Plant-Based Pause No 38: Supermarkets Aren’t Always the Bad Guy

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what you want them to achieve, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.’ – George Smith Patton Jr.


As I’ve said in earlier posts, I try to do as much of my shopping as possible from local farmers markets and health food shops. Ideally, I’d like to be able to do all my shopping like this. Unfortunately, my life does not allow it. The farmers markets are only on three mornings a week, in different parts of the city, and I can’t always get there. The health food shops don’t open in the evenings, and because of the ridiculous number of hours I work every week I can’t always get there in time. I also can’t always find what I need there. That’s when I use the local supermarkets.

When you’re trying to live ethically, I think it’s easy to see modern supermarket chains as the enemy. Certainly here in the UK, it’s true that they are responsible for encouraging modern, mass farming techniques. For many years their buying power drove out small-scale farmers and producers, and their demands for perfect produce has led to ridiculous levels of waste and prices so low that they are not sustainable. However, the tide is slowly changing. Supermarkets are waking up to the fact that their customers are becoming more conscious of their ethics. The ‘Big 5’ – Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, Morrisons and The Co-operative – all provide organic choices in their produce departments, sell plant-based alternatives such as soya milk and are keen to label their British products with very visible Union Jack stickers. It’s now also common for supermarket brands to team up with environmental causes in an effort to do their bit and improve their public image. Tesco launched Together for Trees, a partnership with RSPB to stop the destruction of the rainforests. Customers can collect and donate green Clubcard points, and you can earn more points by re-using shopping bags and recycling ink cartridges and mobile phones.

The Co-operative is one of Britain’s biggest farmers. Their first farm, to grow their own potatoes, began in 1896. Today, as well as the potatoes, they mill wheat for their own-brand flour, oats for their own-brand oats and grow strawberries and apples. More than half of the rapeseed oil they grow on their farms is used to heat their head office. I used to work for the Co-operative, and I was pleasantly surprised at how serious they are about their ethics. They were the first business to use biodegradable bags, they designed the first ever biodegradable credit card, you can trace every coffee been they sell back to source and they even ensure they stun all the fish on their fish farms before killing them so it is more humane.

British supermarkets are making the effort to keep up with the ethical changes in shopping trends. That being said, bear in mind that most supermarkets/grocery stores are companies. Although their actions are positive, apart from businesses like The Co-operative (a co-operative, not a a company), they are doing it to increase their profits.

For me personally, there is a place on the high street for both supermarket chains and smaller, independent stores and markets.


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