12 Ways To Buy Food Mindfully

Posted by on July 15, 2015 in Food, Drink & Nutrition, Health with 0 Comments
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By Sophie Legrand | Elephant Journal

Photo: Avlxyz on Flickr.

Photo: Avlxyz on Flickr.

Buying food mindfully is an individual labor of love that benefits all of us.

‘Mindful shopping is a potentially important practice, a socially engaged act that could collectively help us save the world from its greatest threat: us’.  ~ Daniel Goleman.

Floating pigs and heavy metal.

Recent eye-opening scandals have taught us how our food chain has become so complex, so geographically intricate that it seems to have escaped our control. This sends us back to our roots, to the simple truth that to know what food we’re eating, we need to buy it locally, grow it or forage it.

Keeping it local is very enjoyable when it comes to fresh products (fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy). Who doesn’t love strolling around farmer’s markets on a Sunday morning with a Latte?

When, however, you start thinking about the provenance of rice, tea, beans, cereals, spices, chocolate, and all the dry goods we need to buy in shops: there’s the rub.

This is where I hit a brick wall a few months ago when planning a veggie chilli and burrito night at home. I went to my local health shop and then to the British supermarket chain Waitrose to try and buy some black beans.

I soon found out that the only beans on the market appeared to be Chinese. My faith in Chinese agriculture has not exactly been bolstered by further alarming news this year about water pollution. In June, Bloomberg reported ‘abnormally high levels of cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic in many Chinese rivers, and described how cadmium had then been discovered in rice.

Earlier this year, the BBC showed some disturbing images of dead pigs washed up on the banks of the Huangpu River. Thousands of them were found floating on several other rivers around Shanghai.

The reporter then added that 40 percent of rivers are polluted and 20 percent are unfit for human contact.


Alarmist or not, but unfortunately I now associate black beans with flating dead pigs on heavily polluted rivers.

Since I’ve started to be a more mindful consumer a few years ago—inspired by the Mind the Planet talk by Bernie Clark and also by David Goleman’s article, I’ve been trying to minimize my buying products that come from another county and another continent.

Starting to look at the provenance of our food opens the door to a lot of questions and dilemmas.

If we look into our dry food cupboards and have quick scan through the country of origin of our pulses, grains, hot drinks, dry fruit, we are often in for a trip around the world.

Also, ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ labels don’t protect us from agricultures with high water pollution. As Mike Adams at Natural News pointed out a few months ago, a lot of organic food comes from China, which poses ethical, environmental and potentially health problems. For example, Adams discovered that “there is no limit to how much mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and aluminum is allowed in ‘organic’ products.”

Worried that my choice of black beans had shrunk to one, I raised the issue with Waitrose.

So began my Big Black Bean Battle.

When I wrote to them, Waitrose did a good impression of pretending they cared, feeding me all sorts of reassuring messages, half-baked apologies and eventually dubious mysteries:

‘I’m sorry if this is disappointing, but there are certain things we keep confidential for commercial reasons.’

In other words, they could tell me but then they would have to kill me.

In the end, nothing came out of correspondence. I didn’t have delusions of my singular influence on their buying decisions. I simply wanted my voice as a conscientious consumer to be heard and to open a discussion. I did a fair bit of research, wrote to several institutions, associations and bean growers. The British Edible Pulse Association was incredibly helpful and informative. Now I feel like I’m becoming an authority on beans, latin names and all.

The world is our oyster.

Producers, importers, wholesalers, and supermarkets should support our choice to buy more responsibly. Over the last decade, we’ve come to understand that in many cases it isn’t so. Big institutions and companies are not always there to look after our interests as consumers.

This disappointing realization doesn’t mean we should just throw in the towel in discontent. All the contrary, there is much motive to come out of our stupor and confusion.

Nothing is more important than what we eat and drink. There are many ways to defend our basic needs for healthy food grown by people who respect and value quality, us and the planet.

Being a mindful consumer means to be empowered. Once you become aware of your choices, the world is your oyster. Also, even if our decisions are individual, if we all try to make more steps in the right direction, we collectively contribute to change. Our simple everyday choices don’t go unnoticed on a global scale, as Daniel Goleman explains:

‘To the extent that more people shop mindfully, it will have a telling impact on the market. Market share will shift toward more ecologically virtuous products. Brand managers will pay attention, creating a virtuous cycle whereby our choices based on sound, transparent information influence the market. It will pay for companies to innovate, to change their practices, to go after our dollar by upgrading the ecological impacts of what they’re trying to sell us.’

1) Keep it simple, local and seasonal.

If you are confused when shopping for food, going local is the safest move to keep it clean and simple. Find out when the farmer’s market takes place, where your closest co-op is, which farmers sell direct.

This requires a bit of research but in many ways it is the exciting part. Shopping locally and direct is so much more interesting than trudging round your shiny and impersonal supermarket on automatic pilot.

Soon you will have identified where to buy your veg, fruits, dairy, and it will become a part of your food shopping routine.

2) Create new food networks.

Mindful buying is about creating new habits but also developing new networks.

My search for locally grown black beans has taken me to many great places. First of all, I’ve discovered BigBarn, a British community website that helps consumers find products grown in their area. Thanks to them I found a British grower of pulses who is bringing back fava beans and other indigenous variety of pulses.

Locally produced pulses is a great breakthrough in my conscious consumerism treasure hunt. We are big consumers of beans in our household. I always feel bad when I realise they have been shipped half way across the world to reach our kitchen. Indeed, when you start looking at the radius of provenance of your dry food it can range from ten miles (if you’re very lucky) to thousands of miles.

Reducing these distances requires craftiness but the internet is a great way to fill in the blanks in your shopping map.

3) Spend less than you think.

It is a common misperception that buying local is pricier than the supermarket. Because you’re going directly to the producer your food will often be cheaper than you think. My local co-op confirmed that their prices competed well with supermarkets. Only for products like potatoes did supermarkets always undercut them. Nothing compares however with the taste of a lovingly grown potato.

Even when farmer’s market food is more expensive than your supermarket, chances are you won’t waste it. Remember that sadly more than 30% of the food produced worldwide goes to waste. So, compare one gorgeous and juicy heirloom tomato and 5 hard and tasteless conventional tomatoes.


Which one are you likely to eat in the first two days you bought it? By buying fresh, local, healthy, appetizing products, you are more likely to avoid food waste, and hence to save money.

4) Flea hops toward self-sufficiency.

The best way to avoid outsourcing is to grow your own. Not a gardener? Me neither!

My first effort towards self-sufficiency is to grow alfalfa. I’m hoping that by watching them sprout every day, I will develop a taste for gardening.

Starting small you might get hooked on the grower’s joy to pick and eat your crop, even if it’s just alfalfa.

You don’t have a garden? Then maybe micro gardening is for you.

The next best option is to forage: no planting, no watering, no weeding, and it’s free.

Another free food option is gleaning, which is collecting leftovers fruits and vegetables after the harvest is over. Check out if you have gleaning network in your area.

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