013, Ian and Becksie have pledged to avoid the UK’s supermarket chains and shop only from local retailers, mainly due to not liking the supermarkets’ aggressive promotional tactics. However, it’s become so much more than that for them and made me (and many of their other readers, I am sure) examine their own priorities.
I often find myself thinking up excuses not to follow Becksie and Ian’s example. I’m too tired to go traipsing round the shops. The local retailers aren’t open, and the supermarkets are. The supermarkets are cheaper. I don’t like to carry large amounts of cash and don’t want to be embarrassed by not having enough in a local retailer. And so on, and so forth.
However, as I’m on holiday at the moment (one of the perks of being a teacher!), I decided yesterday to eschew my local supermarket and use the local market, which runs two or three times a week. Every time I have the chance to visit my local retailers I feel the same: it is a joy. Service is friendly, most of the produce on offer is high-quality and surprisingly cheap, and you get exercise from all the traipsing around. You feel good for doing something productive with your morning and for putting your money back into the community. Living abroad means it’s also a chance to practise my French with people who love their produce, as opposed to monosyllabic supermarket staff. (Supermarket staff in France are, on the whole, REALLY surly. Employment law makes it very difficult for anyone to get fired, so the bare minimum is the norm.)
So yesterday I had a lovely time going around the market, and then to the fishmonger (followed by an emergency dash to the Italian deli for some pasta). Today I visited my greengrocer and butcher (who are literally just over the road from my flat, so no excuses there!). Unfortunately, my lovely cheesemonger is closed for the holidays (boo hiss) and I did have to pop into the supermarket for some washing-up liquid. This, however, gave me a good opportunity to contrast my experiences. Supermarket staff were characteristically don’t-careish, there was packaging everywhere (even though it was mid-morning; early morning and late night shifts don’t exist in France so that these jobs can be done out of customers’ way), and a small child started screaming when its mother denied it some conveniently-at-child-eye-height sweets. Come on, people: we all know what’s more enjoyable.
Becksie and Ian have also cited health reasons as a welcome perk of ditching the supermarkets, with them both losing weight without trying thanks to being away from the supermarkets’ copious amounts of junk food and generally devious advertising ploys. Being free of these saves them money too. And case in point: I was lured in by an offer practically as soon as I entered the supermarket. Yes, I kicked myself upon leaving. I must walk around with a big ‘sucker’ sign in lights on my forehead. Or perhaps it says ‘please, rape my wallet – I don’t care’.
It’s clear that opening hours are the bane of the average worker (especially in France, where no supermarket opens before 9.00 in the morning), and that unlike Ian and Becksie, many of us don’t have gardens in which to keep chickens or kindly relatives who grow their own vegetables. Heck, I don’t even have room for a chest freezer in my apartment, which makes batch cooking – and thus using our local retailers and produce to the fullest – very much a limited activity. However, as mentioned, I do plan on rethinking my habits. I frankly don’t like the surly service I receive from French supermarkets 99% of the time. There is no reason why I can’t support the local corner shop when I need washing-up liquid. There is no reason why I can’t buy my pasta from the Italian deli (apart from possibly it being €6 a bag – ouch!). There is no reason why I can’t use my local purveyors of fresh produce for my fish, dairy products, meat and vegetables, and the knowledge and supplies of experts for my wine and international foodstuffs. Like those behind the scenes of A Year Without Supermarkets, I may even find that I lose weight and save money as a result. Thanks to the Keep Trade Local Challenge, we should all be trying it (even if like me you cave and end up visiting Waitrose when you visit the UK – a totally different experience to French supermarkets, I can assure you!). Now currently looking forward to visiting the market in Les Vans, near where my parents-in-law live, and strategising as to how I can make local retailers more a part of my life, and the supermarkets less.