It started with the re-organisation of the local supermarket, which we used to frequent weekly prior to our tree change, and are now going to fortnightly at most, for items we don’t yet grow ourselves and can’t obtain directly from other local smallholders, the local butcher, or the bulk supplier who stocks local stoneground wholemeal wheat, spelt and rye flours.
We used to half like our local supermarket. It stocked lots of fresh produce, and increasingly offered “all shapes, all sizes” fruit and vegetables, educating consumers and giving the farmers a market for previously spurned produce which is perfectly good eating, but doesn’t conform to the strange modern idea that all apples, peaches, potatoes, etc should be uniform in size and colour, and unblemished. It sold a variety of nuts in bulk packs and stocked bread mixes by Laucke – an Australian family-owned company. It had yoghurts and cheeses from Australian co-ops and small companies. You could buy Australian tea, and locally-grown olive oil. And, everything used to stay in the same place, so you could do your shopping in under half an hour with your eyes closed.
Then they re-organised the store, and things were no longer kept in logical places – indeed, it was as if a whirlwind had come in and randomly rearranged the entire stock. Dried legumes were no longer in the same section as flour, but stuck between gluggy “Tyrannosaurus Tonight” jar sauces and imported biscuits and chocolates. Basic items were no longer together in rough approximation of their relatedness, but hidden like Easter eggs in a vast forest of convenience non-foods. People in the aisles were sporting confused expressions, running hither and yon, and cursing under their breaths. My shopping time was more than doubled going on ridiculous treasure-hunts.
Of course, it’s all done on purpose – they want to force you to look at the high-profit-margin convenience rubbish they stock, and to impulse buy items. One lady smiled at me and waved her shopping list, exclaiming, “They won’t get me, I’m only buying what’s on my list!” and we high-fived. But, from the moment they re-organised, basic items I used to buy there started to disappear: My preferred tomato paste, all wholemeal pre-mixes, half the wholemeal pastas, black lentils, burghul, Australian-brand cranberry juice, Vitamin E, unscented toilet paper, Vanilla fridge wipe. Bulk packets started to disappear – buying the smaller packets is really uneconomical, as well as more wasteful of packaging. Many things by small Australian companies disappeared. Capel butter, the only West Australian local farmers’ butter they had stocked, disappeared, and was replaced with Irish butter, shipped from halfway across the world. Devondale butter was no longer sold in 500g packs, but only in the comparatively much more expensive 250g packs.
In other words: Less basic ingredients, more junk and convenience items (mostly synonymous). Less healthy foods like wholemeal flours and legumes, more unhealthy refined foods. Less bulk packets, more tiny packets with comparatively higher prices. Less small companies and co-ops, more multinationals. Less Australian items, more imported. Less locally produced food, more food miles. And a greater profit margin for the supermarket.
Like the kindred spirit who high-fived me, I’ve bought exactly none of the new junk on offer, amidst which I now have to hunt with field glasses to find my lentils, and I bought none of the smaller packets where the larger ones were deleted. I was determined that the supermarket wasn’t going to profit from their unethical actions courtesy of our household. My husband picks up the wholemeal pre-mixes and the local butter from another stockist near his work. I infused spare citrus peel in vinegar, as per a DIY recipe, for a foodsafe cleaner that’s a fraction of the cost of fridge wipe. I pick up more bulk items from the bulk supplier who services local restaurants.
And because we now have to spend more time running around their shop each time we visit, plus make side trips to other stockists to get items they deleted, we were determined to deliberately further reduce our fortnightly spend with this supermarket. Complaining was no use – I put in an official request on the website feedback section in-store customer service referred me to, for the return of wholemeal pre-mixes to their shelves, which they completely ignored – they didn’t even send a response. If this is how they treat people, then we must hit them with the only thing that seems to exist in their world – money – and less of it, for them.
I was so irate that I tried out all the other supermarkets in town, at first. Their main large competitor was even worse – even less actual food, and more junk. Some of the smaller places were too expensive, and tended to have items running too close to their use-by dates. I grudgingly returned to my usual supermarket, but decided that another economic sanction I could implement against them was to stop buying meat there, and instead buy all our meat in bulk packs offered by a local family-owned small butcher. This is bad for the supermarket, good for a local small business, good for farmers, and better for the environment, as the small butcher sources all meat locally, and is happy to use our own packaging instead of foam trays and plastic waste.
We also stopped buying fresh milk from supermarkets – we now buy that directly from a person who has some milking cows in our local district. That’s the supermarket milk price directly to the cow owner, for a superior product – and tiny food miles, and 104 fewer plastic bottles per year required to be manufactured and recycled. I’m thinking of buying even more civil disobedience milk, to make our own yoghurt and cheese – that’s my next project. We stopped buying supermarket eggs a long time ago – we barter with a (free range, on pasture) chicken-keeping friend instead, usually with our honey. We now grow most of the fruit and vegetables we eat.
If you’re a long-time hippie, you can probably tell we’re relatively new to this. Some of you probably haven’t been in a supermarket for 20 years. I grew up in a decidedly non-hippie family who viewed food gardening as drudgery and who cared nothing about the tide of rubbish, or habitat destruction, or the corporatisation of our society. I had to learn better habits from scratch. Studying biology and environmental science at university was helpful, and so is the backyard food-growing community.
And now, the real tomato sauce. I bet you’ve been wondering about the title. In many ways, tomato sauce personifies the problem with supermarkets, who like to tell us they are all about consumer choice, while actually reducing real choice. Before the re-organisation of the local supermarket, I used to buy Australian tomato sauce in a glass bottle, with a 15% sugar content. This product disappeared, even though the size of the tomato sauce section increased. And in four metres of aisle dedicated to tomato sauces, I could no longer find a tomato sauce that was Australian-made from Australian ingredients, bottled in glass, with a sugar content of 15% or less, and no artificial colouring, flavouring, or substitute sweeteners.
Most of the sauces now came in plastic bottles, which is an environmental problem, as well as a potential health problem because of plasticisers leaching into foods. The nearest thing I could find was an Australian-made “from less than 10% Australian ingredients” tomato sauce in a plastic squeeze bottle, with a 12% sugar content and a ton of additional Stevia sweetener to make this product as sickly as any of the high-sugar tomato sauces (20-30% sugar, think about it!) that are now the norm.
The obvious answer is to make your own. Although I’ve had plenty of salad tomatoes from my food gardening efforts since 2011, for some reason, I could never get the Italian and Amish cooking tomatoes to grow from seed – until this season, when I successfully started tomato seedlings very early, in my new mini-greenhouse. We’ve had a whopper tomato harvest, and are still ripening tomatoes indoors in August, behind our north-facing glass doors. I have so many cooking tomatoes in the freezer that I won’t need to buy any tinned ones for months – just kept putting away a couple of packets every week. Next year, I’m going to grow even more, and start bottling. But this year, for the first time, I made my own real tomato sauce, from home-grown tomatoes – and it’s less than 15% sugar. It turned out a treat – here is the recipe.
Real Tomato Sauce, 100% Australian Tomatoes, Organically Grown, Re-Used Glass Bottle, No Artificial Anything, Low Sugar, No Substitute Sweeteners, No Corporations, No Exploitation, No Industrial Farming, Negligible Food Miles, Tastes Amazing
Makes approx. 1 litre – cook larger quantities if you are happy with the result, and have more ripe (or frozen) tomatoes on hand. If you don’t – start some tomato seedlings by late winter, and make this next summer. It’s not quite 100% Australian ingredients because of some spices, but that’s a minor compromise.
1.5 kg ripe tomatoes – cooking varieties like Roma or Amish Paste – some Cherry types in the mix work too – supermarket tomatoes won’t have the flavour
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tsp freshly ground peppercorns
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cloves (can use whole, then fish out at end)
1 tsp ground or finely grated ginger
1 tsp allspice / pimento
¼ tsp cayenne pepper or ground chillies
1 clove garlic, crushed
300mL white vinegar, or cider vinegar
1/4 cup (or less) brown sugar – tomatoes already contain sugar
50g tomato paste (optional, to thicken, add at end)
Place all ingredients except tomato paste in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring to the boil, cook on medium for 40 minutes with the lid on, then lift the lid slightly by keeping your wooden spoon in the pan and continue cooking around 40 minutes more (stir frequently to prevent sticking) until thick and pulpy. Add tomato paste if using, zap with blender stick until it’s as fine as you want it, fill into pre-warmed glass bottle with a funnel while hot. Let cool, and refrigerate. If you want to store this in the pantry for later, use sterile techniques for bottling. This is a “wholemeal” sauce – I don’t bother straining out seeds or skin; I like fibre and extra flavour.
Enjoy – while making a better world, as well as your own sauce.
Since this article was written, we’ve taken another step towards self-sufficiency and lowering our environmental footprint, by doing a home kill through a local professional travelling butcher with a portable cool room, and eating our own grass-fed free-range beef. We had a steer we could not sell into the market because he had a shoulder issue, so decided to buy a freezer and DIY. Better outcome for the animal, the environment and us, plus we’ve never in our lives eaten beef of this quality before, all the cuts including those normally too expensive to afford, and of course the offal etc. The one rising-3-year-old Friesian steer (~800kg animal) fed us, the dog and guests for two and a half years and counting. Our freezer gets plenty of use for other produce these days and is run entirely off our small off-grid solar-powered electrical system – just using daytime sunshine on our own roof that we weren’t using before.
I’ve also been self-sufficient for tomatoes for three years running now, and am becoming a better gardener.