Paul Miller says we should all be buying more local produce – and the supermarkets could help.
SOMETIMES it is worth paying a little extra for things. If price was the only consideration, we would all drive the same type of car and wear clothes from the same shops.
There is no real difference between electricity or gas supply so you may as well buy the cheapest but, for everything else, value is what matters.
Food is one of those things where value is the most important of all. We live in a farming area and so we are surrounded by people who have a vested interest in the choices we make. Of course you can buy cheap food – produced unethically, transported over huge distances in an environmentally harmful way, full of additives, heavily processed and with lots of wasteful packaging. I believe that, for fruit and vegetables, meat and fish it is worth paying a little more to get good value.
Supermarkets thrive on providing a huge range and, in Ashbourne, we have plenty of supermarket choice.
The supermarket proposition, no matter which one you choose, is based on buying in bulk and sadly that usually means shopping there doesn't help our local producers. The supermarkets do employ local people but the profits they make disappear out of the area so there is no ongoing benefit.
The French have a real understanding of their fundamental links with the ground beneath their feet and the food it produces. The regions in France have their specialities and the people who live there are not only proud of the specialities but they eat and drink them with relish. If the terroir is the best there is why wouldn't you? That's why if you go to Normandy you'll find apple and pork products everywhere. In the Languedoc it will be melons and sausage and in the Dordogne the duck and fois gras is unavoidable.
Of course, the best of the local wine never leaves the region. The supermarkets in France have no choice but to provide what the local people want and so Le Clerc, Carrefour and Super U carry plenty of the local produce alongside the usual brands.
So, on the face of it, the local shopping choice is a simple one – we can have a wider range, "A-grade" produce and lower prices from our supermarkets or we can pay a little extra and support our local producers by buying from markets or independent butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers.
Do we have something to justify the cost? Of course! We are blessed with some really great food producers and retailers in Derbyshire, Staffordshire and, specifically, in Ashbourne.
Within a very short distance, we have excellent meat production – including the renowned Packington estate. We have butchers who turn it into fantastic sausages, black pudding and bacon – Nigel's, Mark's, Dale's or White Peak. We have good game from local estates and the wonderful Hulme's to buy it from.
We have the famous Hartington creamery and well-known growers of salads, parsnips, soft fruit and asparagus – supplied by Fresh Choice, Derek's and the market.
And then there are oatcakes, pies and scones from Cheddar Gorge and Peter Dale from the Dining Room has his excellent bread available around the town.
Well, here's the good news. Those in the know, including our local restaurants, understand that the choice is actually better in our local independent retailers.
You are not going to find locally grown artichokes and figs in the supermarkets, or the range of local cheeses you can buy through our delis, or any game at all.
Our greengrocers and the market carry at least the range of the supermarkets and of at least the same quality.
The supermarkets will tend to import more out-of-season produce (soft fruit in winter) but the seasonal produce will be fresher through the independents and there is actually someone to talk to.
The even better news is that we know it actually costs less to buy locally. The price of some things in the supermarkets is shockingly high – just compare the price of herbs in the supermarket compared with Derek's or Fresh Choice – or try opening a pack in the supermarket and just taking what you need.
But even for the everyday stuff it is far cheaper to avoid the supermarkets. I checked the prices on red potatoes (Desiree, Wilja or Mozart) and English apples (Cox or Braeburn).
The average price for potatoes in the supermarkets was £1.06 per kilo. Across the local greengrocers and market the average price was 80p per kilo. The news was pretty similar for the apples – £2.30 compared with £2.10.
Maybe these weren't just potatoes and apples, and perhaps there was something magically different about the supermarket produce when you get inside the plastic bag.
If not, buying local makes sense and saves money. It would make the supermarkets a lot more palatable for the town if they recognised their communities and supported our local food heroes more.
I would love to see either a guaranteed percentage of supermarket produce purchased locally or at the very least an aisle of the local terroir to match the space devoted to Mexican, Chinese or Italian food. Until then, it makes sense to carry on saving money with our independent retailers and the market.