Today, I went to the shops, and I bought, amongst other things: lettuce, tomatoes, an aubergine and a cabbage. Why, you might ask, have you bothered to present your banal and rather oddball list of vegetables for publication? A fair question, I’m sure, but I’d ask you to reserve judgement for a moment.
This shop cost my stretched mid-term budget the sum of £11.51. As I pondered this on my way home from the Covered Market, I considered the vast number of people who had defended their Tesco fruit and veg. by protesting at the extravagant expense of buying local produce in the markets.
So, I thought that a test was in order. I replicated the order in Tesco and, to make it a fairer comparison, even chose loose vegetables as opposed to the marked-up, pre-packaged goods which are so temptingly effortless to pick up (I particularly enjoy their policy of hiding the vegetable bags in obscure locations in order to make buying loose produce just that little bit more difficult).
The result? The Tesco shop came to £14.43. The advantages of shopping in a market are not just limited, then, to being able to buy locally-sourced, fresh food- it’s categorically cheaper. It also offers the benefit of being able to buy the exact quantity that you want, and requires minimal effort, as the lovely and charismatic staff bag it up for you. Crucially, too, the quality of the food is remarkable, particularly in comparison to the soggy, imported produce found in supermarket aisles. If you’ve ever wondered why the minimal Insalata Caprese (consisting solely of fresh tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella) tastes quite so spectacular when consumed in Italy, and utterly ordinary when replicated at home, you might want to consider the origin of your ingredients. Put simply, if your tomatoes have been picked thousands of miles away, frozen, flown halfway across the world, defrozen and bagged, before reaching supermarket shelves, they will not taste anywhere near as good as the tomatoes picked at a local farm that day.
This is a particularly important issue at this time, when Oxford City Council are threatening to raise the rents in the Covered Market by such a margin that many of the small businesses will be forced out- marking the end of an invaluable resource for the town. As The Oxford Student reported last month, this has provoked outrage from business owners and townspeople alike, prompting an online petition to ‘Save the Covered Market’ which currently has over 8500 signatories.
In a climate of growing environmental concerns and mounting pressures both on small businesses and the agricultural industry, the issues which emerge out of crises like this year’s meat adulteration scandal are at the forefront of the public mind. Thankfully, it would seem that the scare has reminded the public that, if we want to know what’s going into our food, we need to take responsibility in sourcing ingredients, without assuming that we can rely on governmental procedures or corporate accountability to ensure the quality of produce.
To my mind, students are not exempt from assuming responsibility, both individually and on a wider social level. Certainly, the horsemeat scandal has exposed the need for greater transparency within the food supply process, yet I’d argue that the most effective way of doing this is simply by obliterating that chain, buying locally-sourced, sustainable produce instead. It’s not only more ethically-sound, it’s also cheaper. Save money, save local business, and save your conscience.