LookLocal challenge: week 3

Spanking fresh courgettes, flowers still attached

For one reason and another, I have not quite managed to document my “LookLocal” challenge in as detailed a manner as I intended to.

I meant to take a closer look at provenance (does “local” always mean just that, or does it mean “British”, can you ever just assume provenance) of the foods sold at markets/independents and supermarkets.

In terms of the cost of shopping locally, it is difficult to say if shopping this way would cost you more or less than shopping at the supermarket. It all depends on your current shopping (and cooking and eating) habits I guess and how much food you throw away.

Prices at farmers’ markets particularly can seem high; then again, good food normally does cost more than that of a lower specification/lesser quality and cheap does not necessarily mean good value.

Like with everything else in life, it is a lot about priorities, what you care about and how you choose to spend your money.

But, “LookLocal” has been an education!

There is much to take in and consider and I quite understand that many of you feel overwhelmed by the very thought of reducing your reliance on the (let’s face it) convenience of the supermarket.

The commitment needed to shop locally does mean sacrifice (with a small “s”) and that you take on more responsibility.

In fact, confronting and thinking about some of the issues around local food such as provenance, cost, quality and consistency add to the challenge.

The idea is simple enough and provided that you don’t live in a “food desert” the process of shopping locally is not difficult, but on balance is doesn’t make life easier if that’s what you are after.

A lot I have found depends on whether you have easy access to good, independent retailers and whether or not the local (farmers’) market takes place weekly or only monthly.

Products which I have found difficult to buy are yoghurt, staples such as tinned sardines, pasta, grains and flour to name but a few.

Fruit & veg by and large are more interesting at markets: fresher, strictly seasonal and you can find produce that is simply not popular enough to justify a place on the supermarket shelf.

On Sunday I spotted purple kohl rabi at our local farmers’ market, alongside chard, summer squash, red & white currants and tiny courgettes with the flowers still attached.

Shopping at your local (farmers’) market also offers to opportunity to make the most of seasonal gluts: right now, courgettes, tomatoes, squash and cherries to name a few.

If you can, buying into gluts (when produce is at its peak and prices low), then tucking in at once and preparing some of the produce for storage is a very satisfying way to shop and eat. It firmly keeps you connected to the seasons and although it takes a bit of planning + organisation at the time, it buys you free time later on when you can dip into a well stocked cupboard/fridge/freezer for a quick & easy meal.

Seasonal gluts don’t impact on supermarket products and prices to quite the same extent as they do on markets; seasonal factors are simply less important to supermarkets who buy fruit & veg from around the globe all year round.

There is an upside though to shopping locally and below I have tried to summarize why it’s definitely worthwhile to try and “LookLocal” most of the time.

And remember, buying local food does not need to mean a wholesale change in philisophy or approach. More likely, it will be a journey of many small steps, taken one product (for example meat, or fish or fruit & vegetables) at a time.

So here’s the upside of “LookLocal”:

1. it helps raise the importance of good food

2. it connects you with your local community

3. buying local = voting with your money = supporting independent retailers, small producers and British farmers

4. it offers an opportunity to re-connect with food, the seasons and the food chain

5. buying seasonally can (re)inspire your cooking

6. shopping locally feels like giving food (and shopping and cooking) back its integrity

I plan to investigate the issue of “provenance” more and give you some price comparisons next week, along with some recipes + simple ideas on how break the supermarket habit.

Let me know how you are faring in your “LookLocal” challenge: I do value your comments and observations.

Best,

Monique

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