As a small business owner, I’ve always been really conscious about the choices I make as a consumer. If it’s up to me I’ll always choose an independent restaurant, café or coffee shop. I’ll always buy gifts from Etsy, notonthehighstreet or direct from small makers. I choose services – cleaner, hairdresser etc – similarly. Not do I consider it a better choice economically and socially, but generally speaking the food/gift/haircut is going to be better quality too.
There are certain chains I’ve boycotted for years – I’ll never go in a McDonalds or a KFC, for example. And as for Starbucks – well, let’s not even go there.
However, until recently I had a longstanding Tesco habit. It’s not something I’d ever really thought about – I just kept going there, zombie-like, week after week, filling my trolley, handing over my Clubcard and getting on with my life. I’ve no idea why it’d never struck me as a bad habit, it was more of a necessary but tolerable evil, until a conversation with friends in the pub on New Years’ Eve. At the time I was pretty defensive – Tesco is so convenient, it’s right by my house, where else would I shop? Surely it wouldn’t be possible?
But the next day I had another – slightly hungover – think. I’d been contemplating what I’d do as my January Challenge for 2018 – I was toying with Veganuary (but it sounded weird when I tried to say it out loud, and to be fair my diet is pretty close to vegan anyway, so it’s not that much of a challenge). I’d also considered going plastic-free, but after reading up on it, I’ll be honest, it sounded pretty impossible. And then it came to me. I’d go supermarket-free for a whole month.
The challenge was pretty simple – to avoid Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. I would also do my best not to go to Aldi or Lidl either. I decided that the Co-op was okay, just so that I didn’t end up starving.
By chance, I had done a big shop (in Tesco, naturally) on the 30th December, so the first week or so was pretty straightforward – I just grabbed a few bits from the corner shop to keep me going.
However, as the month went on I did need to buy some food. I love cooking, and most of my meals are cooked from scratch – so I was a bit worried I was going to end up eating tinned corner-shop food for a month. But you know what, I needn’t have worried for a moment.
I properly reaquainted myself with my old favourite Matta’s, the award-winning L8 Supermarket, and the corner shop at the top of my street – which I was pleasantly surprised at. They’re all places I have used in the past, either as a student, before I had a car, or when I had a bit more free time. Delifonseca and Windmill Wholefoods came in handy for some more random ingredients. As I started looking out it became obvious that there were loads of little local shops selling great fresh fruit and veg – places I’d simply walked past and overlooked previously. Some things were trickier to get hold of – particularly fizzy water, my favourite muesli and elderflower cordial. But I’ve managed by finding alternatives – and by making my own muesli.
Luckily some things didn't need to change - my weekly trip to see Jess and Emily at The Wild Loaf for my sourdough fits in fine with my new spending ethos. And their bread is just brilliant, way way better than anything you can get in a supermarket. Same goes for delicious jalapeno bagels from The Bagelry (there's always a few hidden away in my freezer for a bagel emergency).
Unfortunately berries have been really difficult to find. I love strawberries, raspberries and blueberries in my smoothies, on my porridge and for pudding. And some of the fruit I have found in local shops has been a bit, well, past it’s best. However, it struck me that berries are out of season at the moment anyway – so any that I do find have been flown in from half-way across the world, which isn’t great. I was so happy when inspiration struck in the form of a pomegranate. Equally sweet and juicy, much cheaper, and readily available in lots of shops at the moment! The flip side of this is that I have had more access to lots of more unusual fruit, vegetables and grains than would be available in the supermarket. I picked up some millet yesterday to try in a new recipe, I bet I would have struggled to find that in Park Road Tesco.
There are other compromises to be made – I struggled to find recycled toilet paper so I ordered it in bulk online from Who Gives a Crap (click on the link to get £5 off your first order). Sanitary products were also trickier than expected - I felt really uncomfortable having to ask for them from behind the counter in my local chemist – so I invested in a Mooncup, which has been amazing so far, and will be much better for the environment in the long run. My usual eco-cleaning products are available, but a lot more expensive than in the supermarket. I think it’s making me be a bit less heavy-handed with the washing up liquid though, which can only be a good thing.
As another added bonus, plastic seems a lot easier to avoid outside of supermarkets. Most fruit and veg is loose, which makes sense, and this also means you can choose how many of each vegetable you want to buy, therefore less waste.
I’ve walked a lot more – no big supermarket car-parks to park in – so, as I’m carrying it all home, I’ve been more careful about how much I am buying at a time. It’s more mindful, and I’ve been planning every meal more carefully. A lot of people have asked if it’s more expensive – and in all honesty I think I have saved a bit of money. Much less chance of impulse purchases, and I feel like I’ve wasted a lot less food too. I won’t mention the £5.50 bottle of elderflower cordial. Needless to say it wasn’t worth it, and I won’t be making that mistake again.
I feel so enthusiastic about my new spending habits. Knowing that my money is going to independent businesses sits a lot more comfortably with me - I’m still pretty ashamed that I’d not given this a lot more thought before. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it has been really interested and positive too. I’ve had a few friends say they are going to try it too; one friend has already joined in and done her own Tesco-free January. I’ve had friends round for dinner a few times this month – and they’ve mostly been pretty considerate of the challenge too. One considerate soul even decanted her contribution of mozzarella into a Tupperware so I didn’t see it was from a supermarket!
So, now we’re nearing the end of January, I honestly thought I’d be desperate to rush back into Tesco. But I’m really not. I’ve not even been to the Co-op once, never mind Aldi or Lidl! I’m seriously considering extending the challenge to February too – after which I’m not sure if it’ll still be a “challenge” as such, maybe more an actual – dare I say it – way of life?
And as for the fizzy water – I think I’m just going to have to treat myself to a Soda Stream.
What do you reckon, could you go supermarket-free? Would you try it for February to see how you get on? Let me know if you give it a try!