October 25, 2022

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Strategy #4 to help you dethrone the supermarket giants. Includes a link to the previous 3 strategies.

In a recent post, “3 Strategies to help you spend less at the Supermarket,” I said I believe we can gradually re-build food sovereignty in our local communities by making tiny shifts in our thinking, values, and habits.

These are shifts that help us move away from the supermarket giants towards healthier, more ethical, and still affordable ways of sourcing our needs. I see them as very effective because they address several needs at once:

  • we need to take care of our own health
  • we need to be thrifty and wise, both with our own financial resources and also with our shared or collective resources  
  • we need, and want, to take responsibility for our social and environmental impact 

Furthermore, we're addressing these needs while doing something we'd be doing anyway: feeding our families. 

Envisioning the food system we want

Many people have already made big shifts. For example, one reader who commented on the last post has drastically cut her supermarket reliance by shopping at the local co-op and using a local milk man and green grocer.

That’s an inspiring picture for us to hold in our minds. Imagine if, in every neighborhood, you could trade eggs for excess greens with a neighbor, receive your milk from a farmer you know by name, and shop for your other needs at a local co-op, knowing that your dollar helps keep it thriving1.

Lots of neighborhoods don’t yet have access to food systems like this. How do we build them?

I don’t have a quick and easy answer, unfortunately. But I do feel sure that if we just do what we can to put one foot in front of the other toward more localized and ethical food systems, things will shift. It's not possible or necessary to have this all sorted out by lunchtime tomorrow.

Just to be on the look out for what steps you can take and to take them when you can, is enough. 

So, with that vision of healthy food systems in mind, here is another strategy to help you on your journey of small steps away from industrial food and toward healthy, ethical food. This strategy is especially for parents.

(Please, if you haven't read the previous post with the first 3 strategies, do that first. Then come back to this post.)

Strategy #4: Set yourself and your child/ren up for success before you leave home

What could you do before you leave home, to set yourself and your children up for success at the supermarket? Your exact answer will be unique to you and your children, of course, but here are some ideas and suggestions to get you started.

Scribble one or more of these down in your Supermarket Notebook (from Strategy #1) and make it happen next time you go shopping.

Eat before you shop

If you can, eat a decent meal before you go shopping. At least have a snack that wont spike your blood sugar and then leave you feeling hungry an hour later. The reason for this is that the last thing you want to be feeling as you push that trolley along the aisles is hunger or light-headedness. Hunger triggers buying decisions we otherwise wouldn't make.

Feed the kids too! And/or consider having healthy snacks for them in your handbag that you can reach for if you need to. If your child has a snack to much on, especially an interesting one that they don’t get very often, they’ll be less interested in snatching things off the shelves.

When my kids were little, one of the first items I would buy at the supermarket was a small packet of soft cheese for them to much on as they sat in the trolley. I would keep the empty packet, and pay for it at the check out counter along with everything else. It was a special treat that the kids loved, it kept them occupied, and it didn't spike their blood sugar or excite them.

Supermarket-only toys

Consider keeping a  supermarket-only toy ready for your small child/ren that’s just for playing with while they’re sitting in the shopping trolley. It’s difficult to compete with the novelty and glitz that a small child sees in a supermarket, but a toy that’s just for her, that she never sees any other time, will help a bit.

(One word of caution: I never used screens as toys or distractions for my kids. Now that they’re older they use the computer to research things they are interested in and to do creative work, but they have never used screens for gaming or socializing. In fact, the creators of digital products expressly say that they don’t allow their own kids to play with them -- which should be instructive for the rest of us!2)

Enlist the kids' help instead of fighting with them

Have a plan for how your older child is going to help with the shopping rather than hinder it. If the child is old enough, consider giving him his very own short list of items that he is responsible for noticing and putting in the trolley. The list can grow as his capacity grows.

A child who feels that their contributions are valued will be much more cooperative than one who is constantly hearing, “No! Don’t touch that! Put that back!”

Be clear

Be clear with your kids before you leave home about why you’re going to the supermarket.

(Hint: it’s not to spend your heard-earned money on spur-of-the-moment purchases and strange substances masquerading as food, to line the pockets of wealthy executives at the expense of your health and well-being.)

Consider having a short family meeting, perhaps during a meal the day before you go shopping, where you assert some variation of: “Here’s what is on our list. We are only going to buy anything that is not on our list if it meets such and such criteria.” An example of the criteria might be: it’s a real food or a needed product that is on special and has a good use-by date.

Your kids won't remember the details the first few times you do this, but it will be clear to them that you have a plan. And s/he who has a plan invariably gets to lead the way.

Building self-directed lives

Even very young children will gradually take all of this on board. You’ll be shaping their supermarket expectations ahead of time, which reduces disappointments and friction.

You’ll also be teaching them something incredibly valuable: how to hold to a meaningful course of action rather than be swayed by the noise and distractions that are aimed at parting us with our our money and our ability to lead a self-directed life that respects other lives on Earth.

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  1. Urban food farming is a growing movement; see here, here, here, and here. Will you be the one to kick it off in your neighborhood? What about starting with a pot of herbs on the balcony, or a second pot if you already have a first one? Start small. Just start.
  2. A quick internet search for something like "why tech creators put tech limits on their own kids" will yield plenty of examples.
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