Following last week’s musings, I’ve decided to take on a challenge set by another blogger, and give up supermarket shopping for Lent. Husband has calculated that we spent £400 in Sainsburys in February, so that’s a lot of shopping we’ll need to do elsewhere.
So why give up supermarkets for Lent? My Catholic upbringing hasn’t carried over into adult life, but the idea of a period of abstinence between Shrove Tuesday and Easter still has an ingrained feeling of rightness. Six weeks also seems a long enough time to break a bad habit, without setting yourself the daunting task of giving something up “for good” from the outset.
If Lent is a good time to break bad habits, then it logically follows that I think supermarket shopping is a bad habit. When I was a crusty young student living round the corner from an organic co-operative it was all so easy and obvious… seasonal organic produce, transported home in my rucksack to cook a hearty vegetable curry was obviously better for me, the environment and the local community than driving to a supermarket to stock up with processed, over-packaged food shipped in from all over the world… There are all sorts of reasons why supermarkets aren’t great, so for years I did my bit and was probably healthier and certainly smugger for doing so.
Fast forward twenty years, my ethical shopping has dwindled to a token weekly butcher’s trip/ delivery of organic fruit and veg, and I’m spending nearly £100 a week in Sainsburys. Because guess what? 9YO and 3YO won’t eat the hearty vegetable curries. 3YO for most of her short life has refused carbs in any form apart from oven chips, and the only vegetable she’ll touch is cucumber – which is either unavailable or unfeasibly expensive on an organic box scheme. When 9YO was younger we stuck to our guns a bit more, and she’d start to develop a taste for veg box delights such as celeriac and fennel…. only for them to disappear from the veg box as the seasons changed, leaving us to start all over again with a new vegetable – and by the time the seasons came round again she’d refuse to touch what she’d liked the year before. We had many evenings watching our lovingly home-cooked meals being pushed round a plate by a reluctant child. Eventually you swallow your principles and accept that it’s better for your kids to eat a full plate of sausage and chips than none of your homemade organic hotpot. As 3YO started going the same way, the supermarket shop has gradually increased. I try to shop as carefully as possible, avoiding the biscuits and the ready meals. But even so, I’m conscious that while supermarket shopping is the easiest way to feed my family, it’s certainly not good for the local economy or the broader environment.
So we’re having six weeks off. Because it will probably do us good to try some new foods (and seeing as 3YO has recently added mash and jacket potatoes to her repertoire, it feels like we’re on a bit of a roll). And because Sainsburys won’t miss our money at all for six weeks, but our butcher, and the organic box people, and local corner shop will probably really notice the increased business from us, and as I’ve said previously, I want those local shop keepers to stick around. To be honest I suspect I’ll be filling up my Sainsbury’s trolley come the Easter weekend, but you never know, we might have changed our ways.
I’ve checked what groceries I can get through the box scheme, and where the nearest farmers’ markets are, and we’re good to go. The one last thing to do, as we count down to the start of Lent, is check my privilege. Giving something up for Lent, by its very definition, implies that there’s at least a sufficiency, if not a surfeit, of that thing in your life. I go into this six week challenge mindful that I’m exercising a choice which would be impossible for many people. It would have been impossible for us 12 months ago, when I’d lost my job and we were living off the Sainsburys Basics range and raiding our savings to keep afloat. This little six week adventure may end up costing us more on some items, maybe less if we get into the habit of only buying what we need. But the fact that I don’t need to worry about this, that I can cheerfully contemplate exchanging Sainsburys Basics tinned tomatoes (35p) for the Italian organic variety (89p) our box scheme can deliver, means that we’re pretty lucky. Maybe this challenge is also an opportunity to remember people less fortunate, and think about how we could help. And would you believe it, there’s the Catholic – still in there after all those years.