The Grumpy Old Man

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Do You Use Your Local Supermarket? Is it Quite as Environmentally Friendly as You Would Expect?

When we decided to use our local supermarket we noticed there were significant environmental considerations.

By local, I mean a supermarket in the small town which is about one and a half miles up the road. For years we had driven, weekly, some twenty miles each way to our nearest medium-sized town where we had the choice of two large supermarkets, together with a number of small department stores, and many other facilities that one would normally expect in such a town.

On a few occasions when we were desperately short of time, we had used the local supermarket. Some five years ago, the owner of this shop (being something of an entrepreneur) expanded and built a brand-new, much larger "version". On one of our "short of time days" we tried the new shop and realised that we could get almost all of what we wanted (or an equivalent) locally. This was tremendously convenient and time-saving as our weekly shop could be completed in an hour and a half from door to door instead of a four or five hour trip to our nearest large town.

After a few months, it was also apparent that we were using far less (expensive) diesel in our old car and not spending fifteen or twenty quid on lunches and coffee to boot. Being one of the many occasions when we were short of a "bob or two" this soon became noticeable and beneficial.

From then on, we have used the new supermarket with the occasional trip into our large town when we needed to bulk buy something not stocked locally, or any other odds and sods that we needed.

The realisation of our more environmentally friendly shopping also made us look in closer detail at what we were buying.

But let's get back to our little local supermarket and do bear in mind that we are living in Ireland which has a tremendous growing climate with little frost and regular rainfall. As mentioned earlier, Mrs Grumpy and I like to use organic whenever we can. It reduces our intake of unknown chemicals that many farmers seem to depend on these days. Without these chemicals many vegetables taste as they should do. As an example, our daughter comments that our carrots actually taste like carrots, and she has never seen eggs with yolks the colour of ours since we had free range chickens of our own.

This is all well and good, but once again I do stop and read the label even on the fresh vegetables. What I have found farcical is that stuff is labelled organic when it's come from Argentina, Chile, Peru, South Africa, New Zealand, Kenya and Israel to name but a few. All of them come pre-packed in polythene which is known over time to leach small quantities of chemicals into the food. Additionally it isn't rocket science to work out that these 'out of season' goods must have arrived by air, hence thousands of air miles and the resultant atmospheric pollution unnecessarily exacerbating the greenhouse effect/global warming. By buying these goods we are supporting this idiocy.

Closer to home, I find that my carrots come from Italy, even my cabbage is grown in Spain and my broccoli comes from Germany. Fruit and tomatoes come in from Holland. It seems reasonable to suppose that these have come by road through the Channel Tunnel and across the UK. And no doubt the transport used for this is a polluting diesel powered truck. And Gordon Bennett, the stuff must be at least a week old by the time it reaches the shop.

But what can we do about it? Well, one may be tempted to buy the green beans and mange tout peas that have been grown in Kenya on the charitable basis that we are supporting the peasant farmer. Personally I don't agree with that because charity begins at home and I've noticed the local supermarket frequently only stocks the goods from Kenya even when the same goods are in season in Ireland. The quantities in which they are sold represent half a portion compared to what I would normally put on my plate if the produce had been grown and purchased locally. So, to answer the question "what can we do about it?" is quite simple; follow my lead, read the labels and apply a bit of common sense, purchase local, seasonal fare or do without. Then when things come into season, they are much more enjoyable for their "novelty" value.

I was pleased to see at the beginning of this year that our local supermarket is supporting a local organic farm. I must say it is refreshing to find that the fare from this farm is very popular. At times it may seem a tad more expensive and it may be muddier than the stuff from winkie wanky land! But Gordon Bennett, its taste is an order of magnitude more superior.

I accept that all of this relates to our supermarket on the rural west coast of southern Ireland but I'm sure that the same thing goes on in your supermarket as well. So for heavens sake watch the air and road miles, shop canny, shop organic, shop local and shop seasonal.