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Love local, shop local: part 1

I want to share a couple of statistics. One: every £10 spent at a locally owned shop generates £25 for that area; the same spent in a chainstore generates £15. Two: if every adult in the UK were to spend £5 a week in a locally owned store it would generate £5 billion for local economies.

I was incredibly surprised when I first read these, as well as pleased. They show that small actions, if undertaken by enough people, can add up to big differences. The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to make little adjustments to our shopping habits in order to achieve real change.

Shopping locally can help address so many of the issues facing us. But doing so can be challenging, and there is a tendency among all of us to think that if we’re not doing everything all the time then it doesn’t count. That isn’t true, though, and I’m going to describe small changes we can all make and why they make a difference.

First, let’s dispel one supermarket myth: they aren’t necessarily cheaper, no matter what we’ve been led to believe. Certain items, usually staples like bread and milk, are cheaper in larger supermarkets; these are known as loss-leaders. They’re there to draw you in, and once you’re inside it’s unlikely you’ll only pick up those few things. After all, you might as well get some eggs and maybe that bacon you’ve been dreaming about, and how did that bottle of wine find its way into your basket?

Many other items aren’t any cheaper in supermarkets, and this is even more so with the major supermarkets’ convenience outlets. The same items in the Locals and Metros, for example, cost much more than in their larger counterparts.

Fruit and veg is the best example. A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation found that, compared to local markets, big supermarkets were 12% more expensive, while their smaller stores were 35% more expensive.

Walthamstow has a wonderful daily market right along the high street, the food stalls of which are allowed to open during the various lockdowns and tiered restrictions we’ve experienced. So this is my first tip: instead of heading to a supermarket for your fruit and veg needs, go to the market.

You’ll save money, but you’ll also be helping save the planet. The majority of produce sold at such markets would otherwise go to waste – it’s produce that’s been rejected by the supermarkets because it doesn’t look ‘perfect’. Food waste is a massive driver of climate change and currently about one-third of all the food produced in the world goes in the bin. Buying from markets means you’re helping to cut down on food waste.

Cheapness isn’t the only yardstick. There’s also value for money. Meat and fish are likely to cost less in big supermarkets than your local butcher or fishmonger, but even the most expensive cuts are generally of lower quality in the former. And where did that packet of supermarket sausages come from? You’ll never know. But a butcher will be able to tell you, as well as give advice on the best cuts of meat for your requirements. You can also buy the exact amount you need, rather than a prepacked amount much of which might end up in the bin, again cutting down on waste, as well as plastic.

This demonstrates another, generally overlooked, benefit of shopping locally: the social aspect. Have you ever tried to engage a bored, underpaid checkout worker in conversation? I used to work on a supermarket checkout every Sunday. I was 18 and often hungover. All I wanted was to earn my wage and go home at the end of the day. The last thing I wanted was to interact with customers.

This isn’t the case with local businesses. The butcher (or fishmonger, or greengrocer, or wine seller …) is invested in what they’re doing. They care about the product they’re selling and they care about their customers – they want you to come back. They’ll be able to tell you where the meat came from, how the animals are treated and so on. And if they don’t know, they’ll find out. You’ll end up with far better produce, but you’re also creating a community. And if there’s one thing that the coronavirus crisis has taught us it’s that a sense of belonging is absolutely crucial to us humans.

So here’s tip two: cut down on the amount of meat and fish you buy and invest in the higher-quality produce you can get from a local butcher or fishmonger. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m vegetarian, so obviously I think the less meat and fish eaten the better. But the advice still stands. You’ll benefit from better-quality food and your local community will benefit from your support.

You don’t have to buy all your meat from a local butcher – just what you can afford. Plus, when you know where your food is coming from you can make informed decisions about what you buy. Ensuring the meat you purchase comes from UK farms cuts down on food miles, another way of fighting climate change. Beef and dairy are two further major drivers of climate change, so by cutting down on these you’ll be helping the environment, too.

Waltham Forest is lucky to have a plethora of locally owned butchers and fishmongers, so your biggest challenge will be choosing which one to frequent.

One of the biggest advantages for the environment of shopping local is no need to use the car. The advantages for you are all that walking or cycling with full shopping bags is great exercise and you’ll only buy what you need, saving you money and cutting wastage. It’s getting clearer how all these things are connected!

However, ways of going green with your shopping aren’t always that obvious. So my third tip is let someone else do the work for you! Transition Leytonstone has launched a Green Directory to make it easier to find local businesses and groups that offer greener options. The directory lists Leytonstone organisations that are making an effort to reduce carbon emissions and have a less harmful or, even better, a positive effect on the local and wider environment.

This has got quite long, and I’ve only covered three tips. So I’ll stop now and my final pieces of advice will come in part two of this blog post. I’ll look at work lunches, your morning coffee and more.

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