The agri-food behemoths that sell their products in mass retail have a bad reputation… Because of their low-quality food and their products that are bad for the planet and our health. But faced with changes in consumer behaviour, brands have had to adapt. Here are some pointers to guide you in making the right choices.
Non-clean ingredients and brands – boycott them
1- Boycott non-clean ingredients and brands
So what’s the first thing to do? Make a list of the harmful ingredients to shun. The first of which is palm oil, since we know that it has no nutritional value and that its cultivation, on the other side of the world, causes deforestation on a grand scale. These days, a great many products proudly display the words “free from palm oil” and are easy to spot.
The same goes for soybeans and coconut oil, whose popularity drives over-exploitation.
Otherwise, just read the list of ingredients. Of course, you’ll also want to avoid brands that deplete resources all over the world: carbonated drinks in general, and mineral waters that drain groundwater aquifers, and only produce plastic pollution through the billions of bottles produced all over the world. Find out what’s what on i-boycott to make good purchasing choices!
2- Beware of mass-produced coffee and chocolate
These two foodstuffs, which were once consumed only occasionally, are now consumed in large quantities on a daily basis. And they come from plants that require certain climates, grow near equatorial forests, need a lot of water, etc. Their intensive production poses a serious threat to biodiversity in these regions and their ecosystems due to deforestation, the use of pesticides and fertilisers and soil erosion. In addition, local populations are often exploited and working conditions extremely poor. Worse still, because mass-produced chocolate is highly processed, each step and addition of ingredients enlarges its footprint. So ideally, you should buy artisan chocolate only, derived from certified production, and fairtrade coffee grown under a forest protection programme. If you can’t get it in your usual shop, order online or go to a little organic shop.
3- Avoid mass produced meat
Meat is among the foods with the biggest carbon footprint… And the industrial variety is worse still. Large-scale meat production, often in far-flung places, also requires the cultivation of cereals on the other side of the world for animal feed. These crops (soya, etc.) require astronomical quantities of water, for animals that are often badly treated in oversized farms and end up being slaughtered. The meat is then processed in another country and then offered for sale on the many jam-packed shelves, with additives like nitrates to preserve it. Let alone that much of this meat will go unsold and get thrown away. In short, it’s a terrible waste of resources.
The solution: buying less meat, less often, unprocessed if possible. Avoid poor-quality cured meats, nuggets and so on, the producers of which all use minced poor-quality cuts. Go for produce from family farms, from pasture-raised and grass-fed animals. And why not gravitate towards plant-based substitutes such as vegetable patties, whose mass retail offering is ramping up in response to demand?
4- Favour regional, seasonal products
Some chains stock regional products, and it is not unusual to find that out on holiday. You might as well favour them to support local cottage industries and artisans, on whom, moreover, large-scale distribution often imposes very tough conditions. To eat clean, it is important to opt for fruit and vegetables that are grown in the country of sale, regional and seasonal.
Avoid giving in to the temptation of all kinds of fruit and vegetables all year round. If your hypermarket only offers products from far-flung countries, try to buy them elsewhere: from farming cooperatives, small-scale producers or markets, etc. You just need to get into new habits to avoid the trap of mass retail, which encourages us to buy without thinking because everything is right there.
5- Get into loose produce and organic products in hypermarkets
To follow the zero-waste trend, hypermarkets have started to offer loose products. Cereal, pasta, seeds, etc. It’s a worthwhile solution for buying in large quantities, avoiding packaging and saving money. You’ll also find a wide range of cereals including the wholegrain variety, and buying loose also allows you to buy only as much as you need. This process saves you from falling into the trap of special offers with jumbo packaging formats but less product inside, such as those big jars with concave bottoms. For the sake of the planet, ideally you will of course use cloth bags for your loose purchases, and re-use them each time.
As for organic produce, the mass-produced variety is pretty good in terms of ingredients, and companies are working on traceability. Which just leaves the packaging. Not least that of organic fruit and vegetables, which are sometimes sold in plastic bags to set them apart from standard ones. Again, it’s best to go to small, specialised, local shops, and bear in mind that mass retailers offer these alternatives to hold onto their customers. Speaking of fruit and vegetables, be wary of those with an extra-appealing shine, which is down to a sprayed-on wax!
It is generally possible to avoid the worst products out there and choose to buy clean. Nevertheless, this means really paying attention. You have to take the time to decipher labels, find out about brands and resist the many temptations and knockdown prices of mass retail. But after a while, you get into the habit of buying only the products that you have cleared yourself, and adding to them with anything you can’t find from elsewhere. In time, it would make sense to favour small businesses automatically in order to restore the value of local trade, the human dimension and work. You can always try to avoid this pitfall by putting your money where your mouth is, like a ballot paper that can influence the whole of society.