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Jenny Chandler: “It’s often a question of paying a bit more and wasting nothing”

Bristol-based food writer and teacher Jenny Chandler was asked by the United Nations FAO to be their European Special Ambassador for the 2016 International Year of Pulses. Her writing and teaching both focusses on getting kids in the kitchen cooking from scratch, and encourages all of us to eat more whole foods. In this blog post she writes about the joys and benefits to shopping locally.

Like many, I’m proud to live in Bristol, a city brimming with incredible food initiatives; home to The Soil Association and dozens of community projects such as The Square Food Foundation, 91 Ways, Incredible Edible Bristol, the City farms and so, so many more. There are plenty of ways to do your bit – by donating, supporting events, volunteering and then there’s also just changing the way you shop, something that we can all easily do, to a greater or lesser degree, in our everyday lives.

A year ago we gave up supermarkets for Lent, 40 days seemed manageable. Luckily, Peter and our twelve-year-old daughter, Imi, were really up for it too. In fact, by the time Easter arrived, we realised that there was very little that we couldn’t buy locally and we’d made loads of great discoveries right on our doorstep. After that experience our supermarket trolley had been reduced to a few specific items and so the challenge for 2020 has been to give up the big boys altogether.

I know that lots of you will say that we live in a bubble – we’re fortunate to have the time, and the money, to wander around local markets and independent shops rather than squeezing in the economical weekly shop in that hour between finishing work and the kid’s bedtime. But, give it a go, it may be easier and, importantly, more rewarding than you imagine.

Firstly the time element: well, lots of our shopping has become a family event, something we really enjoy doing together as downtime, it’s no longer a chore. Take our Sunday morning ritual – we head down to The Tobacco Factory Market for breakfast and buy much of the fruit and veg’ for the week, milk from a vending machine (in our reusable glass bottles) and, when Hinton Harvest come, once a month we buy our chicken. It’s a real treat, yes it does cost over double the bargain-basement supermarket chicken but I eke it out (usually managing four meals) and we savour every mouthful. Local shopping makes us shop seasonally, eat far more vegetables (with the odd bit of well-sourced meat or fish), we’re supporting local producers and cutting food miles in the process, and, what may seem surprising to some, it’s fun. You can log it as a Going for Gold action too!

I personally like to shop, I enjoy the chat and love choosing my own produce. I feel lucky to have plenty of local shops and independent businesses in my neighbourhood but also recognise that they won’t be able to survive long term if we’re just using them for the odd lemon or lamb chop. But, if you’re short of time and still want to shop local, there’s the veg’ box option from the likes of The Community Farm or a huge selection of sustainable food, as well as some toiletries, from companies such as Fresh-Range, who deliver.

On the budgeting side, we spend no more now than we used to, it’s often a question of paying a bit more and wasting nothing. We eat more pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds with dairy, meat and fish occasionally playing second fiddle – eating more meat-free meals being another Going for Gold action you can take and log on the website. I allow things to run out, something I used to be peculiarly neurotic about – whilst having no loo paper in the house is pretty inconvenient, going without milk and bread for breakfast is hardly a crisis, it may just mean black tea and porridge rather than coffee and toast. It’s good to see the back of the fridge sometimes, or completely empty the vegetable basket, and we’re certainly wasting less.

We eat better too, no longer having to navigate my way through shopping aisles of biscuits, crisps and cheap chocolate means that we just don’t have them in the house. We bake cakes or biscuits once in a blue moon, so our Sunday morning pastries taste twice as good. An ice cream means a 15-minute walk to Swoon, so it doesn’t happen often, and when it does it’s heaven.

And, at risk of sounding rather smug about all this, our rubbish and recycling has reduced pretty drastically too, particularly the plastic. It really is a win in every sense.

I know it’s not always easy; we do have “food deserts” in our city, where you can go for mile upon without an independent shop or market, but if we all support local whenever we can there’s a chance we can turn things around. So get started, make a change, and help Bristol become a Gold Sustainable Food City. Register now to take action.

Jenny Chandler is a teacher, food writer, speaker, consultant and blogger, passionate about inspiring others to source, prepare and eat great food, putting whole grains and pulses firmly back on the menu.