How We Buy Our Food Without Going to the Supermarket!

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How We Buy Our Food Without Going to the SupermarketWould you be surprised if I told you that we rarely go to the supermarket?  It’s true!  Going to the grocery store used to be a pretty relaxing activity that I looked forward to when I lived in the US.  I mostly shopped at Trader Joe’s, and loved going through the aisles to see what might be new, chatting with the people doing food demos, and getting recommendations for wine from their knowledgeable staff.  I looked forward to this each week, especially during the months when there wasn’t much to be found at the farmer’s markets.  On most trips, I ran into someone I knew at our local TJ’s, and over time I always became friendly with the people who worked there– so it felt like a community gathering place to me.
Grocery shopping here in England is just not the same.  The stores are huge, and the nicer ones are really expensive.  Since we have one car, we usually have to go during the busiest times. There is nothing pleasant about trying to find the stuff I need, navigating through crowds of people.  We almost never run into people we know, and the cultural environment is much less friendly.  I don’t like it.  The good news is, I don’t have to do it anymore!  I’ll tell you how, and I will be very candid here, and even tell you our food budget.We spend about £525 ($800) per month on food and drink, which breaks down to £105 ($160) per week, generally. This pays for breakfasts and dinners for the three of us, plus lunches for Jeff and me during the week.  I have spent years trying to get by on the smallest food budget possible.  Food is expensive here.  I am glad we have this much to work with, but I know it would probably be tight for many families over here– especially those that have some restrictions to work around.  That’s why I thought it might be helpful to share how I try to get the most and best food I can within a budget.
The quality of food we buy is a big priority for me, and this is a major opportunity for me to make a positive contribution in my community, in terms of how I spend my food dollars.  When I buy ethically and sustainably raised products, I support these practices, and encourage them to grow.  That is exciting!  That said, I am not perfect.  I routinely buy food that is not local.  I am not willing to give up citrus, after all, and after a long winter, I can’t wait any more for peppers and eggplants to grow locally– these flavors have revived me.  We don’t buy 100% organic.  One big reason for that is that there are very few vendors at our market who are organic.  That’s a huge bummer.  I’d rather buy from a local farm that isn’t 100% organic than from a grocery store that offers old organics from who-knows-where.  Now that we’ve gotten that stuff sorted out, here’s how I shop.

 How We Buy Our Food Without Going to the Supermarket

1.  All of my meat comes from my local ethical butcher.  I set aside a larger percentage of my food budget for buying beef, pork, chicken, lamb and eggs from my butcher each week.  I usually spend about £40 at his shop each Saturday.  The products he sells are of great quality, and come from good farms who raise the animals on pasture.  I feel great about that, and this is my #1 priority, in terms of voting with my food dollars.  I am very economical about the cuts I buy, and he also gives me stock bones (and cultural advice) for free!
2.  I shop at my local open market once or twice per week.  This is where I pick up massive amounts of vegetables.  I do my best to buy from the vendors that source their produce locally– some are farmers, but most of the stands there are vendors that sell mainly imported produce.  I buy citrus and the aforementioned nightshades from them, but try to keep my money for the locals otherwise.  We have one organic vendor, and we buy lots of greens from them all year, along with whatever else they may have– it is more expensive, but worth it. I buy cheese here, too, and sometimes olives.  I spend up to £35 per week at the open market.  I spent a bit more on this day:3.  I buy spices from a tiny little health food store in town.  They also carry ethnic foods and brewing supplies– super smart!  The herbs are in packets rather than jars, and are inexpensive.  What I spend varies, but it is reasonable, and I’m happy to support them.4.  I have groceries delivered from our local supermarket.  I wish I could skip this one completely, but there are some things I just can’t get anywhere else.  I actually really love ordering from our local Sainsbury’s and having them deliver.  I spend about £40 (less than 10% of our budget) per month on one delivery.  I order fresh herbs (mostly absent at the market, sadly) chocolate (lots of very dark chocolate!) organic cream and yogurt, and lots of good butter, plus condiments like vinegar, olive oil, and cornichons.  I also order the crushed tomatoes I use for Shakshukah.  Once I realized that I could get groceries delivered, it made perfect sense: how much energy is saved by not getting into the car and driving 15 minutes to the grocery store, buying more than I need once there, and driving home?  Lots.  Doing deliveries is so efficient, and wastes so much less fuel (think of all the deliveries made by one van, and how many back-and-forth trips that eliminates for shoppers otherwise!)  Plus, it means I don’t have to do time at those stores.  Great!
5.  I order on Amazon.  Again, in a perfect world, I wouldn’t.  But we regularly use coconut products and almond flour.  These are the things I order routinely from Amazon– I can get organic products for good prices, much more affordably than in the grocery stores.  I have an amazon prime membership both for the USA and the UK, and I get free shipping and can schedule regular deliveries of certain staples through a service called subscribe and save. I’d guess that I spend about £20 per month on these goods. [Update: I want to mention Thrive Market, where you can order a lot of these products at a discount. This is a company I want to support!]
These are the standard things that I do, month-in, month-out.  But we often shop in much more fun ways, too. We visit farms and farm shops; we go to specialized markets (like Wyken); we go for country drives hunting for groceries; I have my husband stop by local produce stands on his way home from work; we keep chickens who lay our eggs; we garden, and we forage.  We brew our own beer and wine, ferment vegetables, and we make pretty much everything we can from scratch.  All of these things not only bring us great food for much less money, but they seriously enrich our lives.
I wish I could obtain all of my food in these unconventional ways.  For now, I am happy to do lots of this in warmer months, and gladder still that I don’t have to visit a supermarket most weeks.
Curious about what a week of groceries and meals looks like for us? Here’s a peek at the groceries, and here’s a week of paleo meals at our house.

For me, food and everything surrounding it (growing, buying, preparing, eating) are the best parts of life.  I don’t believe in rushing through these things– this is the essence of living.  We all have to eat, and it is a communal act. How wonderful that having to fuel our bodies is also very pleaurable, and builds community.  I derive great satisfaction from buying food from people I trust, and preparing it for the people I love.

Do you have some unconventional ways of procuring your food?

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How We Buy Our Food Without Going to the Grocery StorePAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.

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30 Responses to How We Buy Our Food Without Going to the Supermarket!

  1. Marisa March 25, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    You are an inspiration Ariana!! I struggle with sourcing food and get so frustrated and overwhelmed sometimes. And I find myself driving around from store to store to store looking for key ingredients (certainly not as environmentally friendly as your delivery van.) And I know living in a big city it should be simple but in some ways it has the opposite result. There are so many places dotted about the city that I could spend weeks sourcing things all over town. I think I need to sit down and really think it out and think through my needs. I really want to be more organized and have a better routine. Food is so important to me – where it comes from and how it is produced – that I should definitely put more time and thought into how I go about procuring it. Thanks for sharing your routine – you make it seem much more simple than I tend to make it! lol I do find it to be easier for me in the summer though – when farmers markets abound in every neighborhood of the city. You could hit up a different one pretty much every day of the week. But this time of the year the few farmers markets that are open don’t have a tremendous amount of local food – much of it is shipped in from afar.

    On another note – I have to tell you that I checked out two gorgeous cookbooks from the library on your recommendation – “Falling Cloudberries” and “Pomegranates and Roses.” They are both marvelous, and I’m really enjoying looking through them. I have quite a few recipes bookmarked, and I’m looking forward to giving them a go! One thing I never even thought of (though I’m sure you have) is the aged pickled garlic in the second book. Can’t wait to give that a go!

    • Ariana Mullins March 27, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

      So glad you have enjoyed those books, Marisa– aren’t they just beautiful? Nostalgic cooking at its best!

      Bless your heart for trying SO hard to source your food in the best way possible! I am sure that all of the options in Seattle make it a lot more complicated. That is part of the thing here– the options, in terms of stores, at least, are really, really limited. Farm shops are a different story, but most are a bit of a drive and CAN be super expensive. I do dream of shopping for food somewhere like Seattle, though! But I know it would likely end up being a LOT more expensive, because I would want to go to all the best places. 😉

  2. Hazel March 25, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    I try to avoid supermarkets too, for all sorts of reasons.
    Our regular market in the nearby town clashes with when I work, so I mostly shop at our local farm shop and monthly farmers market. Supermarkets and a bulk (not packaging free sadly) store when I have to.

    I do find I come out of the supermarket cross and tense, but at the farm shop I chat and enjoy the experience. Very little is packaged and at the moment we’re admiring the lambs at the same time!

    • Ariana Mullins March 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

      I agree with you, about a different atmosphere at the farm shops, verses the supermarkets. How nice that you have a shop that is close and complete enough to really get substantial groceries at. The one where we can really load up on produce at is about an hour away– that doesn’t seem too responsible for us drive to, unless we’re going to make a day of it and really enjoy the whole farm. The closer ones are much more expensive, unfortunately. We do stop in to support them, but we just can’t buy as much!

  3. Naz March 25, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Great post! I hear you on the over crowding in the supermarkets here in England BUT having said that I personally feel food quality is much better here, especially when it comes to meat and dairy products.

    We get our fruit and veg delivered via an organic box delivery scheme, the produce comes from a local farm and it just makes life easier having it delivered, plus often times there’s something in there that I probably would have never picked up myself in the shops.

    My husband and I are stilly fairly new here so we still have a lot of research to do food wise, but I know there’s a Farmers Market in our area every few weeks, so will have to check that out next time 🙂

    • Ariana Mullins March 27, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

      Naz, where are you in the UK? I know that there are a lot more markets and sustainable options in the South of England. I agree that it’s easier to find quality. But I actually had some pretty bad experiences with grocery store meat (Sainsbury, at least) when we first got here. That said, my butcher’s prices are very reasonable, and I don’t think it’s more expensive to shop there at all, compared to organice products at the supermarket. And the conditions for dairy here are very, very good!

  4. Anonymous March 26, 2013 at 4:59 am #

    Hi, Ariana, interesting post. I have always preferred to buy my fresh produce from the evening market we have (something like the farmers market )over here. The produce are fresher and cheaper too. It is a weekly trip I look forward to rain or shine. Lina.

    • Ariana Mullins March 27, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

      I love the idea of an evening market, Lina. That makes so much sense, since most people are only free to shop after the workday! I, too, really look forward to my weekly (twice-weekly in better weather) trips to the market– I love buying food that way.

  5. Bonnie Rose March 26, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    Love this post Ariana! We too have stopped shopping at supermarkets with living here in England. Mainly because for one we do not have a car. This is the first place we have lived at in England where we havent had a supermarket within walking distance. We started with Ryan going shopping after work and carrying home the bags on the bus…but then realized we could order or food from our grocery store. That was exciting. Then we realized we could get it delivered for free if we chose random times like 11pm. Not having to drag my boys to the store has made that part amazing.

    But now like you we are loving being in England because of the quality of food. To get our meet from the butcher, to get raw milk and organic veg straight from the farms. I am in food buying heaven in England. People in the US make jokes about the food in England…but I would never be able to afford the quality we get here where we were in the US. I actually didnt really like meat that much..but it tastes so much better here. I could probably live off of English bacon.

    Will have to find a neat store like you did for your spices thought. We havent done that yet. Thanks for the tips!

    ps. Thank you for commenting on my post at the expatblogs about TCKs. I really appreciate your kindness to take the time. x

    Bonnie Rose | A Compass Rose

    • Ariana Mullins March 27, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

      I agree with you completely, that England (at least in our respective regions) is a great place to buy food– I love it! And it is not such a huge price leap to go from conventional to ethical/ organic food, which is so great. I think the grocery delivery is another “advanced” European feature that makes it possible not to own a car, and I really appreciate that. It is weird to me that I drive less than once a month– but I honestly don’t mind!

  6. Caterina B March 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    That is a very good and informative post!
    It has dawned on me just how our food is controlled by big agriculture and changed for more profit and I DON’T LIKE IT! I will resist till my last day!
    We raise chickens for eggs and meat and soon will be getting two pigs to raise over the summer, as we have done for 5 or 6 years. My husband hunts only 2 0r 3 miles from our cabin here in the Rockies so we have elk pretty much year round. That takes care of the meat but it’s very difficult to get fresh seafood. The freshest we can get is to fish for trout in the lake up the road. Once in a while I buy shrimp or (only) “wild caught” salmon at the local supermarket. There are only certain times of the year when I can get it, though. We have a vegetable garden in the very short growing season at our high altitude. We have for years talked about putting up a hoop house or some such thing to extend the growing season. I would like to be able to grow and freeze or can much more for our needs. It’s a slow process becoming more and more self sufficient. I agree that acquiring food from the best sources, cooking it with love, and eating with family and friends is the greatest pleasure in life.
    When my kids were small and we were all seated around the dinner table (because we always had dinner together) I would tell them about how our Norwegian ancestors did the same and that that very act, sitting together and eating together, was exactly WHY they and WE work so hard. So that we can eat good food and share with our loved ones.
    It all starts AT THE TABLE!

  7. Little Mountain Haven March 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    great post! I love the vote with your dollar idea that seems to be spreading, especially with food. we shop at our local food co-op which tries to support as much local as they can (a little tricky living in the mountains of Canada). This year will be our first year trying the year round growing technique and our goals is to grow 75% of our own produce or not eat it at all! it’s all a journey that I am loving, especially as we have two little children, it makes me happy to see them connected to their food source.

  8. Nikki Wall March 26, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    We get a weekly organic box delivery, there aren’t any organic fruit and veg sellers at the nearest market here, or even necessarily sellers of local produce (although there is a farmer’s market twice a month, but there aren’t many stalls there). So, until I can get a garden into swing again (having just moved again) I’ll stick with the box delivery.

    I think it does depend on where you are in the country as to the choice available (and that includes what supermarkets will stock), in big cities (and probably more ‘well-to-do’ towns) the choice will likely be much better than here!

    We also do a bulk wholesale order from Suma (usually with friends) for dried food stuff/staples and also things like washing up liquid (although I want to try and make some of my own washing liquids)

    We forage as well and once I get the back garden tidier I want to resurrect the remains of the coop that is out there for chickens/ducks (jury’s still out on that one).

    Recently we drove out to North Lincs to pick up some free pig fat to render for lard (my partner’s family think I’m slightly mad 🙂 However, usually we don’t go that far afield – but it was very kindly offered 🙂

    There aren’t any shops in this or the neighbouring village (not counting the Post Office that sells sweets, etc and there is garden centre – but the food that sells is in its tearooms 😉 ) So there isn’t just popping out to the shops here (and I can’t drive, so am reliant on my partner for any driving to anywhere, although there is a bus, but that’s 40 minutes into the nearest town.)

    HOWEVER, the irony of the food choices we make is that my partner actually works for a supermarket! Yep, ’tis true!

  9. Meghan @ Whole Natural Life March 26, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    Great post! I always enjoy seeing how other people shop. Right now I am tied to the local health food store for all of my produce (since pretty much NOTHING grows here in Colorado in the winter/early spring), but come summer we will be getting local veggies from our CSA! I am very excited. 🙂

    I’ll share on Facebook.

  10. Rocio March 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    Wonderful, informative post! I always enjoy hearing about your culinary and market adventures. England is way ahead of the U.S. on local markets and it’s so great that they never caved to the Wal-Mart business model that have destroyed neighborhood markets all over the U.S. Have you ever gone to the Oxford Covered Market on one of your visits there? You would love it! It’s also interesting to compare this post with Rue Rude’s post on root vegetables at the market. She’s an American in Paris. Not as informative as yours, but the take on the market experience has it’s humorous highlights. Her site is RueRude (dot) com. Again, lovely post! Thank you for sharing!

  11. Natalie2b March 28, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    Our garden is being overtaken by aggressive, thorny brambles – so whatever I can keep from pruning back (they are running under the grass, tripping the kids) will provide us some nice blackberries (or maybe raspberries) this summer. We get a veg box delivery since we don’t have a farmers market in our town. There is one a few towns over, but we can get there consistently – so, the veg box is a nice alternative for us. It does come from a local farm, at least 🙂 I haven’t tried the delivery service from Tesco/Waitrose/Sainsbury yet, but I might now that I hear how good it works for you guys! If you don’t mind me asking, what portion of your budget do you spend on meat? We were having a meat box delivered also, but we were spending over £100 a week and still didn’t get enough meat for all of our meals (for 5 of us). Our veg & fruit box runs us around £30 a week and we usually have a little left over at the end of the week. I just placed my first order from RealFoodSource.co.uk for coconut flour, almond flour, unsweetened chocolate & cocoa butter. I get to try them out this weekend!

  12. daisy April 1, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    What an adventurous way to feed your family!

  13. Vicky April 1, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    Hi! Great article! I’m guessing you live in the South? We have much better experiences at Sainsbury’s in the North! The very friendly staff remember you from one week to the next and the aisles aren’t crowded!

    We don’t have many good farmers markets locally nor do we have a supply of locally grown produce which is reasonably priced. We do however, have an amazing Morrisons in Leeds that stocks virtually every kind of green vegetable you could desire and though it’s a bit out of the way, we do go there occasionally.

    I buy my almond flour in bulk from HBS Foods, have you tried them? I also use Goodness Direct, if you google Goodness Direct and voucher you can get £10 off your shopping if spending over £35, every three months!

    I really enjoyed reading your post and I look forward to reading more!

    Vicky

  14. Jaci April 1, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    I get local raw non-GMO milk from a dairy across town..most of our produce and grains come from a local-ish (20min?) Organic Co-op we were blessed to find..and we get grass fed beef from a friend on mine its in state but not too local…I do still go to the grocery store for bananas…some tomato products..oils…sweenters sometimes and other various things. But it’s better than it used to be!

  15. Beth April 2, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Oh how I wish I could avoid the grocery store! We live in the rural south and aside from a limited farmers market in the summer it is our only choice next to online.

    I loved reading about your options!

  16. Carol Guenzel April 5, 2013 at 1:06 am #

    Great post. This is my first visit to your blog. We too rarely go to a supermarket. I have been teaching myself to grow a garden (still learning), but I get most of my food right from my local farmers including raw milk (goat and cow) as well as all meats which are delivered once a week within walking distance from my home and are joining a CSA that is at a farm on the corner of my road. The only thing I really get at the stores are paper towels. Yes, even though I have cloth kitchen towels I have not given them up for the really dirty jobs as of yet. The more we support our local farmers the more they will be encouraged to provide more food for us and we also are sending a message to the super markets about our preferences.

  17. Winnie April 5, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

    What a lovely post. So inspiring! In the summertime, I rarely go to the grocery store, either. But the winters are different. Sigh.

  18. Phil April 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    Hi Ariana, I just read your comments about fresh herbs; come to Wyken Farmers’ Market tomorrow morning and I will have freshly cut coriander (cilantro)parley, and wild garlic that I foraged this afternoon in the rain from outside my Georgian walled kitchen garden only 2 miles from Wyken. Phil

  19. Leslie January 27, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    Just found your blog today, so I’ve been going through these older posts. So I’ll add here that we feed our dog unconventionally. We feed him mostly raw chicken, other meat scraps as available, and some produce. We also keep grain-free kibble available in his bowl all day, but a 33lb lasts for 4-5 months. I also feed him things like carrot peels, and veggie scraps, chicken (after roasting a bird for us, I’ll make broth with the carcass, then pull the remaining skin and meat off for the dog), all stirred up in a little bacon grease- he can’t resist it, and it’s super healthy. He also likes broth. He also gets a dose or two of my homemade kefir per month.

  20. CG September 14, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    We are super fortunate to have a local food cooperative that is affordable and a ton of roadside farm stands in the summer with really affordable produce. We also keep our own chickens for meat and eggs and are raising lambs for meat. I get sick to my stomach stepping into supermarkets because they all seem to have a weird smell to them (mix of cardboard, old seafood, and bleach. Thanks for sharing more tips on foraging, I’m excited to read more!

    http://www.farmbrews.blogspot.com

  21. A little inspiration... October 31, 2016 at 3:31 am #

    What great tips! Thank you for sharing!

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