The Importance of Affordable Food & Why I Am Passionate About My Food Co-op

Food co-op fruit and veg

I am very lucky.  I can afford to eat well and healthily. By virtue of this site I am fortunate enough to be given most of the food I eat, which reduces my spending on food considerably.   When we borrowed Ed’s sister’s house for a holiday last year I was horrified at just how much fresh fruit and vegetables can cost in the smaller supermarkets; the ones which do not stock the savers / economy / essentials ranges.

I like to eat lots of fresh produce, way above the recommended 5 a day – typically I start most days with a green smoothie, which is probably at least four portions in my first meal of the day.   If I do not eat enough fresh produce my body complains fairly rapidly. Digestive discomfort and bad sleep and broken concentration come quickly.

The Guardian had an excellent piece on food poverty in December, people are buying less of expensive fruit and vegetables and buying cheaper filling food. The poorest 10% eat an average of just 107g of fruit a day – about one portion, compared to the richest 10% who eat an average of 227g of fruit. The resultant effects on health and cost to the NHS, business and industry must be staggering.

In my patch of West London there is an excellent market – plentiful fruit and vegetables for £1 a scoop, and my local fruit and vegetable co-op (which I have been going to for nearly 2 years). The co-op buys in bulk from the market traders and redistributes it.   Prices have just gone up – £4 buys a bag of fruit or a bag of vegetables.  I could probably get the same quantity as shown above for £8 from the market but there would not be the variety.

Of course in an ideal world I would prefer to only buy British, seasonal (and possibly organic) fruit and vegetables.  I’d have my box delivered of seasonal organic produce (still encrusted with mud for added authenticity) once per week and pat myself on the back for doing the right thing.  HOWEVER I strongly believe that by buying from and supporting the co-op I am doing the better thing.   The more that use it, the more buying power they have and the more it will benefit those who really need it.  The people who are in food poverty and who go hungry and simply cannot afford the healthy food that so many of us take for granted.  I’ll worry about food miles, seasonality and organic when everyone can afford to buy the food they need to stay healthy.

So, what can you do? Try out your local co-op – they are run by Sustain Web – a directory can be found here. If you have a veg box maybe take a few weeks break and try buying from a food co-op.  Most importantly tell people about the scheme, in fact shout about it, the more that know about them the more that can benefit.

A few other ways to help the problem of food poverty are here.

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About Helen

Helen Best-Shaw is a freelance writer, who has been writing about achievable and affordable food on Fuss Free Flavours since 2007. She also contributes articles and recipes to a number of online and print food magazines.

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Comments

  1. Helen, Thank you so much for introducing me to the Food Co-Op after I spied your fruit pic on instagram. It’s no doubt you’ll bag a bargain with their £4 produce bags, but s shame my nearest location is about a half hour away via the M25. Looks like this might be a good excuse to go out and explore the rest of Surrey in order to visit the co-op! Thanks, Andrea @ Made With Pink

  2. That sounds like an excellent operation – how lovely to have access to it. I just checked the site – my nearest one is 135 miles away! I signed up for a local organic box scheme, sometime last year, and I’ve recently been told that it’ll likely be June before I get my first weekly delivery. There’s a long waiting list and they only serve about 15 local households. Meantime I just have to make due with the local supermarket!

  3. I’m doing better than the people above – my nearest coop claims to be 6 miles away. However, it doesn’t look to me like it would be anything like as good value as what you are describing, so I guess I’ll have to stick with our local East of England coop, which stocks food grown in this area (food miles for mushrooms, 2!) Great thing to be talking about though.

  4. If you don’t live near a co op, perhaps you could start your own? There’s an excellent toolkit on the Sustain website.

  5. Good post Helen, I am a big fan of co-operatives. It is shocking that really unhealthy food is cheap and easily available where as fresh and healthy food is expensive and often hard to find. Good food and food poverty is such a complicated subject as there are no easy answers and it is all tied up with our economic system. The fruit and veg food co-ops sound really good, but do the people who really need them know about them I wonder. There is, of course, nothing down our way.

  6. Great post Helen, made me think about my box scheme. I switched last year from Riverford to a local supplier, which is a very reaaonable cost, and is a great local business. Is my £5 box spend with them enabling them to keep offering such a great box at a reasonable cost to more people, or am I unrealistic that £5 a week for a family of 3 is reasonable spend for many people. I will certainly look into local co-op versions too, it’s a challenge worth acting on.

  7. I have just checked and not surprising, there is little near to me. I would buy happily from them but what I do struggle with is promoting these co-operatives to my learners who are low income mothers and fathers who simply would not have the means to hunt out such places. Also, I have to engage with the mothers and my main aim is to get them interested in cooking. If I try to veer into the realms of where to shop I would lose their interest rapidly and if it could become easier to find local co-ops I would gladly promote them. So wish it could be more accessible as the people that could really benefit from this scheme seem to be so far out of reach……

  8. According to the finder, my local co-op is a mere 2.7 miles away in Fulham. Unfortunately, it’s 3 buses to get there or a Tube journey, thus doubling the cost of the bag of produce and an almost 2 hour round trip which as someone in food poverty due to ill health would be far too much for me.

    I think co-ops are a useful addition to the idea of making good healthy food more accessible and affordable, but they are fairly unrealistic for many as they are basically preaching to the converted as Laura pointed out above. I’m more concerned about the proliferation of small supermarkets like Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Locals pushing out local retailers who can respond better to a community’s needs while pushing up food prices and rents, the removal of public transport in certain areas, attempts to shut down markets like in Birmingham, the rise of out of town retail and the fact that people often have to work such long hours it restricts their food choices more than money.

    It would be great if box schemes, co-ops and markets could work together more to combine all the real bonuses of them with the convenience that makes supermarkets so popular!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Engineers that almost half the world’s food is wasted.   Shock rapidly turned to anger.  People are going hungry in the UK in 2013 for lack of affordable food, the environmental cost of producing food which is wasted must also be staggering.  This level of [...]

  2. [...] ethics are an immensely tricky issue, I have written about my food co-op on many an occasion, it certainly is not organic, but it is affordable and by supporting it I am [...]

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