A guide to buying groceries

I think most European people are pretty frugal (to put it in a nice way). They kind of had to be. Especially during and after the world wars, you had to turn 10 cents into 10 potatoes or you would be dying. Without a last supper. So it’s kind of in my blood to pull the cheapest option off the shelf at the grocery store. And whenever there was more than one option, that’s what I did. Until.. I learnt a bit more about what the hell I was buying.

In a way, it’s kind of common sense. You’re buying what you pay for. But when it all tastes pretty similar, it’s hard to fork it out for “the same thing”. Butttt there are some big differences:

  • Fillers – Cheap substances are added to products as ‘fillers’, to make them more affordable to produce. It’s like when you get a takeaway curry from a cheap restaurant… three quarters rice, one quarter curry. Only this way, you don’t see that your patty is actually three quarters GMO corn and wheat, one quarter hormone and antibiotic pumped, ground beef.
  • Unethical production – If you’re not paying much for the item, someone else is. It’s just not possible to pay someone a fair wage out of money we’re not paying. Costs are cut in the food production process, leading to child labour and slavery, sweat shop environments and other horrible working conditions.
  • Chemicals – Pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on fruit and vegetables. Radioactive fertilisers are used to grow them. Bleach is used to whiten flour. Roundup is used to kill weeds around vegetables and fruit. Hormones, vaccines and antibiotics are given to animals. GMO and indigestible substances are fed to them. Their stress hormones skyrocket. We can’t digest any of that. So why are we putting it in our mouths?
  • Factory farming – Most chicken, eggs and pork in Australia, comes from factory farms with horrible living conditions for the animals.
  • GMO – Yes, it is in Australia. 70% of the packaged food on the shelves at supermarkets contain genetically modified foods. GM food isn’t some far away American thing. Here are the facts and how you can avoid eating it.

Here are the things you might want to consider ditching or forking out for an alternative:

  • Chocolate – (you might want to read this and this)
  • Coffee – (you might want to read this too)
  • Canned/packaged food – “More of a food packaging claim than a food marketing claim, “BPA Free” is appearing on a growing number of plastic food containers, food service items, and canned food packaging (nearly all canned foods contain a plastic lining made from BPA), hoping to lull shoppers into a sense of security that the food packaging isn’t leaching a toxic chemical linked to reproductive problems, heart disease, and some types of cancer into their food. Those items may not be leaching BPA – but they could be leaching some other damaging chemical. A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that all plastics leached chemicals that interfere with your reproductive system, some even more potent than BPA.” – Rodale News. Plus of course there is the issue of packaging being produced and going to landfill.
  • Meat – If you haven’t seen Cowspiracy the documentary, it is well worth a watch. But if you don’t have time right now, here are some facts.
  • Fish – For every 1kg of fish that is caught, 5kg of other other marine life are caught and thrown away as by-kill, and its estimated that fishing boats kill over 650, 000 dolphins, seals and whales each year. There will be no fish in the ocean by 2048 if the current way fish are killed and sold continues.
  • Milk and dairy – To begin with, cow’s milk is just not fit for human consumption. Here and here is why. But if you still want to ingest it, please be mindful of the way the animals are treated, what they’re fed and injected with and shop ethically. Try to buy milk that is organic and not from factory farms. Try to avoid plastic containers and go for glass that can be reused. When we used to drink cow’s milk, we found a family down the road from us who had their own cows and were happy to refill our glass bottles each week or so.
  • Chicken/Eggs – Most chicken and eggs in Australia come from factory farms. Pretty surprising right? This is a short video you might want to watch. Again, its best to opt for local. Somewhere you know is really free range like Little Creek Farm and  Out ‘N’ About Eggs.
  • Jams, sauces and spreads – Most of them are completely packed full of sugar and fillers, so its important to read the label. Jam is also very concentrated, like a million strawberries go into a little glass of jam. So you’re getting a lot of the pesticides and all sorts. It’s worth paying a bit more for an organic one.

Brands/Foods I avoid in general:

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So  what can you do?

  • Buy organic, bio-dynamic, fair trade, sustainable and/or local produce
    • Read the labels at supermarkets and shops
    • Start going to your local markets for fresh produce
    • See if there are farms around you where you can buy direct
    • Find your local bulk foods store for grains and things you can’t buy at the markets
  • Shop without packaging
    • Take your own shopping bags
    • Take your own produce bags

If I go to a grocery store, I just look at the options that aren’t in plastic and that already cuts out most of the stuff that contains toxic substances and is unethically produced. Usually the companies that sell in recycled packaging or glass, are ones that are more likely to have company morals that line up with my own, sourcing and producing their products ethically. But always read the labels and try do your research.

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The dirty dozen & The clean fifteen

Different plants attract different amounts and types of bugs and diseases. Their yields vary with these and they are more sensitive to external conditions like weather or weed overgrowth. To control these conditions and maximise profit, they are sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and other toxic chemicals. Some fruit and vegetables don’t need as much fertiliser or sprays to grow a great amount, so much less of the sprays and things are used. In Australia (slightly different to America), these are the fruit and vegetables that are dirty (produce that is more toxic) and clean  (produce that is grown without much use of toxic chemicals).

The Dirty 12:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Grapes
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Snap Peas
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Capsicum

The Clean 15:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Rockmelon
  • Cauliflower
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwifruit
  • Mangoes
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet Corn
  • Sweet Peas
  • Sweet Potatoes

Researchers found 15 different pesticides present in one grape while potatoes were found to have the most toxic chemicals per weight out of all other fruit and vegetables.

A note on variety: You don’t need 10 jams, 50 spice mixes and 20 marinades. You can whip the same stuff up with a handful of ingredients. You don’t need a different product for every flavour. I’ll be posting recipes soon, but until then, google is great. There are so many 2 minute marinade recipes out there. And spice mixes. This applies to fresh produce too. Eating seasonally is better for you and better for the environment. Here’s why. You don’t need to eat strawberries in Autumn and you don’t need cauliflower in summer. Its so much better to enjoy them in cycles with the earth, as they grow near you, ideally from your local market. Buying local is important for many reasons.

The thing is, you actually end up spending less money this way. I have always found my local markets to have the cheapest prices. Maybe you’re paying double as much for the nut spread in the glass jar. But now you’re not buying two of the other nut butters that are on special in a plastic tub and you don’t even buy chips anymore so you’ve gone from spending like $12 down that aisle, to $5. Plus, you just saved $200 on the marinades.

So in summary, stop being stingy and try to start being more mindful. What you buy, matters. If we all do it, the other stuff won’t keep being reproduced. What you take off the shelf, gets replaced, and on and on it goes.

They try to tell us we do… but we don’t need it all. And we don’t need it now.

“You don’t have to wait for (the) government to move… the really fantastic thing about Fairtrade is that you can go shopping!” – British  representative of the Fairtrade movement

“When you choose organics, you are voting for a planet with fewer pesticides, richer soil and cleaner water supplies.” – Marion Nestle, Nutritionist at NYU

“Never mind the ballot box: vote with your supermarket trolley instead.” – The Economist


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