You finished your work day, you’re tired, you have to get home to cook some dinner, then you remember you don’t have enough ingredients to prepare it, it is already 6:30 pm your only option for the shopping: the local supermarket.

Majority of people these days rely on big supermarkets for their weekly shopping. They are convenient, they offer variety of products, they are everywhere, some are even open 24/7; I totally get that. I am not big fan of buying in supermarkets, but I still go there to buy few things.

I have written a couple of posts related to supermarket shopping like where to buy produce beyond the supermarket, also small ways to deal with packaging in supermarkets. Today I am writing about other aspects that I consider important when we buy in these places.

1. Choose local food

We live in a globalised world, it is so easy to go to the supermarket and buy a pasta sauce made in Italy, coffee from Peru, a soap made in France and some cookies baked in Vietnam. It sounds great but some of these products come literally from the other side of the world. They need to be transported all the way to where we live via air cargo, sea freight, train, trucks, and often the combination of several of them.

Transportation burns fuel releasing carbon dioxide and contributing to climate change. This also affects the quality of air (think smog), water and soil, contributes to acid rain and more. And we keep feeding the demand for fossil fuel.

Here in Australia, one of the reasons why I think many people prefer imported goods is because of the prices, imported is usually cheaper than local. Another reason is availability, we got used to the fact that we can buy some products almost all year around regardless of the season.  So this demand encourages these supermarkets to import food from the other side of the world, because they know people will buy it regardless of the fact that comes from Italy or Israel.

My message is simple, read the labels and buy local and seasonal food as much as possible. If you have two exact products, one made here the other one across the world, go for local if you budget permits.

Remember every time we buy we are demanding more of these products. If we demand local, they will offer local, if we keep buying imported, they’ll keep bringing them no matter what, sells drive these businesses.

“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” ― Anna Lappé

When we buy local we reduce our environmental impact, support local farmers and businesses and help the local economy, create more jobs.

2. Buy more whole/minimally processed food

We all know highly processed food is not the healthiest choice; we know is contains sweeteners, salt, flavours, preservatives and so forth. But also it is good to consider its environmental impact.

First of all processed food is usually highly packaged and plastic is used almost every time. Something that is quite common in this food is the usage of multiple layers: cardboard boxes, plastic bags/containers, aluminium foil and paper. They use them to keep the product fresh from manufacturing to the consumer in the supermarkets, but once it reaches our homes and we eat them,  they are wasted or best case scenario recycled. It’s single-use packaging.

The other aspect to consider is the fact that processed food requires more energy and resources to be produced. These mass-produced products are often created in industrial facilities; they need especial high-tech machinery to prepare, cook and pack them. Think hours and hours of energy consumed.

This video shows the production process for a croissant.

Again these products need to be transported and if they are not processed locally (which is not uncommon) then we go back to the points I explored in item #1.  And I haven’t even mentioned refrigeration!!! but let’s stop here…

I get that life is busy, and we can’t cook everything from scratch. So it is not about giving up all these processed products all together, but consider eating less of these items and more whole food or minimally processed food (like fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds). I still buy processed products like dry pasta, tempeh or passata from the shops but the bulk of my diet is based on whole foods.

3. Simple is better; read the labels

In 2012 I was diagnosed with Fructose malabsorption. At that time, my green lifestyle hadn’t reached my shopping decisions, I bought all my food in the supermarket and my selection criteria was based solely on the price and the look of the product; however, with this diagnosis I had to start paying attention to the ingredients.

Learning about what I could and couldn’t eat made me get into the habit of reading the labels. At the beginning I didn’t even understand some of the ingredients: guar gum, citric acid, calcium sulfate, E320, soy lecithin what?

This to me was an eye-opening change. It surprised me how simple products like a bread which in theory only needs water, salt, flour and yeast, could have 10 – 15 ingredients. It was insane!

I know some of these added ingredients are probably included for a reason (like food preservation), but this made me realise that in many cases I had the power to make better choices. Instead of buying the loaf of bread with 15 ingredients, I could go to a local bakery to buy my bread, I could bake my own or simply compare with other brands and buy another bread with less stuff added. This change made me more aware of the food I was eating.

Simple is better. Simple means that less resources are needed to produce the same product.

Reading the labels can also help you to determine other important information: where the products are made (if they are local or imported), if they have some certifications (e.g. fair trade), if they use organic ingredients and if you are lucky, you can even spot problematic ingredients like palm oil (in some countries like Australia at the moment is not mandatory to include it, companies can simply use “vegetable oil”).

I highly recommend you getting into the habit of reading the food labels, you’ll be surprised!

4. Buy products in bulk

Many big supermarkets are now embracing this concept and they are starting to offer a section to buy some products in bulk. You can usually get some snacks, nuts, seeds, legumes, dry fruit and so forth.

Instead of buying these products already packaged is small bags, most likely plastic, go for this option. You can buy as much or as little as you need and often the prices are quite similar. Maybe some of these products originally come in big plastic bags but it usually takes less resources to make the big bag than it takes to make 20 smaller individual bags.

My local supermarket recently incorporated a bulk section and it has a good product selection, the only issue is that they give customers some sad plastic bags to serve these products; which to me defeats its purpose. However, you can use your own reusable bags (or use the paper bags they have for specif products like mushroom; if people start using them for other stuff maybe it will send them a clear message) instead of going with the default.

Bulk section in the supermarket

Bulk section in the supermarket

5. Never shop food when you’re hungry

This is linked to item #2 and I had mentioned it before in my post about food waste, but it’s worth including it here again: Don’t go shopping hungry or you’ll end up buying more junk food.

According to Reuters, this was the conclusion of a study done at Cornell University. In this article they described how researches found people ended up buying more high-calories foods when they felt hungry:

“The body is always trying to defend its state and it makes very logical sense that if you’re going for a period without food, and you’re wanting food, you’re more likely to go for the food that’s high-calorie,” …“If we’re needing energy, we’re not going to go out for lettuce.”

This is great reminder, because buying more junk food is not healthier, it may lead to food waste and also high-calories foods often = processed food!

“Shopping is voting and the decisions that we make every day have an impact. We have the choice to either hurt or heal our society” – Bea Johnson

That’s it for today. I’d like to hear from  you: Do you buy your weekly shopping in the supermarket? Are you already following any of these practices? Please let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.