Monday, 7 November 2011

Food, glorious food

Recently we've been making rather a few changes to the way we get our food.

There are reasons for this. First of it's about trying to source food as local as possible. Growing your own is fine and well, just that the space we've got is not going to feed a mouse through the year (and living in the west of Scotland is not conducive to high yields). So the next best thing is trying to source food from within Scotland.

Another reason for changing our food shopping habits is an attempt to reduce packaging and waste. Buying in bulk or without packaging is rather hard if you get your food from the supermarket, even if you try your best to go for minimal packaging, bulk and cardboard before plastic.

I'm not quite that person yet who takes her own containers to the shops (this is mainly a space thing - I can hardly cope with the containers for freezing food I cook, space is precious around here).

So what's our solution? Well, there's two even. And the great thing is that it's something that can be done everywhere really without much effort.
Number one on our list is getting a vegetable bag from an organic and local grower (local in Scotland means east coast, really, the west is too wet to yield crops that actually taste nice. We can grow tatties and cabbage and turnip and rather a lot of beetroot, anything tasty and you need more sun and less rain). To reduce food miles and expense further, we've joined a food co-op. This means that one person coordinates orders and payments, receives the goods, and the members (who are all local) pick up on the delivery day. In return, we get wholesale prices, and the farmer has a guaranteed income throughout the year. There are currently 12 members to our food co-op and a like-minded restaurant serves as the drop off point for the bags so that they can be picked up all day and evening.

Second up is another kind of food co-op. This time it's about wholefoods that come in bulk. Again, there's the benefit of wholesale prices, plus the price advantage of buying in bulk. The system is similar: The food is ordered centrally, delivered centrally and picked up by the members. Our local provider is very amenable to food co-ops with the only condition being that there is no wholefood provision locally. All the admin is down to the members, so each members copies their shopping list from and to an excel sheet and it is then compiled by one volunteer, delivered to one volunteer. In our case we all turned up at the delivery address to sort through the order, one person on the computer, one emptying the boxes and putting food on piles, an one person keeping the kids entertained. It took the better part of an afternoon, but it was actually fun - very sociable and the kids loved it too. As the food comes in bulk, you wouldn't place an order on a weekly basis but it's more like quarterly, and it probably takes some experience to get the quantities right.

With both food-coops, the advantage is also that you get to know a few people near you. So you save money, reduce your carbon footprint, move the money you spend on food to local producers or green suppliers and get to make friends, which may well translate into stronger local communities. It's all good.

And it's so easy to set up, all it takes is a willing volunteer to pull together the order, someone with a bit of a head for numbers and maybe an ability to use excel. Plus another person willing to be the delivery address and opening their house to the chaos of sorting through the order (not as much of a chaos as I imagined). And Bob's your uncle. Free, yummy, local food that doesn't cost the earth.

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