Posts Tagged ‘shop local’


I mentioned before that I was going hippy. Well one of the biggest challenges of my new approach to eating and shopping has been deciding what ethical means to me. Having finally made up my mind I thought I would share my conclusions, make of them what you will…

There’s a big trend at the moment towards shopping locally and buying as much as possible direct from producers. This makes sense to me as it reduces the air miles of your food and helps to support the community around you. Think of the village of independent retailers and producers where profits go back into developing the community and everyone survives on what is available on their door step.

But what about social? I dont mean social in the social media sense. I mean social responsibility – retailers that use their business to make a positive impact on people, animals or the environment rather than solely to make profit. Think Fair Trade. Is it better to buy a locally grown vegetable from a producer who runs a business for their own profits or a vegetable from an ethical trader that is shipping goods to your door but that is putting profits into helping to reduce suffering in Africa?

What about organically grown fruit shipped from Europe vs fruit grown using pesticides in Britain? Or Tomatoes grown outdoors in the sun in Spain vs tomatoes grown indoors with heating in Scotland? Which one has the higher carbon footprint? And its not just food. What about toiletries from your local shop that provides a service to the community, supports other local producers and puts money back into the local economy vs toiletries from a national retailer that stands against testing on animals? My brain hurts just thinking about the list of factors.

I dont think there is a single black and white set of rules but having agonised over it for a while here’s some of my own set of private guidelines I have set myself. If nothing else I hope they’ll prompt some thought and perhaps bring a new perspective to anyone who is in the same locally built ethically sourced environmentally friendly boat as I am…

Rule number 1 – Start with the animals.

Avoid anything that tests on animals or doesnt treat them with the utmost respect. This one is fairly simple for me. I will only buy meat that hasn’t been mistreated and I’m not saving on carbon emissions if it means buying something that was tested by sticking it in a bunny’s eye.

Rule number 2 – Try and grow it.

If you can grow something yourself it doesn’t have to travel anywhere, you will waste less as you harvest as you need it and you can use environmentally friendly pest controls and fertilisers. Not everyone can be completely self sufficient but even just growing your own herbs stops you wasting half a packet you don’t need which had to be transported from producer to shop to you in the first place.

Rule number 3 – Don’t eat anything your great granny wouldn’t recognise as food.

This is a great quote (sadly Ive forgotten where I saw it) that is referring to anything that has an unidentifiable ingredients list and a weird ability to outlast the human that bought it if left unopened. Follow this rule and you’ve cut out a lot of the weird “food like” substances that encourage the use of genetically modified monoculture on a mass scale (nearly all those strange ingredients turn out to come from corn) and probably have as questionable an impact on your insides as they do on the planet.

Rule number 4 – Don’t eat it if you wouldn’t consider making it yourself.

I don’t mean this quite as literally as it sounds and I’m not suggesting you start making everything from scratch but its an honourable idea and if you at least aim to try making something once, or put the effort into finding out what goes into making it, you will be more aware of how it arrived on your plate and probably less flippant about consuming it. If the only way to get a burger and chips was to go out and find and prepare the raw materials yourself you would probably eat a lot less burgers.

Rule number 5 – Don’t be ignorant.

Sometimes one environmental or social factor will outweigh another or it might not be clear and you cant be perfect but you can at least be aware. I will probably keep buying a majority of what I believe to be ethical goods – some things locally, some things from “social” retailers, some things from big chains that have good ethics – but every now and then I will fall off the wagon and nip into a supermarket when the butcher is shut and I’ve forgotten something. However I will at least make the effort to educate myself about what I’m buying so that my less noble purchases become the exception rather than the standard.

Last but not least, write your resolutions down! There’s nothing like declaring a decision in public to make you stick to it. 😉

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I’ve always loved food and by default growing up in South Africa I’ve always learned to eat fresh food and cook meals from scratch but Ive never been a true “ethical eater” or food activist. I wont buy something from a company that treats animals badly, I believe in supporting the local community and promoting the Scottish food industry, I support the slow food movement and I buy fair trade goods now and then. But besides meat and eggs, I dont actively check the origins of every item I purchase and I still shop in supermarkets a lot out of laziness. I have always left the truly ethical lifestyle to the hardcore hippies – admiring them, feelling vaguely guilty but not really feeling guilty or motivated enough to join the ranks.

Well, things have changed. I have to say I think Im going hippy.

This is by no means an epiphany, rather its a creeping feeling that has been slowly entering my mind for a while now but there are a few specific things that have finally crystalised these thoughts into action. One was an extract from the new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by the journalist and acitvist Michael Pollan. In his book he points out that the downside of specialisation in all aspects of our lives, from the production of technology and clothing to food and cooking, is that it breeds dependence and helplessness in us and removes us from all the effort (and indeed potential cruelty, pollution or destruction) involved in creating the products we buy. It becomes easy to forget the value of things, where they came from, and easy to demand cheaper and cheaper prices. Think about it, would you accept £2 as payment for a shirt if you had to sew it yourself? Or £1 for your efforts if you had bought all the ingredients for a lasagne and made the sauce and the pasta from scratch? I dont believe things have to be expensive to be ethical and indeed making them yourself is often cheaper, but equally their value should be recognised and the best way to do this is to keep doing some things in your life for yourself. Im not saying go out and buy a soldering iron and build your own laptop, but thinking about what we buy and cooking our own food shouldnt be be something we always let someone else do for us.

The second catalyst for my sudden resolution was this TED talk by Simon Sinek about how great leaders inspire action via trust, which has nothing to do with food but got me thinking about authenticity in general and doing and saying what we believe (watch it – it will make you think and make you laugh). If I really want to be authentic and true to my beliefs, why do I leave the action to the hippies? Why is it that hard to do? Why dont I put my money where my mouth is and make sure everything I consume has as much positive impact on the planet as possible? Money? Others have already tried it and proved it can acutally save you money so I should be able to as well. Time? What am I so busy doing and what about shopping closer to home takes up so much more time

So there it is… I still have loads of research to do, lists to make and questions to answer (e.g. local vs social shopping but that’s another post) before my plan is fully formulated but I intend to banish the supermarkets, understand what Im buying and see if I can prove that being ethical is not just for the hippies…

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