Spoiled for Choice? 5 Tips to Navigate the Shopping Nightmare

Posted by J & G Duncan on

How do you choose? 

No, really. This isn’t a rhetorical question. I really do want to know how you choose which groceries to buy, what you’re going to eat, how to feed yourself and your family. I have found this an increasingly difficult task. Already pretty neurotic around food, I became fanatical about buying local, seasonal and ethically produced foods when we ran a small farm in Scotland for 7 years. Farming was a whole new ball game for me, and I quickly learned about the blood, sweat and tears that went into the production of a single zucchini or our Thanksgiving chicken. My respect for food and its source was magnified as I experienced the patience, hope and hardship of producing. I went from regularly filling my grocery cart with fruit and veg, to only buying what we didn’t/couldn’t grow and produce ourselves. When we went from farming to granola production six years ago, my neuroses grew. I still visit the grocery store regularly, always with the intention of ‘stocking up’, yet more often than not I walk away with a pathetic assortment of odd grocery items that I hope my family will appreciate and that I hope are ethically sourced.

Spoiled for choice.

We are, as the saying goes, spoiled for choice. The supermarket shelves are heaving with a gazillion different brands of everything under the sun. There are at least thirty-five types of yogurt, hundreds of varieties of potato chip type options, and soda pop for days. All of the big chains have joined the “We love local” bandwagon, but the ratio of industrialized, multinational corporation food type items to locally produced real food is still grossly unbalanced.


An abundant cereal aisle in the grocery store. We are spoiled for choice!

An abundant cereal aisle in the supermarket. We are spoiled for choice!


Everyone is eating local, even our politicians!

Recently, my newly appointed Minister of Agriculture posted a facebook photo of a sandwich she had created entirely from items she’d purchased at her local farmers’ market. I commented how great it is to see a politician literally putting her money where here mouth is. It is so refreshing to see people in power making these very simple acts that impact the lives of real people so greatly.

Tomatoes, basil and bread from the farmers' market.

Real food for real people (even politicians) straight from the farmers' market.


More and more, people are wanting to eat food they can source locally. As a society, we are growing more aware of the importance of knowing what we’re actually consuming and where it comes from. Are you one of these people? Does it matter to you whether your breakfast came from a neighbour or a factory worker far, far away? How do you incorporate this conscious consumerism into your daily reality? Do you read every label? Do you buy all your produce at the farmers’ market? Or, are you on a tight budget needing to consider cost above all else? Feeding ourselves is a tricky problem, especially when you want to do so in an ethical, clean, healthy way.

Scary ingredients in a children's breakfast cereal.

You've gotta wonder why they bother with the whole grain oats when the rest of the ingredients are so scary.  People feed this to their kids!


Five tips for surviving the shopping nightmare.

Here are a few of my survival tips for angst-ridden conscious consumers. I’d love to hear some of yours.

1.  Buy the easily accessed local stuff whenever possible. Bread, soap, honey, jam abound at all and any farmers’ market and are definitely worth the wee bit higher cost. Support these local producers while treating yourself to chemical-free products.
2.  Read the labels! If you’re like me, you pause in front of the shelf, rummage through your purse for your reading glasses, carefully scrutinize each list of ingredients for bizarre additives that do not occur in nature. Pick the item with the most recognizable ingredients that are not a varying form of sugar.
3.  Look for the Non-GMO sign. I’m the first to admit that I failed 8th grade science, but I feel that I know enough to be very wary of genetically modified food. And, besides, why are we even bothering messing with food genes when we have the ability to grow perfectly good food the natural way?
4.  Did I mention watch for hidden sugars? Also, watch for place of origin. It completely boggles my mind that stores are selling strawberries from California when they’re growing like crazy all over our region. Sometimes you have to look really hard to find out that your asparagus traveled from Mexico instead of from the farm just up the road. Be vigilant, my friends.
5. Eat the goddamned Peanut M&Ms! Occasionally. For the most part, I buy the cleanest, most ethically produced dark chocolate to feed this little addiction I have, but sometimes, you just need to indulge in some full-on artificially colored, chemically-ladened, mass-produced, heavily-sweetened crap from your childhood and try to enjoy it rather than feeling racked with guilt.
      I know that I write this from a place of privilege. I have never had to rely on a food bank. My socio-economic status has always been allowed me to choose healthier food options. I know this is becoming increasingly rare as prices continue to rise. For those of us who can afford to support the local, ethical, clean food movement, we have an obligation to do so. As the industry grows, the prices come down, making good food accessible to everyone, regardless of income.

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