Practical Ways to Shop Local
A couple of generations ago, everyone 'shopped local' because there was no alternative. Then supermarkets came along, with their ability to supply year round fruit and veg, and import new and exotic products, and along the way, people became used to the convenience, and lost touch with where their food was coming from. If you took an audit of your last supermarket shop, you may be (unpleasantly) surprised by just how far some of your food has travelled.
However, the recent shortage of HGV drivers, and ongoing disruption to supply chains are impacting the availability of products, and highlighting how much of our weekly shop is reliant on produce from the EU and beyond.
Here are a few suggestions to get around those empty shelves, and get back to our shopping roots:
If you're looking to reduce your food miles, then consider familiarising yourself with when fruit and vegetables are in season in the UK. Save this handy infographic to your device for reference:
If you want to enjoy produce out of season then most fruit and veg can be frozen, or preserved in other ways, to enjoy all year round.
Investigate what there is in your local area, or areas you visit frequently. For example, are there any independent greengrocers, cooperatives, cheesemongers, butchers or bakers near you? Shopping at these where you can not only boosts the local economy, and encourages other similar businesses to the area, but you're likely to get a more personal service than in the supermarkets, and you may discover new favourites to enjoy!
Get Your Hands Dirty
If you have the space, and the inclination, consider growing some of your own fruit and veg. You don't need to go all out on an allotment (although if you have the time, it is an excellent idea!). Look for Growing Hubs, or community gardens in your local area, for example the Growing Hub local to me is currently running a workshop on how to grow winter veg. Herbs need hardly any space at all, and are happy on a sunny windowsill.
If you have a large enough garden, you could consider rescuing some ex-battery hens. In return for looking after them, and keeping them safe from predators, you may be rewarded with a steady supply of freshly laid eggs!
If you've more of a sweet tooth, you could look at keeping bees. The practice of beekeeping has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health, and honey made from local plants is an excellent hay fever remedy.
Support Independent Retailers
Small, independent businesses are often able to source items outside of the major supply chains, so it's useful to know where you can find them. Farmer's or artisan markets and food festivals are a good place to start, and of course online retailers such as Victuals Online Foodhall can be found via the usual search engines!
Get familiar with food families and what purpose food serves in a meal as this will help you to be more agile if food shortages become more frequent.
For example, an onion is an allium. Other alliums include garlic, shallots, chives, leeks and spring onions and although there are subtle flavour differences, these can be substituted for onions in most cases. You can also consider other forms of onion, for example onion powder, dried onion flakes, or chopped frozen onion.
To use another example, lemons are used a lot in cooking and baking. They contain citric acid, the function of which is to add flavour, tenderise, or speed up the ripening process. If you don't have any lemons, you can use any other citrus fruit such as lime, orange, grapefruit or yuzu, again there are flavour differences but they should work in most cases. Where lemon juice is used in salad dressings, or to sour cream or milk, vinegar is an excellent alternative, ideally something like apple cider, or white wine vinegar, rather than malt.
Let's be honest, if you have a full time job, and/or a busy household, you are probably not going to be inclined to spend your precious free time traipsing to various independent shops. Luckily for you, many independent retailers now offer home delivery.
Milk deliveries are usually done in the early hours so that you have fresh milk for breakfast, and some companies are now offering a wide range of non-dairy and alternative milks as well as other grocery items, such as Milk & More.
Local butchers will again likely offer delivery within a defined area, or you can order from a company that delivers nationwide, such as Piper's Farm.
Be Supermarket Savvy
Supermarkets still have their place of course, and even if you decide to still shop solely at a supermarket, it's worth thinking about what changes you can make within that, especially now that most of the major supermarkets offer home delivery, meaning you don't need to stick to the shop that is geographically closest to you.
If you're shopping online, you can easily check the origin of items such as meat and most of the major supermarkets allow you to shop by what is in season. You can choose the time slots when the van is already in your area, thereby maximising the fuel efficiency of the delivery.
Let me know if you try any of the tips above, or have any of your own to add!