I went on a Shopping with a Conscience supermarket tour last Friday night and I do confess the complexity is ALMOST overwhelming. This is just what Supermarket Buying Guide and the campaign Your dollar is your vote – who did you vote for today? is tackling.
The supermarket is in many ways the front line in the fight for a better world says the Sustainable Living Foundation (SLF). Through our everyday shopping we make choices that have an impact on the environment and choices that send important and powerful signals to manufacturers and retailers.
At 6pm sixteen of us met at the Footscray Baptist Church, across the road from a Coles supermarket – after getting lost in the many one way streets in a part of Melbourne I don’t know well, I saw a ‘Make Poverty History’ banner slung across a building and knew I had arrived!
Nick Ray from the SLF ran us through some of the ethical discussions, but started off saying it’s all about what we, the consumers, value, that our dollar is our vote and we should aim to buy better according to our values. We inspected many boxes Nick had there and soon realised how confusing the whole labelling system is. eg
After our round circle discussion 6 groups were each given an item to go and buy after researching the product in a 24 page A5 Buying Guide. 20 minutes later we returned, explained what we had bought and why and proceeded to eat our supper – lucky someone had a Swiss army knife to cut the Brie! Our chat over supper finished up around 9.30 – a very good night.
The SLF and the Ethical Consumer Group – two NonProfits collaborating on this project – say the ‘green’ minefield can easily be crossed by asking yourself four simple questions before buying:
The Supermarket Buying Guide covers 10 areas of ethical concern and it IS very much up to us how we ‘vote’ with our dollar.
My shopping partner and I agreed that after ‘a few goes at it’ you would end up with your own shopping list and you would stick to that. Clearly the first few efforts would be slow but after that ‘normal shopping’ would resume and hopefully the pile in the supermarket trolley would become quite small as we use local greengrocers, butchers, chemists, florists, delis etc. I am quite proud of my small pile now and I enjoy the variety and the ‘human contact’ with retailers of the non Coles-Woolies variety!
It has occurred to me that although a ‘duopoly’ to all intents and purposes, Coles and Woolies ARE two businesses in competition…
What would be the response if individual store managers were tackled by grassroots shoppers about labelling, shelf space, local produce issues etc? Where I often shop the Coles and Woolies stores about a 5 minute walk apart – not hard to swap stores if ONE adopted some sustainability/local living economy principles. This might lead to BOTH stores being responsive to consumer desires.
Once again, what if, the Neighbourhood House network or Lions or Rotary or school students or climate action networks tackled their local stores armed with info from the SLF?
When the Warrandyte Climate Action Network group started up there was a concerned 16 year old Warrandyte High student there with all the oldies. I heard a recent poll saying climate change – AKA our sustainable future – is top of the list of concerns for Australians right now. Maybe now is the time…
The ONLY thing the supermarkets have going for them is the convenience factor. Farmers’ markets are growing in popularity – I know plenty of people who wouldn’t dream of buying fruit and veg at the supermarket. You do hear about fruit kept for months in cool stores – a lot certainly isn’t ‘fresh’. We are so gulled by the law(!!) I mean by what is ‘allowed’ and how this is legally labelled.
For more info visit www.slf.org.au/directory/index.php?page=introduction