Friday, 22 April 2011

Shopping local and risking looking foolish with the fish man

Now. For those of you who have been with me since last year (and gosh, well done if you have), you may remember that the Truth was revealed to me in the middle of Sheringham, and I decided I was going to do more of my food shopping in small independent shops and less in supermarkets. Then I read Shopped and various other anti-supermarket books and bored all my loved ones with my discoveries, became righteously indignant about various encroachments Tesco was making into North Derbyshire, and rang the man from the Clay Cross planning department and alarmed him with my questions about how much of Clay Cross Tesco now owns (he wouldn’t tell me. He was very nice though, we had a long chat. I think he was worried I might be an incompetent Guardian reporter). So I like to update you periodically with how I am getting on with my efforts to bring down the supermarket monopoly single-handedly by buying my sausages from the butcher down the road and not from Waitrose.
I can call in for a sausage and then pop in to town via the river and it is much nicer than trailing round the artificially lit Mordor
Partner says I am just making my life more difficult and he thinks I have masochistic tendencies. He says instead of my various things I do i.e. knitting my own socks and similar, perhaps instead I could just hit my hand with a hammer as this would give me the same effect but with less trouble. As soon as he sees me heading off looking grimly determined with my Hemp Shopper, he mimes hitting his hand and says, ‘Ow! Ow!’ and then laughs. It has not yet palled for Partner. He also says my life is now like this Monty Python sketch of John Cleese in a cheese shop, I have to tell you that I do not find Monty Python funny. Not any of it. Not the dead parrot, nothing. I have watched this sketch all the way through to check there is nothing obscene before I link it, and my opinion of MP has not changed.

Anyway, it is all very exciting because I thought I would try shopping in independent shops for a week and then give up and go back to Tesco. However, I have not, I now shop in independent shops more than when I first started and was keen. I do still do a weekly shop at Tesco, but for fewer and fewer things (although I’ve found it hard to replace the supermarket for things like washing powder and toilet rolls. Ecover stuff is twice the price at the wholefood co-operative). I have found that I spend far less on food, and, actually, it is much cheaper to buy some things at small shops, like, free range eggs, vegetables, and meat (I never bought the really cheap meat, though). Instead of doing a weekly shop in just one place, I now go shopping about 4 times a week. I do the supermarket and the wholefood co-operative at the weekend, then I do a quick run to the butcher, the farm shop for fruit and veg, and the cheese shop on Monday morning, the veg box comes on Tuesday, then on Wednesday I go and get some fish from the fish van.
I actually go to a veg stall just out of shot on the right and the man says to me 'don't have the plums, they aren't sweet enough. Have this rhubarb!' and I am impressed by his honesty and product knowledge. It doesn't take much
Now, you are reading that and thinking, God that sounds a performance and she’d never manage to do that if she worked in an office. Well, readers, this is where I am going to surprise you, because actually it is easier than the once a week supermarket shop (honestly), and, if I went back to working behind a desk 12 hours a day fortified only by coffee and fury, then, knowing what I know now, I actually would do a version of it. For instance, it is no more trouble to get the bulk of our stuff from the wholefood co-operative and then get the rest from Tesco than it is to only go to Tesco: it’s actually easier, because going to the wholefood co-operative is on the way, and is much more pleasant, so I enjoy my shop there. And the veg box comes anyway, so whatever hours I was working it would be easier to have one delivered than go schlepping about dragging back potatoes. And I might be able to go to a butcher/ fishmonger near where I was working.

I never realised until I stopped doing about 50% of it quite how much I hated supermarket shopping. I really hated it! The fruit that you buy even though it won’t taste of anything, having to predict what you’ll want to eat all week when really you’ve got no clue, pushing your trolley round like a pratt thinking, God, where have they put the harissa. I felt like I never really wanted to eat what I ended up buying. Also the person at the till always tells me how fed up they are. One person gave me a long explanation about how Tesco always stiffed her on overtime and how she missed her old job, where she’d done something completely horrendous like work for a major pharmaceutical company poking guinea pigs with a bodkin, but at least everyone knew her name (I don’t go round asking people how Tesco is treating them, I want you to know, she did volunteer the information ;-) ). And a man once in Asda gave me a long explanation of how Asda was manipulating me as a customer. I mean, he was quite right, but the man in the fish van never tells me how I’m being cheated. He looks like he thinks I’m getting some rather fine fish. And I am!

One thing I have found with shopping in independent shops is that it was a bit of a learning curve. For instance, I have become very fond of a cheese called Cornish Yarg which I buy from the cheese shop and which is wrapped in nettles (cheese shop cheese is seriously an entirely other breed). When I last went in to buy my Cornish Yarg I had a sudden panic that I was pronouncing it wrong and that in fact it should be pronounced Yurglurglurgle or something ridiculous, like Belvoir is*. I have found in circumstances like this I have to be brave and ask. The thing with supermarkets is, you never risk looking daft as you never have to talk to anyone. You just pick up your item in a packet and then you go to the till and grunt. Whereas, in a small shop, you have to chat and say things like ‘how much braising steak is 500g’ or ‘what is your cheapest fish today’ or, ‘I would like just one very large potato please’. I always feel I will walk in and a spotlight will shine on me and a voice will say, this woman has no idea how many grams of Red Leicester is an appropriate amount for two adults for lunch for three days, because she is insufficiently middle class. I have decided this is my own insecurity and so now I just smile sweetly and ask my silly questions or gesture with my hands (‘this much!’) because the alternative is ending up with a small piece of fish which costs £7, as once happened to me. I decided that as a one-off I would look upon this as an Idiot Tax, but my budget does not allow for too many Idiot Taxes, so now I interact.
The cheese shop appears to do pork pies as well, be still my beating heart
Anyway, those are my Independent Shopping Adventures and I look forward to many more. It seriously is loads more fun, also it takes me wandering around the back streets of Cambridge and I have discovered that the area I live in is not as depressing as everyone tells me it is, it is actually quite nice. And I can stop and stroke unfamiliar pussycats, some of them are rather furrily striking (and terrifyingly trusting. Pussycats! Be cynical!). I accept I haven’t quite brought down Tesco yet, but on the plus side, we’ve had some really amazing cheese. Is there a better kind of activism than that?

* Beaver. I know you know but just in case you don't.


AC said...

My partner has the exact same attitude about my local shopping habits. I didn't even set out to do it, we just happened to move nearby a food co-op. The food just tastes awesome, and I love being able to buy everything in bulk. I went into a regular supermarket about a week ago and found that I wanted to PUNCH EVERYONE IN THE FACE it was so miserable. I'm with ya woman, regular grocery shopping comparatively sucks.

Susie said...

That's exactly how I feel in Tesco! I want to PUNCH EVERYONE IN THE FACE! We need a badge. (Possibly a badge might make people think I'm aggressive though).

Ms C @ HappyElastic said...

I used to work in Asda. The best thing was I found myself a husband there (he was in the Home/Leisure section) but the worst was them trying to fire me when I was pregnant. Horrid place to work.

CraftyCripple said...

We have an amazing market in Leicester, and I really miss working in town because you can get an enormous quantity of great quality food for so little. They even have fish, meat and cheese stalls, along with a couple of great deli stalls and even - get this - a yarn stall!!! I think if you work in town picking up a few bits on your lunchtime is much more enjoyable than doing a weekly shop.

Sharripie said...

My heart breaks that you don't like Monty Python! I won't try to convince you to join us on the dark side, but have you seen the Fish Slapping Dance?

Susie said...

Ms C, that's very encouraging that men can be found at Asda! Was he covered by the Asda Price Promise? But terrible they tried to sack you for being pregnant. They don't have a good record with employees, do they?

CC, Leicester market sounds wonderful. Ours is functional but slightly feeble, but the market in Bury nearby is great. I do wonder about falling off backs of lorries with some of the stalls but it is still good.

Sharripie, I know ;-). I'm sure it's me and not it. I haven't seen the fish slapping dance but I will get over to Youtube in case it converts me, you never know ;-).

kristieinbc said...

Thanks so much for this update on your shopping adventures! We have a local farmer's market that runs April through October and I love being able to shop there. I only use the grocery store for staple items during market season. It is such a pleasant shopping experience compared to the other months of the year.

Voie de Vie said...

OhMyBob, lol! And I want a man that's covered by a price guarantee. Yes. Yes, I do. :)

Rachel said...

It's OK not to like Monty Python - I don't like Fawlty Towers, and get the same reactions ;-)

When I worked in a office, I was able to walk to the independent shops quite easily, and actually enjoyed doing the grocery shopping (I loathe supermarkets. If I'm not wanting to punch someone in the face, I'm standing gormless and lost in the middle of the aisle, wondering where they've hidden the vinegar).

It takes a bit more effort here, as we're twelve miles from town. The butcher's shop was a bit intimidating for a while - they chat happily in Welsh to other customers, but we got rather frosty politeness. We had a breakthrough last time we went in there, though - the butcher was quite chatty, even though there was a queue forming behind us. I think it may be because I asked how local the local meat actually was.

I've managed to get our supermarket shop down to once a month. At that frequency it's just about bearable.

Susie said...

I don't like Fawlty Towers either! ;-). And yet last night I watched Carry On Camping right to the end, I have failed at Comedy Appreciation. Rachel, once a month sounds wonderful, I need to aim for going less often rather than just buying less. Also, our butcher is really scary and won't smile at me no matter how nice I am. And he is teaching some 'using the whole animal!!!' course at the community centre down the road, so wherever I go I am confronted by cartoon representations of him on posters wielding a large chopper.

mooncalf said...

I'd like to shop local more but I have an office job and it does make it more difficult.

Our local food shops are only open when I'm in the office. The local market is on a Friday when I'm in the office. And the veg box deliveries will only drop off on weekdays when I'm in the office.

stupid office

Susie said...

I never understand why shops are only open during working hours, you'd think they could do a late evening one day and close for a morning or something. We are lucky with the veg box as if I am out he can leave it round the back, but we live in a terrace and the garden is quite private (also lots of neighbours hanging about so things don't go wandering). That's not an option if you live somewhere without a private box-leaving space though :-(.