conscious consuming: the bigger picture behind your breakfast.
Every one of us, in economic terms, is a consumer. The decisions that you make, to buy or not to buy, dictates where your hard-earned income will go next on its journey, forever circulating through our economy.
Take this example; you wake up on a wintery Saturday morning with a craving for some warm cooked brekky. You wander out your front door and into the world in search of supplies to cook yourself a feast. Your mission is to buy bread, eggs, and mushrooms. You are endowed with time and money to spend as you wish, your only goal is to not return empty-handed.
At this exact moment, without noticing it, you are making decisions on where to go and what to buy. We all have spending habits and will generally visit the same shops day in day out. However, for explanatory purposes, I will compare two separate scenarios and evaluate their implications for yourself and the world around you.
Option 1: Local Supermarket
After a wander through sterile isles bombarded by branding from surrounding shelves, stocked neatly by underpaid, uniformed employees, you now find yourself with a basket of goods trying to convince a self-checkout machine that you really haven’t slipped anything else into your basket. You have found all of your produce under one roof for an unbeatable, price matched £3 and are back at base starting to chop your mushrooms after 30 minutes.
Option 2: Independent Shops
It’s a two-stop trip to grab some freshly baked bread from the bakery on your way to the farm shop to find yourself some eggs and mushrooms. After a quick catch up with the owner trading pleasantries and Covid conspiracies you also find yourself with a similar-looking basket of goods, minus the unnaturally shiny glint of supermarket plastic packaging. Due to a slightly longer round trip, you return home after 40 minutes and your wallet is £3.50 lighter due to your purchases.
At first glance the supermarket is a clear winner, you’ve saved yourself 50p and find yourself back in the warm comfort of your home scrabbling eggs 10 minutes earlier. But now let’s look a little deeper at your basket of goods and how they found themselves on that shelf.
Your supermarket bargain bunch includes a loaf of bread with ingredients sourced through international supply chains stamping carbon footprints through trade corridors before arriving at a mass-production plant.
Your two packs of half a dozen eggs are encased in similar cardboard boxes with identical brown shells, but when you crack them open you notice the nutrient richer yellow yolk of the locally sourced eggs and the animal welfare story that lays beneath.
Finally, look closer at the edible fungus to be sauteed with butter and herbs before making its way into your mouth. Modern large-scale agriculture practices use chemicals called pesticides to kill off unwanted weeds and chemical fertilizers to help crops grow as big as possible in malnourished soil to maximise output and minimise cost.
These are then sterilized and placed in a single-use plastic tray that will plague the globe for generations and wrapped in clingfilm. In comparison, in your sustainable parallel universe, you discover after a quick chat that the farm shop owner’s local farm grows their own mushrooms and benefit from effective crop rotation methods, food-waste compost, and pest-eating chickens, leaving only a little soil to wash off the surface instead of industrial chemicals soaked through.
We all want to get our weekly shop done as cheaply and quickly as possible, but we sometimes forget about the impacts of our actions. I ask you to dig a little deeper and become more aware of the life cycle of your produce. Instead of feeding a massive corporate beast, consider supporting your local community shop. Instead of bagging a processed ready meal with an ingredients list spanning the globe, buy in season and buy local.
The wealth that flows out of your account at the tap of a contactless bank card has the power to shape our world.
Take pride in what you buy. Be a conscious consumer.
The Sustainable Student