It’s the start of a new year and as always the Internet’s flooded with words contemplating change. If there were three areas we could probably all make small changes they would be towards better health, a stricter personal economy, and improving, enhancing ones living environment; the three aspects are intertwined and if you’re going to make changes, the sooner you make them, the better.
For us the best place to start is from food – it’s a huge part of our life and impacts our health, our environment and most definitely our finances. Being in the kitchen makes me happy, eating out is a much enjoyed activity – hobby almost – and we invest energy, time and money into sourcing, preparing our food. My kitchen’s filled with gadgets and spices, many non-native to Turkey and while these are undoubtedly an expense, its beneficial because it means the food coming out of our kitchen is, 99% of the time, non-processed, home-made. I started to cook when in uni and I started to coupon shop too – with three supermarkets within five minutes of home, there was always an offer to be had. Then I read a book or two on chicken farming, a few more on the sources of our food and by the time I came to Shopped and the unscrupulousness of supermarkets, I was more than willing to trade coupons for local and fresh. It wasn’t easy to do in the UK where supermarkets are abundant and greengrocer are not, farmers markets are expensive and frozen veg is cheap and where 60% of meat sold domestically is flown halfway round the world while British farmers close up shop, but I stuck to my guns and stayed away from temptation: my entire final year of university, I didn’t step foot in a supermarket to buy produce for my home.
In Istanbul it’s easier to shop local and fresh; there are markets selling Turkish grown produce from vegetables to pulses, the prices are low and the quality is high.
Yet no matter how fantastic the markets, how much more clued up on food I am compared to ten years ago, now I can’t give up the supermarket.
There’s always an excuse a reason to go…goats milk for M, stored-in-brine-tuna, whole wheat pasta,… No matter how badly the shelves here compare to Tesco, supermarkets are still a money trap, a real-foodies worst nightmare yet somewhere I can’t seem to live without. In Turkey the supermarkets provide the touches of Brit-ness I often need in my life. Unlike the UK, I often can’t get my fix of whatever-it-is that I’m craving that day at a restaurant, I have to cook it at home and Turkish markets aren’t selling foodstuffs with chinese-indian-mexican-pie-cheesecake-bakes in mind but when I’m in there it’s hard not to get sucked the few filled-full-of-additive-perfect-for-a-snack-guilty-pleasure-noodle-pots or pre-packaged biscuits with three year sell-by dates. I wish I had more moral fibre to resist the supermarket itself but I’ve reconciled the knowledge that my sanity requires a once-monthly stock-up trip and I’m ok with that – what I’m not ok with is the extras finding their way into the trolley once there. The non-food that somehow falls into our baskets I won’t feed to our son, so we shouldn’t be eating it either.
90% of the month we shop in the markets, the butchers (Ok – the butcher is inside a supermarket but a local supermarket selling real butcher cuts so it doesn’t count, really) and the local bakeries around. Other shops we drop into through the month are part of the quirks of Istanbul for me: There’s a cigerci, selling nothing but offal, a yufkaci, selling hand-made filo dough, a pickleman selling pickled fruit and veg and all sorts of others like this. Once I’m stocked up with mayonnaise and cereal, this variety of local shops keeps me more than enthralled with real foodstuffs and cooking and the freshness of produce gives even the simplest of foods the most exquisite of tastes.
Shopping like this – in markets and in local wee shops – may make it easier to eat healthier more of the time, but it makes it easy to spend more than you need because there’s always one pickle more to try and without coupons and store cards, there’s no gain-back on these buys. So: this year, I resolve to apply and stick to a budget for food, inshAllah.
Through the week we eat at home every night; at the weekend, many – most? – meals we eat out. The local bazaar is on Sundays meaning a budget week should theoretically start then, but I don’t want to feel limited with where we can eat on a Saturday so our food budget will retop itself on Friday night and run for a week from then. Hopefully this approach to budget and food will not only make us more conscious of the money that we’re spending and appreciative of the food that we eat, but will reduce food wastage and help us save money. The budget will include all eating out costs for the three of us and extras like ‘Ben & Jerry’s’, too…(yes, that was a small sob you could hear!) I think it will be interesting to see if our spending & eating habits change as a result of being more economy conscious for food.
When I originally wrote this post, I included our actual spending habits and our food budget for the week. A few days later, replying to a comment left on the post, I commented how our budget is likely equal to the salary many people in this country take home in total. That reply has played on my mind and as a result I decided to remove our costs and not to share a budget here. Islam teaches moderation and this budget is one way in which we are trying to moderate our life in accordance with our belief; moderation too must come in how, what and why I share.