To give some background, C and I finally (finally!!) have a place of our own after nearly two and a half years together. We now have a little flat on the not quite so chic fringe of West Hampstead. We are pretty well served for amenities locally, not least with two massive supermarkets a tube stop away. Happily, we also have access to delis, and we have two outstanding local butchers (one in Cricklewood and the other in Kilburn), a fishmonger and a couple of greengrocers too. Over the last few weeks, we've begun to stop by the greengrocer on West End Lane (the high street that runs through West Hampstead) for our weekly fruit and veg, and our shopping habits have transformed as a result.
Because the quality of produce is so much better at the greengrocer than in the local supermarket, we've found we are eating a lot more fruit and vegetables than we did before. C and I used to have to think a little bit to ensure we ate our five a day, but this has stopped being a problem. The higher quality of the produce means that it's become a pleasure rather than a chore. Even everyday basics such as bell peppers or lettuce have become a different experience - something that I'd never see myself write down (and I'm aware it sounds a bit crazy). The variety in our local greengrocer is also amazing: not only can you get the usual stuff, but they sell three different types lemon (three!), rambutan (we had to look them up too), aubergines the likes of which we've never seen outside Asia and a whole load more stuff besides. This has enriched our diet no end, as you may imagine.
There is a cost attached, but I find that the cost isn't as great as I feared: I reckon we spend an average of £3-5 more a week on our fruit and veg shop than we did previously. Having said this, we offset the cost somewhat in our choice of desserts and snacks. Previously we may have bought in our desserts, now we find that we'll eat a bowl of cherries or a nectarine, or cut up some other fruit, dollop on some yoghurt and drizzle on some honey. It's better for us, its tastier, and it's cheaper too. Of course, this varies from week to week and I haven't been keeping a precise tally, but I reckon that we spend the same or even a little less on average on groceries now than we did before we shopped at the greengrocer and it's certainly costing less to buy fresh stuff now than it did when I used to shop only at Waitrose in St Katherine's Docks (I hasten to add because it was the only supermarket within walking distance, rathern than out of snobbery).
Finally, and I don't want to sound like Mary Portas, I like the idea that I am supporting a local business and keeping a thriving high street alive. West Hampstead has a strong community feel, which is centred on a busy high street stacked with successful independent businesses. As a resident of such an area, I think it's important to ensure it retains the characteristics that attracted me here. It's quite nice to see the owner every week and say hello when I get my basket of items. It beats staring at some anonymous check-out person in a uniform, glumly beeping items through a scanner. It's doubly nice to know that I'm helping keep the area special in doing so.
This may all sound terribly yuppie and middle class, but I'm not sure it is. To me, this change in shopping habits just makes sense, and it's going back to the old way of shopping too - i.e. locally - which can't be a bad thing. It strikes me as a no-brainer to shop locally, in particular when it comes to the fruit and vegetables. Our diets have improved, we enjoy the food we eat more, we contribute to our local community and none of this isn't really costing us anything significant. For all I don't want to sound like Mary Portas, she may well be onto something.