Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ethical purchasing of supermarket staples


How are you all and did you all participate in Earth Hour this evening?

I had a lovely Saturday.  This morning I picked up a friend and headed to the Docklands for Finders Keepers!  But more on that in my next post...apparently I've run out of photo storage space on blogger so I've got to buy some!  As I have loads of photos of this event I'll leave it to the next post.

I want to talk to you about ethical consumerism wherever it is you shop.  I do wonder about where our food and staples come from, but lately more and more I'm finding myself passing certain brands at the supermarket and finding out with growing unease that many of these brands actually all fold up to the same parent company.  This would be ok if the said parent company acted in an ethical manner but the sad fact is that most don't.      

mosaic seats at the community arts centre where the event was hosted
 This evening, I went to set up the permaculture stand for my local permie group at our local council's sustainable living event.  I learnt quite a  few things tonight - from bush tucker to ethical consumption

I'm going to use bark from the paperbark tree in my front yard to wrap fish in before I barbeque it next time I have the chance...and I'm going to try to source more native bush tucker plants.  I think part of the reason I don't seek bush tucker out is because I don't know how to prepare it.  Well I do now!  Thanks Mark from Outback Cafe for showing me! 

In other learnings, it's scary to think that the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) for example is not really Australian...that it was sold to Agrium, a Canadian company, and then onsold so that it now belongs to Cargill, a Brazilian company. I remember reading about it at the time but didn't really register until now. They were named one of Multinational Monitor's '10 Worst Corporations of 2008' for their destruction of rainforest and peatlands, operating in violation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) Principles and Criteria and outside of Indonesian law. Or that Uncle Tobys cereal isn't Australian either, it is actually Nestle...and that there are actually many global boycott calls on them because of reasons ranging from child labour to workers rights and irresponsible marketing of breastmilk subsitutes despite WHO bans on this. I always go for Uncle Tobys oats at the supermarket because I wrongly still have that association with Lisa Curry (the power of advertising campaigns lasts long after they've gone and are no longer relevant, amazning how many childhood advertising jingles I can still recite perfectly!) and therefore thinking I'm buying a local product...when really I'm just funding Nestle.  I won't be buying Uncle Tobys anymore that's for sure.

I have the ethical consumer guide and it concerns me that I have to think so hard before making purchases at the supermarket because I have no idea who the companies really are behind the brands I am buying - and seeing as I can only vote with my dollar, I don't want my hard earned money to go towards enriching an unethical company whose values I abhor.

This is a big deal for me!  It  even means I really can't buy tim tams anymore!  Whilst Arnotts Biscuits were established in 1865 in Newcastle, NSW, it actually became a wholly-owned subsidiary of US food giant Campbell Soup Company in 1997.  And Campbells don't have the best ethical reputation...sigh. I knew there was a furore at the time but again I didn't really think about it until recently.

Seems our current strategy of only purchasing fresh food at farmers markets, community swaps or from community co-ops is a good one!  Where we aren't growing it anyway.  It's the only way I can ensure that my family is eating food that is GM and pesticide free and that I'm not exploiting anyone in the consumption of fruit and vegetables at least.  But as for the rest...packaged goods, cleaning products etc...I need to give it much deeper thought...
 local shared community garden at the community arts centre where the event was hostedy

local shared community garden at the community arts centre where the event was hosted

But it's not all bad news!  It is really encouraging that some companies are starting to commit to more ethical practices because of public feedback. We do have a voice!  For example, Cadbury chocolate - an important one for me! - is going fair trade, kleenex are PEFC certified and Coles (yes I know one of the big supermarket chains with milk related issues) is aiming to stock only sustainable seafood, hormone free beef and free range eggs only.  I choose to think that large conglomerates with both good and bad ratings will strive for better ethical ratings moving forwards, but even so, as Ghandi said, be the change that you want to see.  So whilst I do think about what I put into my shopping basket, I am going to commit to not purchasing from companies (where I know) that are acting unethically just for an experimental month to start with.  I know it's going to be hard but I want to give it a go and see how challenging it really will be.  This leads me to wonder how on earth I'm going to be able to get any basic supplies...or that shopping is going to take me 10 times longer than it already does now!  I'll let you know how I go...

Here are a few pics from the night:

 Native plants for everyone to take home
 Looks like a packet of matches but actually it was a packet of seeds!
 Mark Olive from the Outback Cafe preparing a bush tucker cooking presentation whilst a representative from the Ethical Consumer organisation was speaking
 This was our little stand
 Seedlings that John was selling for 25c
This was our little stand

In other news, I have more girls laying!  Thought I'd take a quick pic to show you the size difference between bantam and standard large eggs:  The eggs my girls laid are the brown one right on top and the white one in the middle.

So for the next couple of weeks I have my challenge all set for me. I'm going to really focus on it, doing my research etc is going to take a little bit of time and a lot of thought.  I'll let you know how I go on this journey.  Wish me luck!  One day at a time! 


  1. Quite interesting. It is a real shame to know that so few of our fresh foods are not locally grown. We have become accustomed to having out of season fresh fruit year round, and most of our fruit now comes from Central and South America. If, here in Colorado I were to limit myself to only locally grown fruit, during the winter months there wouldn't be any. Years ago garden staples included rhubarb, fruit trees, and berry patches. It was always my job in the summer to pick the apples and rhubarb, cook them down and make the sauces and freeze them. My mother did a lot canning and freezing and my dad hunted deer and elk, so we were quite self-sufficient. I compare the way I fed my children and the way they are feeding their children with the way we were fed and there is a huge difference. I applaud your efforts. We laugh when we hear the city children when asked where milk comes and they reply from the store, but in reality today few of us really know where our food comes from unless we buy from local markets and then we are really quite limited in our selection. I have added rhubarb to my garden and we have a dozen baby chicks in our dining room right now who keep us in fresh eggs in the months to come. Keep us informed.

  2. You have posted on a subject that I have just recently become interested in. I am off to do some research of my own. Thank you

  3. Good luck with your ethical buying for a month, I'm sure you will do it really well Mrs Bok. It took me quite awhile to finally get to know all the packaged products and which brands were good and which were not.
    A tidbit for you, with the chocolate, as far as I'm aware Cadbury's has advertised they have a fair trade option, but from my readings its seems they buy a certain amount of 'fairtrade' (to the best of their knowledge) but then it gets mixed with every day 'not fairtrade' products. I felt they were just cashing in on a buzz word.
    Try Whittakers for a supermarket brand chocolate. They are a NZ company, using Ghana 'fairtrade' cocoa.
    and I'd be lost with out them!

  4. Shopping is a minefield isn't it? It's no better here in the UK. Your post reminds me that we do tend to forget about the 'little things' - thanks for the reminder :)

  5. I think just trying is enough! Those big companies run on tight margins - they don't have to lose every customer, just a few of them, and it makes a difference to their decisions. But you're right, it's hard work! I simplify it all by buying as little packaged stuff as possible, buying as much as I can from the local farmers' market, and focusing on learning about (and making decisions about) one thing at a time. And not getting so purist and obsessive about it that I put people off. In the end, it's got to be something you feel good about, not a thankless chore.

  6. Hi Ann! I love your chicks they're adorable. Food miles is one thing but if it's the only option for fresh food then there isn't much you can do! We are lucky here that we can mostly grow our own food in one form or another all year round.
    Hi Susan! If you find anything interesting let me know! I'm just learning too.
    Hi incy-wincey farm girl ;) Thx for the chocci tip. My fave used to be greens organic dark mint choc but they stopped being fair trade years ago not sure why.
    Hi Mo & Steve! I'm envying your spring flowers!
    Hi Linda, I agree with you. That's why I've set myself an experimental month...I'm not sure how realistic that is but its already time consuming and hard! Wish more info was readily available.

  7. Envy your fresh eggs. I always try to plant more veggies so I can swap them for somebody fresh eggs.

  8. As you said, Mrs Bok...SNAP. I really enjoyed reading this post and I am joining you in your endeavours to navigate the tangled web of production and processing... Let us know how you are going.

  9. Well done on an excellent post and good luck with the experimental month.I no longer have to buy for a family so it is easier for me to buy less packaged goods.
    Ireland is supposed to be a green agricultural country but I began growing my own veg some years ago when I could not source Irish grown veg in a large supermarket where I did my weekly shop at the time.
    You have put a lot of time and effort into your research on the subject and I have to agree with a previous comment that larger companies are jumping on the bandwagon of Fairtrade & organic.


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