Affordable Real Food: How to Shop for It
Affordable real food? Yes, really! But with over 80% of food retail in the UK controlled by four supermarket chains, there’s no doubt about it: they’ve seduced us with convenience, open-all-hours-one-stop-shopping, bewildering choice, bargain-buys, and a parking space… what’s not to like?
Well… how about: unfair suppliers’ contracts; animal, fruit and veg produce raised and grown unsustainably, shipped for miles around the world or UK, harvested and stored to ensure maximum micro-nutrient depletion and sold under fake and misleading brand names; highly engineered, ultra-processed sugar, salt, fat and additive-laden ‘food-like’ substances that make us sick, keep us sick, but have carefully constructed mouth-feel (fat), bliss-points (sugar) and umami (salt) that keep us coming back for more; obscene food and plastic waste…. what’s to like?
Shifting mind-sets toward real food shopping
When I speak to groups and get people stop to think about the nature and quality (or lack of it!) of the food they’re putting into their supermarket shopping trollies and their bodies, one comment comes up again and again:
“Okay, I don’t like it… but where can I shop, if not at the supermarket?”
A discussion of alternative sources then follows and people are genuinely surprised and enthusiastic that a variety of very accessible and affordable options are just a mind-set shift, a little planning time and a Google away! A recent article on this subject, published by The Sustainable Food Trust, prompted me to put my own take on ways we can side-line supermarkets and source real food affordably.
12 Ways to Shop for Affordable Real Food
1. Visit your High Street
These days, town-centre parking is always a problem, but traditional butchers, wet-fishmongers and greengrocers on the High Street know where their produce comes from and are more likely to offer fresher, locally sourced produce. They’ll also carry a much wider range of cuts and varieties than you’ll find at the supermarket – at surprisingly competitive and often much better prices and they offer advice on how to prepare and cook their products. You’ll also be supporting your local economy, not anonymous corporate profits.
2. Visit a local farm shop, pick-your-own operator, or farmer’s market
Buying direct from the producer has all the benefits of High Street shopping and is easily the best and most economical way to eat seasonally and source local products which are not only cheaper, but fresher and more nutritious. locally. While farmers’ markets can be expensive (think overhead costs of stall rents, transport, staff and opportunity costs), farm shops tend to offer better value for money and PYO is a seasonal, fun, money-saver. And again, you’ll be supporting your local economy. Check out what’s near you at FARMA, a not-for-profit association of UK farm shops and farmers’ markets.
3. Support a CSA Scheme
Newer on the UK scene, Community Supported Agriculture emerged to repair the local food links damaged by the anonymity of intensive large-scale farming and supermarket dominance and promote sustainable food production and encourage reconnection with real food. For an upfront contribution, members receive a share of the food produced by the CSA: most commonly vegetables, but also poultry, bread, fruit, pork, lamb, beef and dairy produce.
It’s a win-win model: a CSA farmer has cash-flow for long-term planning and members get fresh, nutritious and affordable products, support their local economy and have opportunities to get involved at practical, environmental and often social, level. Discover a CSA farm near you through the CSA Network UK.
4. Order a meat box or bulk-buy direct for full traceability
An increasing number of farms now deliver 100% grass-fed and organic meat nationwide (my personal go-to is Fordhall Organic Farm a community land initiative with a commitment to education, youth projects and Care Farming).
Another favourite is Green Pasture Farms, is a collective of traditional family farms with 100% grass-fed beef and lamb and Eversfield Organic Farm, who supply meat from farms that are certified by the Pasture Fed Livestock Association and the Soil Association, or Organic Farmers and Growers. Most high-quality farmers do their own butchery and can offer a wide range of traditional, inexpensive cuts like blade and skirt and offer discounts for bulk purchases, half-a-carcass deals and free delivery with a minimum spend. Check out the Pasture for Life website for producers with mail-order delivery schemes.
5. Buy truly free-range and organic poultry
Truly free-range (and organic) poultry is beyond delicious. Springfield Poultry offer national delivery for both free-range and organic naturally reared, succulent birds a million miles away from anything you’ll find in a supermarket – at any price – and a whole bird will go much, much further than you think! And you’ll have the carcass left for nutritious stock.
6. Order a fish box, or bulk-buy online for sustainable sourcing
If you don’t have a local wet-fishmonger and aren’t prepared to travel (I regularly travel 12 miles each way to mine) then sourcing sustainable fish online, direct from a fleet or retail fishmonger, is definitely the way to go.
My tried and tested suppliers are all in Cornwall: Fish For Thought, The Cornish Fishmonger, Stevenson’s Fish, Trelawny’s Fish and Deli, and W. Harvey & Sons (for handpicked shellfish). All offer variety, great value and the less ‘fashionable’ but never-the-less delicious species like whiting, Pollack and megrim sole and deliver spanking-fresh fish nationally. Visit their websites to be educated and inspired!
7. Join a Food Assembly to order direct from local producers
A local Food Assembly scheme brings people together to buy the best food available directly from local farmers and food producers. Customers order on-line and collect your order every week from your Assembly venue. Again, it’s a win-win: farmers and producers define their own prices and pay a commission on sales (receiving 80% of every sale compared with 15%-25% from the supermarkets) and customers get the best produce and get to meet both the people behind it and neighbours.
However, there is bad news – the UK Food Assembly will cease trading in September 2018. But the good news is that the Open Food Network (see below) has offered to facilitate local Assemblies.
8. Use BigBarn
Fifth-generation farmer Anthony Davison this online portal connecting farmers with customers, after discovering his onions were being sold in a supermarket for eight times their wholesale price! Anthony’s mission is to reconnect people with local food and the Big Barn portal offers over 7,500 shopping outlets, information, education and even recipes and cooking videos!
9. Open Food Network UK
The Open Food Network (OFN) UK is an online website bringing shoppers and food producers together. It’s made up of a community of independent producers, retailers and distributors, dedicated to building a stronger, fairer food system in the UK. Customers can shop by UK postcode for the freshest, seasonal produce at affordable prices and can define a preferred delivery service (drop-off or pick-up). Shoppers may have to order a week in advance and wait until their order is harvested/produced and supports buying groups.
10. Join (or start) food a local buying group
Get together with family, friends and neighbours to start a buying group and bulk-buy store-cupboard staples (like coffee, grains, rice, beans) and benefit from substantial savings on wholesale prices. Collective orders placed with wholefood suppliers, such as Suma, are dispatched to the wholesaler, who then delivers to a drop-off point (eg. a private house), where members can pick up their order at a set time. Splitting items, like a case of organic processed tomatoes, or baked beans can mean substantial money-savings. Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, have a variety of resources and toolkits to help your buying group get started.
11. Search online for natural and organic products
Goodness Direct is an online retail shop selling natural, free-from, organic and Fairtrade food products, frozen, chilled and bulk whole foods, natural toiletries and eco-friendly household products. Substantial savings can be made on products and delivery charges by bulk-ordering.
12. Shop one-stop-online with Riverford or Abel & Cole
Riverford (now in employee-ownership) and Abel & Cole are the longest established and biggest box delivery schemes in the country, both offering a wide range of organic vegetables, fruit, eggs, dairy, bread and meats and other products like recipe boxes with measured ingredients.
BONUS: Grow your own and/or barter with neighbours!
Finally, nothing is better than the satisfaction of harvesting, preparing and eating your own organically grown produce – be it veg, fruit, or eggs. You’ll not get fresher, tastier, or more nutritious than just-picked produce from your, or a neighbour’s, garden or from a local allotment-holder!
So there you go – 12 ways (plus a bonus) to ditch your supermarket and shop for affordable real food! Go to it and your body will thank you!
Image credit: The Food Assembly