The enthusiasm from Susanna and Mark Rynehart is infectious when I speak to them about their lifestyle change – swapping supermarket shopping with indy-shopping, the high street butchers and farm shops for example.
Over the next few months, I’m going to track the Ryneharts’ progress as they change their shopping and eating habits. And don’t switch off now thinking this isn’t for you – I’m an online supermarket shopper and had my eyes opened.
It all started for the Ryneharts with a wish list of an intimate wedding within the local community, serving their guests a wedding breakfast of local produce. Our lovely Tonbridge Castle & Tonbridge Old Fire Station ticked all the boxes and they were married last June.
They then started to wonder why ‘indy shopping’ should only be for special occasions & after Christmas 2016, decided to make it less novelty and more normal. In their words, they wanted “better food”.
They care about the origins of their food, the carbon foot print – how local it is, seasonality, packaging – all those things that we read about and they wanted to escape the rat run of the supermarket and the “tyranny of choice” as Mark calls it. Over the past few months they’ve sourced meat, cheese and veg from a variety of local independent food retailers – this is how they spend their Saturday mornings, sometimes dragging their teenage sons with them.
Their sons are an interesting gauge of the success of this change: despite the two boys thinking this is a fad (apparently last year it was slow-cooking), Susanna and Mark have noticed that the boys are commenting more that their meal is “delicious” and devouring the meat in front of them – previously they might have laboured over a meal, pushing it round with their forks.
The Ryneharts don’t meal-plan – they purchase what’s local (and by default seasonal) and create a meal from that basket, perhaps adapting a well-loved recipe to include an ingredient that’s in season, sometimes new to them. By purchasing from independents, they’re building relationships there and feel comfortable to be adventurous, asking the experts behind the counter for advice.
They’re relishing being creative with a lamb joint – roasting it one day, curry the next – and they’re really savouring it – paying more means that you’re a more conscientious cook, avoiding waste (although they’re eager to tell me that savings can be made – buying a sack of potatoes for example might cost £10 and last months if stored correctly vs less economical supermarket quantities).
Their enthusiasm was so infectious that I was compelled to try it myself – due to a lack of time I just visited Haywards farm shop and spent about £44 on quite a lot of meat and veg that was on my list (I’m a meal planner…). The shop was quiet when I arrived, as I’d secretly expected but that didn’t last for long as it became very busy!
In a shop groaning with fresh produce, oddly, I was attracted to packaged goods! Out of all the cherry tomatoes, I chose the plastic packaged ones (there were a lot on offer) and then wandered over to the fridge to peruse more pre-packaged goods! (I bought some Haywards chicken nuggets).
The revelation was the roast chicken. We cooked it the next day & my two children, usually picky and slow at eating – devoured it! Maybe there’s something in this I started thinking…
So far, so good for the Ryneharts but will they be able to maintain their commitment to the cause, the time, the spontaneity of filling the basket with what’s available? Or will they cut corners for convenience? – like the rest of us! Let’s wait and see!