What shopping centres should be!

A strange realisation hit just recently.

It’s November!

Yes I know it’s not that great a realisation! In fact as realisations go it’s pretty bloody ordinary since November happens in a fairly predictable manner every year. What is a special though is that in October 2012 we started doing what we called “a year of treading lightly’. You might know this already (you are reading the blog after all). We thought a year was a nice bordered amount that we would struggle through but be able to reassure ourselves that it would end as we battled to live oil free and local. So the realisation is that the year has come and gone and we didn’t even notice.

Why? Well because we thought it was going to be a really big shock. We thought it was going to be all about going without and, to a certain extent, about loss. But at the end of the day (and in this case the year) every change we have made has had more positives than it has had negatives. Over the next couple of blogs I’m going to try and illustrate this point by going in to details about what we now do and encourage others to give some of things a try.

I’m going to start at shopping since it’s one of those routine things that everyone does. Our aim is to shop local, sourcing food from within 100miles of where we live and use no plastics either as product or packaging.

So how do we do that? We get most of our greens from our garden as well as vegetables and some fruit from the fruit trees that are becoming established (we had our first oranges this year). We also exchange some things with neighbours, this year in particular it has been passata for eggs from a friend down the street. Our milk comes from a farmers cooperative and is delivered to our door. We get bulk food and cooking oil in either old flour sacks or re-usable bottles that we take with us from Naturally on High in Thornbury, Friends of the Earth in Collingwood or Ceres farm in East Brunswick. Ceres in particular is great in that you can work out where things are from. Most of this comes from Victoria and within our boundary. Coffee is pretty much the one thing that we get from out of Australia, though I do stop at Eureka Coffee in Nth. Fitzroy when I can to buy a pack of Queenslands finest. Any coffee we do buy is organic and fair trade. None of these places mind filling up the vessels that we bring.

“That’s all well and good” I hear you say “but I don’t have the time and need the convenience of a supermarket where I can get everything at the one space!”. Well that’s possibly true but just compare what typical shopping day is like.

It started out like any other friday. It’s the only day that the kids are both at home so they spend the first couple of hours playing quite happily. That runs out at IMG_1276about 9:30 and so we go shopping, well actually that’s not quite true because first, and this is really important, we get our vessels ready. By the time we’re ready to go this looks something like this.

The two shops that we do most of our shopping from are close by soIMG_1277 it’s  helmets bikes and convoy style (incidentally how do you like the yarn bombing that appeared on street signs down a couple of weeks ago?).

For the most part our shopping centre IMG_1279looks like this and what we buy is defined by how far away it comes from. If the number is under 160 then it’s in and we’ll work out how to cook it later. We also get our bread from here or from our local sourdough baker who uses flour that I will admit is a just out of our zone but not by much. We did start baking our own bread with thIMG_1280e help of a second hand breadmaker but this exploded. We will get back to it but there is so much good bread around it’s hard to feel a pressing need. Our shopping centre is so advanced it’s even got a playground, we call it a tree!

We get cheese made locally and wrapped in wax from our local market, meat from local producers and often organic from our butcher (straight into tupperware containers) and our fish from our local fishmonger also into our own containers. This did take a while to sort as the lady struggled to zero the scales and so got all flustered, she then developed the habit of using a plastic bag to transfer the fish from the cabinet into our tupperware but we worked through it and she’s okay with it now. Any ham or smoked meat that we buy is from a local shop that has been smoking and curing their own meats for a long time.

Our cleaning (and hygiene products) are bought from either CERES or the Enviro Shop in Northcote and are all non petroleum based and decantered into re-usable containers. Our washing powder is IMG_1274likewise non-oil based but comes in a cardboard box. Toilet paper comes from Naturally on high is recycled and wrapped in paper (though becoming harder to find). At the end of the day it looks something like this, though obviously we go through more than this in a week but you get the idea.

When we do go to a big supermarket its for some sauces or ironically tinned Australian tomatoes, though this is only once every 3-4 month and with our passata connection we have pretty much stopped this altogether. It does confuse me why it’s so hard to get local tinned tommies though. Now I know that we live in a pretty well resources area and, as Nikki points out, you don’t have to travel more than 30 km from us to find yourself in a fresh-food desert. But there are many other ways to do much the same as we are. Box schemes, community supported agriculture, co-ops, farmers markets, organic stores etc. are popping up everywhere and if they’re not then start one. There are networks around that will help you do it and it’s a great way to become more connected to your food and build community as well, but you might find you just made a new, local job opportunity.

Now I should add that the above describes the vast majority of our shopping but sometimes things go wrong or just become too much. So if we suddenly have to head to a barbecue then we’ll stop where we have to and potentially come out with some plastic wrapped meat rather than turn up empty handed but morally righteous. We buy nuts from outside our area and rice too but we will try to avoid it.

And we’ve also had a couple of slips as Nikki points out “when the year ended we  finally bought couscous, wrapped in plastic, from somewhere really far away. After a disastrous pastry making attempt we have also been seen buying puff pastry to make pies. And for the rare supermarket visit we have become experts at scanning the labels on products and when we do go to Coles, with two kids we are in and out in under 15minutes since items come from a quite short list, including Great Ocean Rd Cheese, toilet paper, Sodium Bicarb, sliced bread, and biodegradable washing gloves.” To make a long story short our life is coles and plastic free but on the odd time that we slip we don’t beat ourselves up, this is about progress not being perfect.

So that’s how we do it, I’m sure I’ve missed lots but you get the idea. It probably sounds like a lot of hard work and in all honesty without any preparation and working out where we could get things we would have struggled. But the missing thing in this description is that this routine, whilst not being ‘convenient’ is engaging. The kids help us count the carrots and laugh at my dad jokes about what vegetable that is or isn’t. Pip sits on the counter and we both chat to  Ella behind the counter about recipes, gardens and how things are going. When we go to CERES on Friday, Felix takes great joy in grabbing the glass jar and heading in to the shop without me to help the lady refill it with honey, whilst Pip climbs the olive trees and we chat with Esther at the counter about grapes and food miles. We then ride away munching on local olive bread and organic apples.

So is it more complicated, sure but do we know where our food comes from absolutely. Do we know who we’re buying it from, equally yes. Does our family benefit from the relationships that we make by engaging with shop-keepers and food (not to mention the occasional dried fruit or slice of cabana), completely. Are we constantly bombarded with advertising, junk food and jingles reminding us how fresh the food is and would we go back to the brightly lit sterile duopoly of Coles or Woolworths to buy cling wrapped everything from a largely disinterested checkout person or worse still a self checkout computer? Not a chance!