Shopped- The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets

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I’ve just finished reading this book- SHOPPED: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets

– it’s been on my reading list for years and I spotted it in a charity shop! I wish I’d read it sooner, it was eye-opening. It has a lot of points that are relevant to becoming Zero Waste or Minimalist. I’d encourage you to read it, but I will try to give a flavour of it here.

One of the things which I knew a small amount about, was the buying practices of the supermarkets. But here, you can read about it- in all its horrifying detail. Waste is built into the supermarket system. They specify produce by size and weight and all that doesn’t meet specification is destined to be wasted. Even though it is perfectly good food. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was amongst one of the high profile people who highlighted this last year. Most of the reason they specify this, it because they want produce- for example, apples, to fit neatly into their plastic packaging.

All of the so-called offers you get at supermarkets, are usually funded by the suppliers themselves. Even though they know that it won’t gain them loyal customers, as British shoppers are so accustomed to moving onto the next ‘deal’. They are powerless to do anything about it, or they will be de-listed by the supermarkets. Since the majority of people do all their shopping at the supermarket, this could be catastrophic for the supplier. However, supermarkets are aiming to deal with less and less suppliers, as they streamline their systems to make the most profit. This means suppliers are going out of business anyway.

In their drive to reduce their costs, they do not care about quality- they just care about appearance. They want the fruit and veg they buy to sit on the shelf for days on end, looking just as pristine as day 1 when it was harvested. They have even developed particular varieties of fruit and vegetable, that have nothing to do with their superior taste and everything to do with their appearance. For example, Elsanta strawberries have no flavour, but are very firm and hence won’t get bashed around in transit. Furthermore, they encourage the use of way more chemical pesticides than farmers think healthy just to keep up this specification. Supermarkets don’t really support local produce, hence so many areas of the UK are facing the extinction of local varieties and dishes. They just don’t fit into the mass production model.

I have been shifting a lot of my spending to independents in trying to go Zero Waste. I aim to buy all my fruit and veg from my local green grocers now. Although occasionally I run out of carrots or something like that, but I can still buy these loose in the supermarkets if need be. But after reading this book, I want to try and shift all my spending. We’ve virtually cut out 75% of meat from our diet lately, partly for health reasons and partly for cost. But when we do buy meat, we try to use our local butcher. He also sells local, free range eggs. I am trying to find a local fishmonger, but it seems that they are all but extinct. We have a great local health food store where I can buy all kinds of loose dried fruits and nuts. They also sell locally milled flour and lots of other groceries. I will aim to spend more with them, although it will undoubtedly cost us more and we don’t have an infinite budget. However I feel so much happier knowing I am supporting the livelihood of local people and they are not part of the wasteful supermarket system.

Over to you, where do you do the majority of your shopping? Do you still have the option of independents?

Swallow This!

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I grabbed this off the shelf in my local library, as Joanna Blythman is an author/ journalist I really respect. She also wrote a book called SHOPPED: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets

some years ago- revealing the ugly truth about the supermarkets. I was lucky enough to find a copy in a charity shop recently and it’s on my list to read.

Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets

has to be one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. At the end of 14 chapters, I actually wanted to cry. So yes, this is not uplifting reading- I read only one or two chapters a day for this reason. However- it is a subject we should all be educated on- it highlights the massive cover-up operation by the global food industry.

This is a topic I’ve always been passionate about, ever since my days of studying food and nutrition back in the late 1990s. But even I was out-of-date about so many of the innocuous sounding additives they sneak in, under the guise of ‘clean labels’. If I’m using terms you’re unfamiliar with, then I’m not going to ruin it all for you, I’m going to suggest you borrow a copy of the book from your local library. Joanna does a much better job at explaining everything than I do! It is so detailed and everything is referenced in a comprehensive index at the back.

I think that a lot of Minimalist and Zero Waste bloggers have covered some of the topics she talks about, such as BPA in plastics, plastic lined tinned foods and other food packaging, products being pumped with water (particularly raw and cooked meats) and the additives in commercially made bread, to give a few examples. However this book uncovers many more new food technologies that are only just being tried out on the human race.

It makes me more certain than ever that pursuing Zero Waste is the only viable option to maintain our health. It is the only way we can avoid being exposed to these chemicals and manufacturing techniques. The only hazard for me has been spending hours in shops scouring the labels (but as this book will teach you, many of the dangerous processing aids manufacturers use don’t even need to be declared on labels!) At times it leads to a new dilemma between choosing the more Zero Waste friendly option or choosing the safer food option that isn’t laced with so many chemicals.

Since reading this book I have made a concerted effort to steer away from Supermarkets as much as possible- opting for my local butchers, green grocers and health food stores. They are not perfect in terms of Zero Waste packaging, but maybe I can educate them. They are better quality foods and I am supporting local families and businesses. I am also going to buy a bread machine, so that we never eat nasty additive laced bread and bakery products again. I am even more consciously trying not to rely on canned goods and make my own food from scratch. Even if this means that I end up spending more time at home, engaged in traditional ‘homemaking’ type chores- I have decided that I would rather know exactly what I am putting into my body than pay for expensive, potentially dangerous manufactured foods.

I hope that I may be able to cover some of the chapter topics in more detail in future posts, but I just wanted to get this post out there so that you can share in this information. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read this book, so please come back and comment when you have!