Saturday, June 02, 2007

Using my LOAF

I have been thinking about shopping more ethically - whether I should, and if so, how? I am very unsure as to what is useful, healthy or important, and which criteria are more important. Is organic food flown half way round the world better than non-organic grown in the UK, or vice versa? Is organic food significantly healthier than non-organic, or tastier, or both? And is it worth the extra cost? How important is it to buy fairly traded products? And so on.

When we came home from Greece I decided to experiment with more ethical grocery shopping. I usually do a weekly supermarket shop online, but last week I a made a couple of real life shopping trips and tried to weigh up the pros and cons of individual items. After Mass last week I spotted a poster in the Parish Hall from Christian Ecology Link which set out succinctly the principles towards which I was blundering under my own steam. Apparently, I am now using my LOAF by looking for items that are:

* Locally produced
* Organically grown
* Animal friendly
* Fairly traded

I am not worrying about an all-or-nothing approach, and simply trying to do what I can. Given that I am starting from a near-zero base anything has to be an improvement! My budget will not run to a complete switch, and I am trying to balance costs and benefits. This is my LOAF progress so far ...

Locally Produced
No major cost implications here, just a little effort to check the place of origin on produce, and I like the idea of buying seasonal local produce. I opted for British salad vegetables instead of Kenyan green beans, for example. I shop at Waitrose, a smaller supermarket chain which stocks good quality products. The prices are higher than the big chains, but by shopping carefully and making the most of special offers I find I can keep the overall cost similar. British produce was all clearly marked and they had a separate display of local East Anglian produce, from which I bought some tomatoes and some very yummy looking strawberries. I was shocked that certain basics were only available if imported from far flung places - onions (New Zealand), apples (New Zealand, Chile and USA), and pears (South Africa). Tevye has reminded me that I can buy locally produced and reasonably priced meat from a local butcher. It means being more organised and is less just-press-the-button convenient, but it is also cheaper than buying from the supermarket. I'll probably go and stock up the freezer with meat in the next week or two.

Organically grown
Organic fruit and vegetables in the supermarket were just way out of my price range (50-100% higher than non-organic). I have decided to test out an organic box scheme which looks more economical. My first order will be arriving on Tuesday - a large vegetable box and a fruit bag. The contents are chosen by the company, but there are few vegetables we don't eat so I'm happy to take whatever comes. I will have to be careful to adjust my menu plan to accommodate whatever comes in the box. I'm hoping that if I get a weekly box delivery of fresh produce I can cut my supermarket order from weekly to fortnightly and the savings in delivery charges will offset some of the extra cost of buying organic. At the supermarket I did buy organic milk, as Little Cherub is just beginning to drink some, organic minced (ground) beef, an organic wholemeal loaf - cheap because it was near its sell-by date - and organic wholemeal pasta. (I switched to wholemeal bread and pasta before we went away in a bid to move towards healthier eating. There has been a certain amount of complaining, but I'm hanging in there!)

Animal Friendly
As an old-style farmer's daughter I despise cruel farming practices, although I'm no would-be vegetarian or vegan - I have no problem with eating responsibly produced meat and animal products. I very rarely buy meat from the big supermarkets where low prices are achieved at too high a price in terms of animal welfare. One of the reasons I shop at Waitrose is that they are more careful about sourcing their meat. I already buy free range eggs, but the organic free range chickens were way out of my budget at nearly three times the price of the ones I usually buy. Organic free range eggs were also too expensive.

Fairly Traded
Both our town and our Church have "official" Fair Trade status, which means that fairly traded products are easy to find. Do I normally buy them? No (apart from bananas). Why? Habit and economy. I decided to try a few, and came home with choc chip cookies and organic Ethiopian coffee as well as my usual bananas. Our Church has a monthly Traidcraft stall, so I should start to make use of that.

As well as LOAFing, I looked at environmentally friendly products. I now have a bottle of ecologically sound bathroom cleaner, though I haven't tested it yet. I'm also planning to try out various Ecover cleaning and laundry products as I need them (Ecover is the best known and most widely available eco brand here). I have recycled paper products on order. I looked at biodegradable "natural" disposable nappies, but couldn't quite bring myself to pay the extra or risk leaks. (I confess. I'm a Pampers / Huggies person.)

So ... can I keep up the ethical shopping? Will my budget stand it? Or will I lose the will to LOAF as time goes on? At least I am trying!


Faith said...

Wow, Kathryn, I am impressed. I like the LOAF acronym. Last summer I joined a vegetable co-op with my sister but I am ashamed to say that a lot of the veggies went bad because it was simply too much volume. Unfortunately, my family doesn't eat veggies much. So it is better for me to go to the local farm market and just pick up a few things.

I am fortunate that we have a good store near us. It is expensive and doesn't stock everything, but I pick and choose what to get.

Anyway, I found your post inspiring!

Elizabeth said...

Good for you, Kathryn!

I never used the really eco disposables (Moltex?) because of the cost, but I found 'Nature boy and girl' to be fine -- similar cost to Pampers, and no problems with performance.

We ended up ditching the veg box because we were sick of eating chard for weeks on end ... or parsnips ... or whatever. But we may go back...

Karen E. said...

I, too, found this inspiring, and tagged it with my "shared items" awhile back. Today I got back to posting about it. Thank you!