If you live in the inner-city, you should not be doing all your grocery shopping at big supermarkets. There, I said it. The fresh produce is overpriced, bland and lacking variety.
With supermarket shelves looking skint lately due to COVID-19, now’s the time to change your consumer habits.
This COVID outbreak has taken out essential workers who are key links in long food supply chains, leaving big retailers like Coles, Woolies and even KFC short of stock.
This week both major supermarkets have imposed purchase limits on things like toilet paper, painkillers, and meat products.
But let’s be clear, Australia does not currently have a food shortage, it has a shortage of staff required to make up an unnecessarily long and complicated food supply chain.
Markets and green grocers have as much produce as ever and it’s cheaper, more delicious, more interesting and better for the environment.
Let me explain.
When Australian farmers harvest their fruit and veg they send it straight to the markets, where it’s available either at wholesale prices to retailers and to consumers like you and me to buy. Think the local weekend farmers’ market or larger scale ones like Melbourne’s Queen Vic Market.
Retailers — like your local green grocer — will pop down to these markets each morning to pick up their stock for the day, and then sell them on from their own stores.
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On the other hand, supermarkets add more steps (and more people) to the process. It’s not just a matter of taking produce from A (farm) to B (shop). There are massive warehouses for sorting and repacking before your apples arrive at the actual supermarket.
While truck drivers and staff in distribution centres are on sick leave with COVID, there simply aren’t enough workers to move the food along the chain. In some cases it’s also shortage of workers to harvest the produce, but there is absolutely enough food to feed every Australian.
Throughout the pandemic shorter supply chains have worked better because they’re more flexible and adaptable than the highly structured long chains.
Small grocers require small quantities of produce and can source from 10 different suppliers, rather than relying on one grower, one freight company, and so on. Their eggs aren’t all in one basket, so it’s less likely the chain will be disrupted.
But outside the pandemic, there are plenty of reasons to shop at your local market or green grocer instead of getting perfectly straight bananas from under fluorescent lights.
Firstly, food is usually just better at the grocers market. It doesn’t need to fit into size or shape specifications the way it does for supermarkets, and markets aren’t as notoriously wasteful due to unnatural beauty standards.
Market produce also doesn’t need to grow en masse year-round to provide consumers the same offering every week, and is far more seasonal, as fresh food should be.
You probably won’t find stone fruit in winter, but you’ll get more variety overall and have access to what’s fresh and delicious at that time of year.
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Food is also generally much cheaper at markets and grocers because you’re not paying the big-brand premium, or covering the wages of all those extra supply chain staff.
My local grocer in Melbourne’s inner-north sells onions for 20 cents a kilo, bananas for $1/kg and the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes right now for $5/kg.
In terms of carbon emissions, less transporting of produce and fewer machines involved — and obviously less packaging — mean a smaller footprint.
Shopping from a weekend farmers’ markets is probably as small a footprint you can make, bar growing your own food.
And at the end of the day, why not make an effort to support an actual human? I’d much rather see my local grocer Sagar’s smile when I chat to him about his kids at the register than line the pockets of a faceless billionaire.
If you live in the inner-city, walk around your area, look on Google maps. No doubt plenty of grocers and butchers are nearby who would love your business.Image: Getty Images / Scott Barbour