I am fortunate enough to live near an old market town that still has an independent greengrocer, butcher and delicatessen. Equally as conveniently, I have the opportunity to shop at an indoor permanent food market in the city. Being able to purchase from either of these, personally, is a luxury. Bizarrely enough, not from a financial angle, but instead, from a time and convenience perspective. I have a demanding job and so I choose to compromise on where I buy our food. I’m not alone in having joined the gang of online food shoppers. Someone, normally a really cheery and chatty gentleman, comes to my door once a week during an allocated hour slot and delivers my chosen goodies. I didn’t ever think I would be content for someone else to choose my bunch of bananas or punnet of strawberries, but here I am, admitting that it happens.
Believe it or not, I whole heartedly sign up to wanting to know the provenance of the fresh food I am buying, cooking and serving to my family. On the odd occasion that I do go to a supermarket, I consider myself a curious consumer and decipher from the packaging to see where food originates from enabling me to make an informed decision as to whether I’ll buy it. I really do love going into the greengrocers and being able to pick up fruit, smell it or give it a gentle squeeze to determine its ripeness. I like that the handwritten signs telling me where it’s come from is written large, undoubtedly because they are proud to tell me that they were grown in the same county, or, if it’s in the summer, perhaps in the same town.
Whilst I’m desperately trying to avoid including the term ‘lazy’, having my shopping delivered to me unreservedly takes less effort on my part and more on someone else’s. As well as the convenience factor of physically not having to go anywhere, I believe that food shopping online allows customers to perhaps be shrewder with their purchasing decisions. I know of someone whose deliberate shopping style involves taking their trolley down every single aisle and spotting all of the items that they need. Whilst there is little doubt that items go unmissed, I’m curious as to how many unneeded but wanted items also make it into the shopping trolley. Personally, I still make a list and shout out to Alexa items that I need to add as and when I run out of them. I have kept the same habit and pull from my bulging and dedicated bookcase a couple of my favourite cookery books and plan my meals from the list. I find it therapeutic in my approach to meal planning for the week and whilst I regularly adapt it in my head on the way home from work, I like that the structure is there to begin with.
I’m certainly someone that struggles when I go into a supermarket when I’m hungry, perhaps on my way home from work. I have every intention of sticking to the three items that I need and don’t even take a shopping bag in with me to deter the purchase of any deviations, I wish I could say this was a 100% successful approach. This is not something I struggle with when I’m sat in my comfy chair with a snuggly blanket tapping my screen, with my trusty list beside me. I’m not oblivious to the downsides of my delivered weekly shop. One of the most significant ones is how customers, me included, can become habitual with my selection of items. You don’t get to peruse the different options available to you as easily. By this I mean, I always end up buying the same type of savoury cheese cracker. If I was physically in the store, I’d stand and look at the variety of choice and I’m more likely to try something different or perhaps be tempted by a new product. Purchasing online is a brilliant way of helping me budget. I realise this is somewhat of a contradiction as there is a cost associated with the delivery, but I’m overtly aware of how much I’m spending. I can be financial far more crude with what gets put into my virtual shopping trolley. I am less tempted to buy unnecessary items. That said, the scan while you shop in store is a really helpful tool to calculate your spend from start to finish and I think, a welcomed technical development.
As a food teacher, I do often find myself trying to encourage students to think of alternative ingredients after a practical lesson. I’ll try and get them to visualise a specific area in a supermarket and give me three other options available to them. What I have found over the last ten years is that there is a rapidly diminishing number of students stepping foot into a supermarket and thereby my imagination tool fails miserably.
In an attempt to regain some of my foodie dignity, my intention during the next season, is to visit local food markets and independent traders and buy more seasonal and local produce. I just hope that I’m not too late to ensure that these essential, traditional and wholesome traders are still in towns in decades to come. I’m unlikely to deviate from my online shop in the short term, but I would like to supplement it with items I have personally selected and perhaps even pre-tasted.