How To Make Grocery Shopping Fun
Updated: Oct 29, 2019
Can taking more time to do a mundane life task like shopping in a more mindful way be useful too? Well, if the way you go about it aligns with your own personal values I think it can - which is why I now shop at farmer’s markets and make a morning outing of the whole grocery gathering expedition rather than endure the soulless tedium of supermarket queues. As a general life principle I have found the simple Pavlovian associating of something that I don’t look forward to with something I do renders the unpleasant pleasant. Playing beautiful music while I clean. Listening to a favourite podcast while I iron.
For me a beautiful farmer’s market humanizes the whole task of grocery shopping. I take the time to talk to vendors I know and have established a relationship with. I meet up with friends for a relaxing cuppa and chat and take some time out to watch the world pass by. I soak in the wonderfully creative, innovative music of some talented busker.
Sinking into all 5 senses I take my time to navigate the stalls. I admire and select the fresh produce which I remind myself will nourish those I love for the coming week. I let the produce inspire me.
My shopping trips are now longer but the shopping aspect of them is shorter and the whole experience is far more enjoyable. As Brooke McAlary of the Slow Home Podcast puts it “convenience” can gift us with a little more time, but it can also rob us of opportunities for connection, mindfulness and the fulfillment that comes from creating something from scratch. Convenience food gets me lots of packaging but rarely helps me slow down because I feel compelled to fill the spare time with “something useful.” Shopping is something most of us do at least once a week. Contemplating how I could inject more meaning, enjoyment and connection into what used to be a resented, tedious task has improved my quality of life. It has also helped me slow down and simplify.
I do take a rough menu plan and shopping list but I am also on the look out for the best fruit and veggies of the season. One day I just decided I’d had enough of grocery shopping. There was something about the whole undertaking that felt soul destroying.
I asked my husband to do the shopping with me and told him I wanted to reinvent it as a social outing so I no longer associated it with domestic drudgery. We found a beautiful organic farmer’s market nestled underneath a canopy of massive, old Moreton Bay fig trees - Northey Street Markets, which sits adjacent to an urban permaculture farm. It is on the outskirts of the CBD but once within the embrace of those ancient trees you feel worlds away from city life. There is something nostalgic and yesteryear about Northey Street. Sure the organic produce is more expensive here. But I have crunched the numbers and found that if I cook simple meals from whole foods and cut back on meat my weekly food expenses compare very favourably with the average Australian family of my size.
I tend to construct my own meals from fridge and pantry staples now rather than follow recipes because I find I am more likely to use up all of the ingredients I buy. My fridge and pantry start to look familiar and there is less wastage of exotic ingredients I may not use again. I have a kitchen and pantry staples list which resides on the inside of my pantry door. This makes compiling a shopping list fast. I pull it off it’s blue-tack backing and check it against fridge and pantry supplies. I also have a black board shopping list board so my family can mark down what has been used up before we go shopping. If I want to do a mini, mid-week shop I take a photo of it with my mobile phone.
We bought a trolley - yes it is plastic - it was before my plastic awakening so don’t judge me. This solved the dilemma of jostling a million bags. I now use that trolley for my nomadic yoga classes and for the supermarket on the rare occasions I pop into one. On beach-side holidays we walk the trolley to the grocery store instead of drive. It is collapsible and has two collapsible crates that we fill with bottles and mason jars and refillable produce bags. We use refill bottles for Kombucha and olive oil and mason jars for pantry goods.
We have breakfast together and I pick a spot near the best buskers. We watch the cute dogs and children. Admire babies. Sit at community tables and engage locals in conversation or invite different friends/family to come for a cuppa in the middle of our shop. We have met some really interesting people and had some great conversations. We have gotten to know the vendors by name so its a bit like catching up with old friends each week. We make a point of being interested in their lives and inquiring how their loved ones are going. It is unbelievable how energizing this has been. Noticing little things that are really not so little. Simple joys like these go a long way towards transforming life from endless, repetitive tasks to enjoyable engagement with others and with everyday beauty. Taking the time to enjoy and marinate in gratitude at the sight, feel and aroma of the amazing produce our precious planet provides is a free mindfulness meditation class that also gets stuff done. It reminds me that we belong to a family of living beings. It is slow and simple.
From Northey Street we usually pop across to The Source at Westend - a wonderful deli and organic bulk bin store where we fill our pantry staples and pick up something special for lunch.
I also love the Redcliffe waterfront markets for the fantastic view and the friendliness and helpfulness of stall holders. I haven’t met one yet that didn’t understand my desire to reduce single-use plastics when grocery shopping. They are happy to refill the bottles, jars and produce bags I bring. Being by the water has a holiday aesthetic. There is a good organic fresh fruit and veggie stall.
Sandgate across the bridge from the peninsula I live on has a great Wednesday and Sunday morning market that opens in front of an organic cafe. And for anyone living on the Redcliffe Peninsula there is now a small pop-up market next to the Organic Wholefoods Cafe at Margate open on Saturday mornings. A lovely young man sells fabulous micro-greens there on Wednesday mornings.
Contrast this intimate approach with the often crowded, noisy and impersonal Supermarket shop. Everyone is in a rush. Noise echoes. Farmers often don’t get a good price for their produce and much of the produce is grown using questionable chemicals in soil that is not sustainably managed. Degraded agricultural soil is listed as a major cause of global warming because healthy soils suck in carbon and degraded soils liberate carbon when left chemically fallow at the end of a crop. After a supermarket shop I arrive home with a mountain of packaging I then have to get rid of. There is a lot of decision fatigue because of the plethora of options. And then there is the whole organic vs packaged produce dilemma. Do I buy organic apples, for example, because I want to support regenerative agriculture, but I find the organic apples are packaged in plastic. Plastic is also a problem right - arghhh! I find it exhausting. I feel like a tiny cog in a big consumeristic machine. A hamster on an exercise wheel. With organic fresh food markets most of the produce is naked and only organically certified produce is allowed. This makes choosing food much simpler.
A lot of farmer’s market vendors are actually primary producers and this makes me feel more connected to the land. They are country people who know how to have a good chat. I ask them how their farm is going and they ask me what I’m going to cook with their produce. Some vendors show remarkable ingenuity designing new products or new, eco ways of packaging their products like this micro greens business. The micro greens are grown in little trays made of sugarcane pulp that are compostable. To sell food at an organic farmer’s market, growers need to prove they are certified. Sellers understand my desire to steer away from plastic. Cheese gets cut off big blocks and wrapped up in waxed paper.
Children play with recycled swings and toys and paint pictures using ochre. I can get a massage or a facial that uses natural products. We can wander around the permaculture gardens and watch the chooks. A nursery sells native food plants, ornamentals and fruit and veggie seedlings. I enjoy supporting the local artists. One lady runs a recycled jewelry business called “Redeeming Features.” She makes jewelry out of the innards of old tvs and computers. Another lady sells refashioned clothes.
Yes the shopping trip takes longer! But I feel like I am having a life. And it embraces my slow and simple lifestyle. It’s like the modern day equivalent of loading up the wagon and going to the village square to get the weekly supplies and connect with the wider community. I get inspired by what everyone is doing. And it reminds me what life could be like. What if we had a permaculture garden/meeting place/education centre/art and culture hub/farmer’s markets like this in every suburb?
During the week the permaculture gardens attached to this market run all sorts of courses teaching people of all ages all manner of bush and environmentally sustainable urban farming techniques. Locals can get their own little plot here to grow their own veggies and cook it in the central open kitchen. It is a space that builds a sense of community.
This blog is part of a series I have been writing on slow and simple living. If this subject tickles your fancy you might like to look back at my previous blogs. What makes shopping fun for you?
Please feel free to comment.