Here are 39 top tips to breaking the supermarket habit and getting the best out of buying locally:
1. SPLIT YOUR SHOPPING BASKET INTO BASICS VS. FOOD
Divide your shopping between household basics which you buy in the supermarket and food which you buy from specialists. Food is for pleasure and good health.
2. BUY BASICS ONLINE
Buy the household basics online from the supermarkets and source your good food locally. See the Local Food Directory for information on locating good suppliers in your area.
3. DON’T FILL UP THE FRIDGE
If you do go to the supermarket take the smallest trolley available: you’ll spend less. Try to get your supermarket shopping down from the largest trolley to the smallest trolley; use a basket if you can.
4. SUPPORT THE SMALL SHOPS
The small, family-run suppliers need you to shop with them; the supermarkets don’t. Try to spread what you spend.
5. CONVENIENCE ISN’T EVERYTHING
We shop in supermarkets because it’s convenient. But convenience isn’t the whole point of living. Work out what you can source locally that is more interesting, more fun and better tasting and work out how you can work it into your routine.
6. BUY LOCAL
Buy locally and buy direct from the farmer or grower if you want the freshest, healthiest food at the price of supermarket food. But there are pitfalls, so do your research (see the Local Food Directory for an excellent place to start).
7. SHOP IN MARKETS
Local markets and farmers’ markets are showcases for local suppliers. Try them out on a sunny day and try to shop there once a month or more often if you can. Farmers’ markets are good places to find healthy, local food and they’re also places to meet farmers and talk about production methods. Don’t expect the lowest prices here, but expect to buy better-tasting, better quality food than you would be able to find in a supermarket. Farmers’ markets are listed county-by-county in the Local Food Directory.
8. VEGETABLE BOXES
Organize a vegetable box delivery online (see National Box Schemes). Some schemes are better than others and some times of year are better than others. It isn’t all or nothing: you can stop and start, but do start!
9. DO WHAT YOU CAN
Don’t be a puritan: do a bit if you can’t do a lot. Not everyone can reduce their shopping in supermarkets, but some people can and if we all do a bit it’ll add up to a lot.
10. ASK, ASK, ASK . . .
Don’t be afraid to ask about food. All good food retailers will welcome polite questions about how their food is produced.
11. SHOP ONLINE FOR REAL FOOD PRODUCERS
Whether you’re in a town, city or the countryside the internet is your best bet. The net is a lifeline for embattled producers of healthy food. Start your search using the information listed in the Local Food Directory and look into National Box Schemes . If the producers’ websites look promising, get in touch. Tell them what you’re looking for and if their production methods make the grade, strike a deal. Then celebrate. Whether they supply by mail order, box scheme or direct delivery you’re likely to be getting better food than you’ve ever tasted before.
12. KEEP IN TOUCH
Once you’ve found your preferred suppliers, start communicating. Send e-mails. Phone them up. If you get the chance, visit them and look at what they do. Ask questions. If there’s something about their production methods you’re unhappy with, say so. With luck this will be a longterm and productive relationship.
13. MIXED FARMING
Try to buy foods that come from traditional mixed farms – that is, farms with both animals and crops. It’s this balance of animals and plants that – as in nature – retains nutrients in the top few centimetres of soil. Avoid farms that use a lot of chemical fertilizers. Nitrate fertilizers are especially damaging. They break down the natural soil processes and weaken plants and animals.
14. PASTURE-FED MEAT AND POULTRY ARE BEST
If you eat meat choose beef, lamb and offal such as liver from pasture-fed animals. Try to buy farm-fresh poultry direct from the producer. But make sure the farm allows the birds to range freely over herb-rich pastures. Look out for fakes where the so-called free-range birds rarely venture out, or where they go out to a muddy, worn-out patch of ground instead of being moved frequently to fresh grass.
15. AVOID SKIMMED MILK
Unless you have to be on a low-fat diet, choose whole milk. Avoid homogenized milk too if you can. It’s a process in which the natural fat globules are smashed into smaller ones. Dairies do it for purely commercial reasons, among them extended shelf life. The jury’s still out on the health implications. The fat in the milk of pasture-fed cows is of the healthy sort. It’ll supply fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, protective fats including omega-3s, and CLA, a powerful anti-cancer agent. If you know it’s from a healthy herd, buy ‘raw’ or unpasteurized milk. Other healthy dairy foods include yoghurt, cream and unpasteurized cheeses.
16. CHANNEL ISLAND MILK
If you have to buy milk in the supermarket, choose organic milk or go for one of the Channel Island brands; that’s the milk of Jersey or Guernsey cows. CI milk is likely to be from cows fed mostly on grass and forage. The downside is that the pastures may well be heavily fertilized grass monocultures, so it’s worth asking questions. If you don’t get answers, organic is the safe solution.
17. DOORSTEP PINT
Find a local dairy farmer who delivers to your area and sign up. The chances are you’ll get a fresher pint than you’ve ever had before. Don’t worry too much if the production process isn’t exactly as you’d like it. With a bit of customer feedback the farmer may improve things.
18. BUTTER FROM PASTURE-FED HERDS
Don’t worry about eating butter if you can get the deep yellow butter that comes from grass-fed cows. It’s not easy to find, so you’ll need to check out farmers’ markets and the local smallholders’ groups. Alternatively, New Zealand butter is made from the milk of grass-fed cows and is widely available in the UK.
19. UNHEALTHY SPREADS
Avoid vegetable oil spreads and margarines. They claim to be healthy, and many contain added nutrients such as vitamins, omega-3s and plant extracts. Despite this they’re over processed, not healthy and best avoided.
20. RAW MILK CHEESE
If unpasteurized milk isn’t for you, try eating cheeses made from raw milk. Since they will retain their full complement of enzymes they are more easily digested than pasteurized-milk cheeses. To maximize your CLA intake go for quick-ripened hard cheese or cheese with a bacterially ripened rind.
21. REAL CHEESE
Stick strictly to natural cheeses and avoid factory-made processed cheeses. These are liable to contain emulsifiers, extenders, phosphates, hydrogenated oils and other nasties.
22. GO WILD
Whenever you get the chance supplement your diet with wild foods. Edible salad leaves, wild mushrooms and blackberries will supply more protective nutrients than their cultivated equivalents. So will venison, pigeon or wild duck.
23. MINERAL ACTION
In Farmers’ markets or at farm shops, ask about the farm’s mineral policy. Many farmers feed mineral supplements to their animals because they know their feeds are deficient. But minerals work best and are most beneficial when they’re present in the grass, so try to find a farm where they monitor soil mineral status. Check on the grazing pastures. Do they contain clovers and deep-rooting plants, as well as a variety of grasses? Species-rich grasslands supply the most minerals. Visit the farm if you can. You can learn a lot about the nutritional quality of the meat by checking out the cattle and the grassland. On the best farms the animals are quiet, alert and curious. Pastures should have plenty of clovers, flower and herb species, as well as grasses.
24. FIND A GOOD LOCAL BUTCHER
If you can’t buy beef and lamb direct, find a good family butcher who really knows his animals and how they’re produced. You need to be sure they’ve been raised principally on grass.
25. STICK TO TRADITIONAL BREEDS
Choose meat from one of the traditional beef breeds – the traditional Hereford, the Devon or Red Ruby, the Welsh Black, the Lincoln Red, the Beef Shorthorn, the Galloway, the Aberdeen Angus and the Sussex. They will almost certainly have been grass-fed. When it comes to lamb it’s also worth going for traditional breeds if it’s taste and nutritional quality you care about. Try the Shropshire, Southdown, Portland, Llanwenog, Cheviot or Hampshire. If your butcher can’t supply them try the local farmers’ markets.
26. SEARCH OUT A RARE BREEDS BUTCHER ONLINE
For rare breeds that thrive on grass – such as the Dexter and the White Park – log on to the website of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (www.rbst.org.uk). You’ll find details of your nearest accredited rare breeds butcher. For an extra-special taste experience try rare-breed lamb. Look for primitive breeds such as the Soay, the Hebridean, the Manx Shetland, the Castlemilk Moorit, the North Ronaldsay and the Herdwick.
27. LAMB RAISED ON WILD GRASSLANDS
If you’re buying lamb, look out for meat that has been raised on salt-marshes, heathland pastures and moorland. But beware of fakes – the traditional grasslands that have been ‘improved’ with chemical fertilizers.
28. CONSERVATION GRASSLAND
Contact your local wildlife trust (www.wildlifetrusts.org). They should be able to help you find sources of beef and lamb from animals used for grazing conservation grasslands such as species-rich chalk grassland or heather moorland. This is likely to be superb meat.
29. BEST EGGS
The most nutritious eggs come from hens that scratch about in fresh grassland every day. They’re not easy to find. The best bet are local ‘good-lifers’ or friends who keep laying-hens. For smallholders, try the Wholesome Food Association (www.wholesome-food.org.uk/).
30. REAL BREAD
Say ‘No’ to factory-made bread. The high-speed production process will have destroyed many nutrients. Find an artisan baker who selects good ingredients and takes care over the production. Avoid white bread. Nearly all nutrients will have been discarded or damaged in the milling process. Any minerals and vitamins listed on the wrapper are later additives. They’re no substitute for what’s been lost. Choose naturally fermented or slow-rise breads such as sourdough. Cereal grains contain an organic acid called phytic acid. In whole-grain breads made by fast, factory processes this blocks the absorption of trace elements in the gut. Fermentation neutralizes the acid and aids digestion. Better still, buy some organic flour and make your own bread using traditional, slow-rise methods. This allows time for the phytic acid to break down.
31. REAL SALT
Replace table salt with sea salt produced by traditional methods. Commercial table salt is an adulterated product in which valuable trace elements have been removed and potentially toxic additives introduced. The best salt is produced by the action of sun on seawater in clay-lined lagoons. This natural salt is light grey in colour and contains about 82 per cent sodium chloride. It has around 14 per cent macrominerals – particularly magnesium – plus nearly eighty trace elements. Sun-dried sea salt contains traces of marine life which provide organic forms of iodine, an element often missing from damaged soils and the crops they grow. There’s evidence that this form of the element is better utilized by the human body than the potassium iodide added to table salt. Some of the purest commercial supplies of unrefined sea salt come from Brittany and are available at some UK farmers’ markets.
32. GIVE UP BREAKFAST CEREALS
No matter how many times the manufacturers use the word ‘healthy’ on the box, don’t believe them. They’re not. The high-pressure extrusion process that forms the flakes and shapes destroys nutrients and may render some proteins toxic.
33. REAL PORRIDGE
Try traditional porridge instead. Use pinhead oatmeal and be sure to soak it overnight in water made acidic with a few drops of lemon juice. This will neutralize the phytic acid. Serve with cream or a knob of real, yellow butter. The fat-soluble vitamins will help mineral uptake.
34. REAL MUESLI
A good organic muesli makes a nutritious alternative to porridge. Choose one with seeds, nuts and dried fruit in addition to oat flakes. And soak it overnight to break down the phytic acid.
35. SEALED PACKET
When buying oat flakes for porridge or for making your own muesli, choose those in a sealed packet. Don’t buy them loose from bins, as they have a tendency to become rancid.
36. MILL YOUR OWN
Wholegrain flour quickly deteriorates after milling. If you’re serious about healthy bread buy a small grain mill. Using organic or biodynamically-grown cereals, you will then have a source of freshly-milled flour whenever you want it.
37. STEER CLEAR OF FOOD SOURCED FROM DAMAGED SOILS
Assume all non-branded, commodity foods are from damaged soils and are therefore depleted of nutrients. Branded foods such as milk from Jersey cows or beef from Hereford cattle are more likely to be from better managed soils, but there’s no cast-iron guarantee, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
38. TRUST ORGANIC
If you can’t avoid buying fresh food from a supermarket, make sure it’s organic. That way you’ll know the soils that produced it haven’t been ruined by nitrate fertilizers.
39. NATIONAL POLICY
Ask your MP to press the government for a national strategy to reduce the level of nitrate fertilizer used in food production. Nothing would improve the quality of British food faster than a sizeable cutback in nitrate use. There would be great benefits for the environment too.