They also stay open late for those of us with busy lives. Chains such as Aldi, Lidl and Netto have a limited but extremely cheap range of food and often do fantastic bargains in fruit and vegetables, as well as bargain tinned goods and so forth.
Nonetheless, supermarkets have played a big role in reducing food choices in many ways. See www.tescopoly.org which in turn gives loads of links to other resources and information about our shopping habits. Someone once said ‘there’s no such thing as cheap food’ – look below the surface and there is usually a hidden cost somewhere!
The enormous buying power of supermarkets means they also have the power to cut small suppliers and shops to the bone, often forcing out local businesses in the process and cutting agricultural workers’ wages to poverty levels. If you’ve ever wondered why you have no small local shops near you and have to drive to the supermarket, that’s why.
Then there are fruit and vegetables. Not only are they often more expensive, but lots of delicious vegetable and fruit varieties have all but disappeared because they don’t fit the ‘perfect, shiny but tasteless’ standard!
Supermarkets are cheaper, it’s true, but they create havoc to the environment – often shipping food from one side of the country to another, even though there is a perfectly good supplier right next door to them. Just take a look at all those supermarket lorries trundling up and down our motorways next time you’re out on a drive. Once we lose our local shops we have to make more trips in our car to the supermarket – a huge contributor to pollution. Then there’s all that excess packaging and the endless plastic bags, many of which end up in landfill sites.
Poorer communities in the UK end up losing their local shops. They often have little or no choice about where to buy food and often live in ‘food deserts’ where they can’t afford to buy enough fresh fruit and vegetables, and have to do without or else spend extra money on fares to and from the supermarket.
And let’s not forget the animals. Factory farming is at the heart of most supermarkets; while some are pursuing better animal welfare standards, most pay only lip-service – and all continue to sell products from animals reared in cruel conditions.
So what are the choices? You may not be able to change everything, but just a tweak here and there would make a difference: for example, reducing your supermarket bill by a few quid and spending that money elsewhere!
So do sniff around smaller shops - if you're lucky enough to have independent shops etc near you, use them or lose them. For example, many local greengrocers offer bargain baskets as well as cheap deals on seasonal veg gluts, eg tomatoes, apples and more. Some even sell produce from local allotments and small growers. Many independent health food shops sell loose goods - pulses, wholegrains, spices, herbs and more - which are a great way to save money and particularly useful if you are cooking for one or two.
And for useful basic advice - independents and chains - check out the L-Plate Vegan Guide which helps you to find the best animal-free products and meal ideas wherever you are!
- Use local shops and farmers’ markets if you can. If you don’t know where they are in your area, see below. The Soil Association and its subsidiary Why Organic (www.organic.org) are very helpful resources.
- Eat local, seasonal fruit and vegetables where possible. They are generally cheaper, taste better and eating local reduces air miles too. For simple, seasonal veg recipes try Vegan Rustic Cooking by Diana White or Boxing Clever Cookbook (not completely veggie or vegan but mostly so - and other recipes can easily be veganised). Find interesting ways of using all those parsnips, beetroot, celeriac, swede...
- Try an organic vegetable box delivered weekly or fortnightly; some local schemes are surprisingly good value, plus it will save you lugging home bags of fruit and veg! And of course you'll be supporting local growers and eating seasonally.
- Find a small independent health store in your area and use it as much as you can afford. Even stocking up once every month or so will help them stay in business – and you will get the chance to buy things you can’t get elsewhere. Shopping in these places also tends to be a much more pleasant, sociable experience.
- Buy online from small food businesses if you can't find products on your high street. Click here for more info.
- Look in your library, community centre or health store and see if there’s a locally-owned and run food co-op in your area – or do an Everyclick search. Community Food initiatives are another great way to get access to cheaper, wholesome food. Many communities are setting these up now and they have revolutionised eating habits.
- Grow your own – see our feature on simple sprouting Or grow a couple of herb pots on a balcony- or share an allotment with friends… there are numerous ways to do it. Viva! has a very interesting section on vegan organic gardening and farming that might give you a few ideas.
- Buy in bulk to save money on things you use a lot of.
- Share bulk or postal costs with family and friends.
- Buy loose goods if you can; it usually saves money and helps the environment.