October 12, 2022

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Reducing our supermarket reliance ​means we can spend less, live better, and look our grandchildren in the eye. This post shares 3 strategies to get you started.

I intend for our grandchildren to grow up connected to their food supply and liberated from the consumer economy. When they learn about the destructive mono-cultures and global-corporate supply chains that supplied the supermarkets we relied on, they’ll wonder what we were thinking. 

Not to mention what they might wonder when they hear about the toilet paper debacle.

I've been thinking a lot about what we can do to make it easier on ourselves to begin (or continue) to gradually replace the weekly supermarket shopping trip with something healthier. Here's some of what I've come up with so far. 

Basic principles and broad strategies

We know that most of the stuff on supermarket shelves is not great for our health, and that it’s terrible for the health of ecosystems, farming communities, and local economies.

On top of that, we can see food prices rising as packets and bottles get smaller (or their contents do). And then there’s the skyrocketing cost of the fuel required for driving to the supermarket.

Whether we view it in terms of health, ethics, or affordability, it's making less and less sense to drive to the supermarket frequently.

But how can we find the time and develop the resources we need to become independent of the supermarket? How will we replace our weekly supermarket trip with affordable, local, healthy, ethical ways of sourcing our needs? What would that even look like, and what are the steps to get there?

Without sitting down and discussing your personal circumstances, I can't suggest how you should embark on this journey or which ways to go. But there are some basic principles we can apply to the process of figuring this out. I’ve been thinking about them (a lot, for a long time) and I’ve come up with some broad strategies that might be helpful. 

The first is to know where you're at right now, and to do that you're going to need a way of keeping track of your supermarket-related habits.

Strategy #1: Create a "Supermarket Notebook" 

Before you can make a map, you have to get to know the terrain. You have to figure out where you're at right now and what the habits and tendencies are that have put you there.

Get a dedicated note book and label it your "Supermarket Notebook." Then you can keep your shopping lists instead of throwing them away after each shopping trip (or not having a list at all), and you can gradually build up a record of your buying habits. Date each list, and scribble at the bottom what you spent. Or staple the receipt to the page. 

Keep the next page blank, for notes. That way, as you're writing your shopping list or when you get home and you're stapling your receipt in, you'll have space to scribble down a few notes about whatever comes to mind that might be relevant.

"If I'd actually written a list last time, I wouldn't have forgotten the rice/tissues/dish detergent. Then we wouldn't have had to go to the supermarket twice in one week..."  

Or whatever.

You could also turn to the last page/s of the note book and put down a few notes about how  you’d like this journey to look, why its important to you, and/or where you’d like it to take you to.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

~ Abraham Lincoln

Personally, being a bit of a nerd, I keep supermarket note book and a spreadsheet on the computer. 

The spreadsheet has columns like “fruit and veg,” “cold section,” “packaged/processed,” “bathroom,” “laundry,” etc. I have one I created years ago with what things I regularly bought in each column before I started this journey. And I have more recent versions that I fill in from time to time so I can see my progress.

When I feel despondent about how much I still rely on the supermarket, it's encouraging to be able to look back and see how far we've actually come. 

Strategy #2: Keep the steps small

It’s important to be kind to yourself in this process.

Ditching the supermarket is a bit like trying to eat a whole elephant: the only way to do it is one bite at a time. You only need one criteria for how to tackle it: KEEP THE BITES SMALL. You'll never get your elephant eaten if you choke yourself on the first few bites. When we want the changes we're making to actually stick, bigger or faster is definitely not better. 

As you build the habit of keeping your “supermarket notebook” up to date, you’ll already have achieved something that’s worth a small celebration: bringing more mindfulness and awareness to your shopping habits and needs. How will you celebrate this first, important step?

As you live your life, go shopping, and take notes, be on the look out for small improvements that suggest themselves to you as you scribble and scan your notes.

If you see two you could implement this week, I suggest you restrain yourself. Use just one of them, pat yourself on the back, and save the second one for next week. 

You never know, you might even build up a backlog of delicious ideas you can look forward to trying out 🙂

As you make each small change, note them down on your "notes pages."  This way you'll have a “breadcrumb trail” to come back to if (when) you temporarily fall of the wagon and revert back to where you started.

Strategy #3: Get Clear on What You Really Need

The odds of going to a grocery store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are about 3 billion to one."

~ Irma Bombeck

Ask questions. Question everything, because there's always something to learn. 

In the context of writing your shopping list and shopping at the supermarket, I have two kinds of questions for you to ask about the products you’re considering.:

  1. questions about whether you really need an item 
  2. questions about who is influencing your thinking about this item

Lets take a look at both of these types of questions as they relate to your supermarket shopping habits.

Questions about whether you really need something

Ask yourself, “Do I/we really need this? What would happen if I didn’t buy this?”

If the answer is “Yes, I really need this,” then go ahead. Put it on the list, put it in the trolley, and move on.
(As time goes by your concepts of what you really need might change, but there’s no hurry. Remember: be kind to yourself!)

But maybe the answer that comes up might be more like, “After a year of not buying this I would have saved a small fortune and kept a small mountain of trash out of landfill.”

If that kind of answer comes up, you know what to do. Leave  it off the list, and leave it on the shelf.

Questions about who’s influencing your thinking

Items on supermarket shelves that our grandparents never heard of or imagined have become “necessities” today because of shared ideas that nobody is questioning. 

Now I have a surprise for you (not). Most of those shared ideas, if not all of them, were planted in the public psyche over the last 100+ years by clever, manipulative marketing. 

Who runs the marketing campaigns? Profit-focused corporations. Not health-focused. Not ethics-focused. Profit-focused. 

Are you surprised? Me neither. Ask yourself, “Who says I need this thing in my life? My mother? People on my Facebook feed?  Someone who will profit from my purchase?”

We love our mothers. We love our friends and family on Facebook or where-ever we interact with them (hopefully that’s in person at least some of the time). But loving them doesn’t mean we have to shop like they do or live like they do.

And as for the profit-focused corporations funding the advertising campaigns that generate that sense of inadequacy and lack and the need to keep up with the Jones’s… well as far as I’m concerned, they can go jump in a lake.

So those were the first three strategies I came up with when I asked myself, “how could we make it easier to begin (or continue) to de-throne the supermarket and its destructive supply chain and replace it with something healthier?”

I hope you've found this helpful or thought-provoking, and I'd love to hear your comments and suggestions to help my thinking along!

Please comment...

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  • Thank you, Kate, for these 3 strategies. I hate shopping in supermarkets as the overflooding and tempting supply confuses and overwhelms me. But my husband likes it and as he is very focused he mostly withstands the temptations. As much as I can I go “shopping” in my garden and use what is available which is a lot here in tropical Bali. So I don’t feel the need to apply these 3 strategies for supermarkets. But there is another field of consumption where I can imagine them to be very useful to me: online or internet consumption. Will start with a notebook on my online habits.

    • Hi Evelyn thanks so much for your comment. I’m delighted to think of someone taking these ideas and applying them to mindful, self-directed use of online media. I so hope its helpful, and I’d really love to hear how it goes for you 🙂

  • I decided the first step I would make on this journey was to shop in my local co-op rather than one of the larger supermarkets. I believe co-ops to be little more ethical and as they are more expensive I am more careful what I buy, there is less choice too which helps! It also saves on petrol. I currently use the milkman and have a veg box from my local greengrocer but with the rising food prices I will have to cut down what I buy if I am to continue to avoid the giants, so your strategy of questioning if we really need something is helpful, thank you.

    • Hi Jo, clearly you’ve already put a lot of thought into this; thanks for sharing your strategies!

      That you have access to a milkman, greengrocer, and local co-op helps paint a picture for people who don’t yet have access to any of those things. Let’s hold a picture in our minds of these kinds of initiatives sprouting in more and more local neighborhoods around the world.

  • I am intrigued with the idea of the notebook. I am going to do it!

    • I’d love to hear how you go, Deb. And thanks for commenting!

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