September 18, 2012

Surviving the Supermarket

[This article is reprinted from the Hard Times Hand Book by Keith & Irene Smith, first published in 1984 (reprinted 1986).  I believe it is as relevant today as it was when first published and I urge readers to seek out this book as it has much to offer in regard to surviving hard times and living well with less. This may become extremely valuable information in the near future. Any comments in red are my comments.]


Supermarket Survival

You have to be a super shopper to shop at supermarkets. There are good buys and bad buys, but there are food buying skills and strategies which you can learn.
Most Australians shop at large supermarkets. we leave our cars in the big parking lot, push our trolleys down the aisles and serve ourselves, paying $7,000 million* for our processed foods at the checkouts each year.
* This was written in 1984 and is very out of date. Australia now has two major supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths with a third, smaller player player being the IGA branded supermarket operators. Numbers are harder to come by today as these chains have diversified into many types of retail operations. One number I could find shows that Australians are spending $34,000 million on fast foods in a year! Supermarket spending on real food may have increased only slightly, because so much more money is being spent this way. This is a major cause of obesity and poor health.
This mass distribution of foodstuffs, based on the American model, has brought us the benefits of large turnover which puts good quality food-stuffs at good prices on our supermarket shelves.*
With such a variety of food under one roof, the supermarket may be either a cornucopia of plenty, or a Pandora's box full of evils. In the game of wits played between manufacturers and consumers, the choice, in the end, is up to us.
*As a conscious consumer I have noticed a marked decline in the quality of many items and brands as manufacturers try to cut costs. There has also been a marked decline in the area of choice, with many smaller producers being forced off the shelves of the big chains in recent years.
On the one hand, the supermarket, more than anywhere else, is filled with highly processed foods (and some non-foods) which have been treated with chemical additives, preservatives, artificial colouring and flavouring, stabilisers, thickeners, added sugars or other sweeteners, salt ans monosodium glutemate (MSG).
The aim is food which has a long shelf life in attractive packaging, backed by advertising campaigns and television promotion. The foods probably taste good too, but that is not the first consideration.
On the other hand, if you know which foods to select and have some idea of nutritional values,you should be able to buy good quality foods at a fair price, sometimes even at sales prices. Supermarket chains have buying power and there are often genuine bargains and specials if you compare prices from one outlet to another and one brand to another.
The first rule of thumb is always read the label. Buy the product, not the colourful picture on the label of the packet or can. It's what inside that counts. Compare the weight and the price with other brands and find out where the product comes from and the last date it should be eaten. Don't pay extra for 'convenience' such as added sauces or flavourings, sliced or 'ready to serve' foods.
Keenly priced so-called 'generic' house brand or 'no label' goods are often identical to more expensive brands. The cost of the television ad to make you buy the product, or buy more of it, has not been added to them.
In general it is better to buy unpackaged products first, fresh food before frozen, dried foods rather than canned, fresh fruit and vegetables in preference to canned fruit, vegetables and juices.
Plan your meals before shopping, based on the foods in season and any specials that you know about. Write down what you need, take the list with you and try to stick to it. Avoid impulse buying of gourmet foods or other expensive items you'd think you'd like to try.
For your health you should try and cut down on ice cream, foods with added sugar, cigarettes, soft drinks and packets of lollies that are displayed near the cash register.
Supermarkets are businesses. As the trend to eat less processed foods has become apparent, stores are beginning to introduce health food sections. Pre-mixed muesli now accounts for 20% of sales of breakfast cereals (but it is still probably cheaper to mix your own muesli) while sales of natural (unflavoured) yoghurt were $40 million in Australia in 1982.

We think beans, sold in bulk, are the best supermarket bargain today. Many stores now have loose, unpackaged dried peas and beans, lentils and nuts. You serve yourself from bins or bulk containers, so you can see what you are buying and judge the quality easily.
These staple legumes are a good source of protein. Especially good value are black-eyed peas (cow-peas), chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils, soybeans*, lima beans, split peas, kidney beans, pinto beans and whole peas. These may be sprouted after washing, or prepared in dozens of no-meat meals. Canned beans are at least double the price.
*Soybeans have some (toxin) issues and these days tend to be a GMO crop. I tend to avoid anything soy and anything GMO. It's a personal choice.

Some types of tinned food are good value. Fish, for example, tuna and sardines, provides good protein and vitamins. Buy several cans when the prices are low and store them in the pantry. Buy for your intended use and, usually, around middle price. There is little meat in some tinned meat mixtures. Irish stew often has more potatoes than meat. Again, read the label.

Always wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly when you get home to remove chemical spray residues, but peel them shallowly because the best nutrients are just under the skin. Make your own fruit juices from fresh fruit. As you walk through the supermarket, think about which products you might be able to process yourself at home, for example, bread, yoghurt, salad dressings and bean sprouts.
Many processed foods are high in calories but low in nourishment. We've grown up white bread and sugar and potatoes, the legacy of depression and war. We have locked-in taste preferences, but we must be prepared to learn more and change our buying and eating habits for our health and our financial well-being.
To eat cheaply from the supermarket requires a degree of consumer sophistication, time to plan and cook the food properly, a willingness to experiment and the ingenuity to make the cheap food tasty - turning yuk into yummy.



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