Farm Fresh! Alternatives to Supermarkets by Sara Colohan for LondonCalling.com
As Londoners, we’re pretty busy people. Holding down a job, commuting, exercising and occasionally letting our hair down. It’s hard finding time to deliberate over our weekly groceries and plan a healthy, ethical shop. We usually end up in our local supermarket, desperately scouring the near empty shelves for something that won’t cause type 2 diabetes or a heart attack. Healthy, organic, farm fresh meat, dairy and veg are hard to come by in our one-stop high street stores. That’s why LC has spent some time researching an array of alternatives to save us from those grim pickings in our late night Tesco Express.
Not everyone has the weekend free to visit markets and stock up on organic and free range produce but if you do find yourself with a few free hours on either a Saturday or Sunday – visit some of London’s fantastic food markets and stock up on farm fresh greens and free range meat for the week. Try Broadway Market, Borough Market or Malby St. on a Saturday for a really enjoyable (albeit crowed) way to shop for your basics. On Sundays you could visit Alexandra Palace, arguably London’s finest weekend farmers market.
Everyone is advising us on how to eat well and time and again it’s proven that fresh, locally produced food with fewer air miles and less processing is the way to go. Michael Pollan, author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013) (and four other foodie New York Times bestselling books), says “only buy foods your grandmother and great-grandmother would recognise.”
So where can we buy this unprocessed, local produce? The Food Assembly is taking London by storm. Originating in France, the first UK Food Assembly popped up in Hackney in 2014 quickly followed by assemblies across the country.It’s a simple process of signing up as a member (via the main site) then choosing your closest assembly and shopping on linefrom their wide range of local products: fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, honey, meat, beer and much more. It’s up to you how much you buy and how often. Each assembly has a local collection point – usually a nearby café or pub. You simply collect your shop from the assembly ‘Hosts’. No hidden fees, no packaging waste and you’re supporting local producers. With their list of assemblies growing weekly there will almost certainly be a London FA close to you. If there isn’t, why not take the plunge and set one up yourself, getting discounts off your own shop in return. Producers are flocking to the assemblies because 80% of the money goes straight to them. It really is a win win concept for everyone involved.
For a lot of Londoners, supporting you local independent producers and buying organic could cost a little more - so we’ve also looked into how it can be done on a tight budget. OLIO is a free app which connects neighbours with each other and local businesses to exchange their edible surplus food. Founded by business graduates Tessa Cook and Saasha Celestial-One, the idea for OLIO came about when Tessa moved back to England from living overseas. On moving day she found herself with some perfectly good food that she couldn’t bring herself to throw away. So she went out onto the streets to find someone to give this food to, but failed miserably. In that moment she thought, there has to be a better way – why not a mobile app? Think food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare vegetables from the allotment, cupcakes from an amateur baker, or the groceries in your fridge when you go away. The list goes on. Sign up and get free food, share with others and meet your neighbours.
Of course we all really like a treat – finding that stylish niche product not found on the high street? Craved London is a new online curator of British made craft food who work directly with independent producers to create a small batch of unique products unavailable in supermarkets.
Whether you’re craving black garlic sea salt, Welshman's Caviar or damson and sloe gin truffles you can find them all here and more. The company has enjoyed a 400% growth since its conception and has an active CrowdCube where you can invest. Craved founder David Voxlin told us, "It's important for us as a company to support the people behind the product. Every time we discover a new and exciting producer, we take the time to interview and write a producer profile for them for the Craved site. That way, people can get to know exactly who makes their food. The ambition is to make food personal again and help our producers thrive by allowing our customers to easily discover the tastiest craft food and drink made in the UK. We're hoping that this will help people change the way they think about their communities and where their food comes from."
We’ve learned that ‘alternatives’ to chain-supermarkets not only allow us support our local economy, they help us reframe and revalue our food system. It just takes a few tweaks to our usual shopping process, to become more of a ‘grow, buy, cook, consume and recycle’ society.
Realising the power of our food-spend is key. When we shop alternatively, we support alternatives to mainstream food production. This gives the small, organic, ethical producer a chance and creates diversity and choice. It offers us an alternative to the current situation where supermarkets are dominated by a handful of major brands. Vive the food revolution!
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