Tash checks the kitchen cupboards, then goes naked shopping (to minimise food waste)
I was food shopping the other day, things for a particular recipe. I rarely do this, preferring to substitute ingredients I have for ingredients in the recipe: Butternut squash instead of potato, swede instead of turnip. Aubergine for mushrooms. Chicken instead of steak, and dried herbs I already have in the cupboard instead of buying a bunch of fresh herbs (in a plastic bag, only half of which I'll ever use). However, the other day was different and the recipe looked too good for substitutes. I had a spare couple of hours on a weekday, precious I know, so I decided to try out the newest less-packaging (not quite zero waste) shop, Common, on Clapham Common. It's beautifully done, with a café vibe and some lovely stuff. But it doesn't sell everything. I'd remembered refillable bags so stocked up on oats, rice and pasta. Actually, I didn't get anything from that shop for the recipe, but that's the thing about zero waste stores, there’s not always much variety. Next door is Moen's the butchers - perfect for buying meat without all the hard, often black, plastic with a cellophane lid - unrecyclable packaging you get in the supermarkets. But after a quick look, I wasn't even going to ask if they had coconut oil (the vegan's oil of choice). And then I bought the coconut oil in the supermarket - so supermarkets are handy, and they stock so many things that you could buy everything in one place. Possibly also cheaper, but with almost everything wrapped in plastic, at what cost to the planet?
Then I headed to Whole Foods. I definitely paid through the nose for everything I bought in there, but it gave me the option of buying just the one chilli, no plastic at all, and the same for fresh ginger, only as much as I wanted, no more. They also sell coconut oil in glass, not plastic.
Buying now, much of my shopping online, including things like toilet roll (Who Gives a Crap), kitchen roll (my husband can't live without it), plastic and palm oil free toothpaste (Anything But Plastic or Save Some Green), and organic, fair trade chocolate from Cocoa Loco, especially at Christmas and Easter, and fruit & vegetables from wonky and surplus suppliers, Oddbox, I have reduced my plastic waste, but it has meant shopping around. It's just like the old days, where you'd visit the butcher, greengrocer, chemist and bakery, but with more choice. I'm not completely against buying things that are produced abroad (not many coconuts grow here), or from the supermarket, it's just that some things are worth looking a little harder for. The best thing we can do is shop locally, which can mean providing smaller businesses with a welcome income, and supporting people who care more about where the food comes from, and not so much about consuming more than we need, wrapped in plastic. So next time you have a spare hour or so, visit those local shops and avoid the supermarket for as long as you can.
When it comes to using everything in the house, I'm not a great meal planner, but I do, thanks to the way my mum brought me up, look in the cupboards and fridge before I go shopping, or before I complain that I have nothing to eat. I strongly believe that if all of us were to avoid the shops for a week, we wouldn't starve. We might not have the most balanced meal, but I think we'd be ok for a week. Have a look in the cupboards today, and see what you can use up. And ignore the best before dates. I've eaten 5 year out of date cans of chick peas enough times with no unfortunate toilet consequences to know that the BBE is just a number.
So, in a nutshell, here are my recommendations:
go to your nearest zero waste shop first and fill up on everything you can. Remember to take your own bags
then go to the greengrocers, or somewhere like Whole Foods, where you can buy vegetables that aren’t wrapped in plastic.
then go to any other small, dedicated food shop near you, be it a bakery, butcher or fishmonger.
Buy stuff online, especially from companies who have at least thought a little about their packaging and sourcing.
and finally, use the supermarket for everything else. There is a place for them, and a reason to use them, they just shouldn't be as ubiquitous as they are, and shouldn't be used for everything.