Editor’s note: Alex discusses his frugal artistry in the shopping basket – getting the best value and quality of food – while waiting for a job interview.
It’s been a slow week this week, with a job interview coming on Friday and some other prospects lurking around the ambiguity of job hunting. It turns out the interview is for a job as a marketing and sales trainee, which wasn’t exactly how it was it advertised but from receiving my C.V the company seem to be taking a slight interest in me. Yet, like it always is, I’m probably in competition with people with direct experience in this field or perhaps masters of the interview scenario. I guess I’ll have to seem too interesting or too beautiful to turn down on the day (not so much hope for the latter).
But what I really want to discuss this week is something which is constantly on our budgeting minds and eager stomachs – food, glorious food. I personally like a whole array of local and international foods, but there are a few small and substantial barriers for me when choosing items in the shop, or whatever is within the contents of the cupboards as I plan to whip up a tasty meal (not always a complete success). For one, living with my older brother is like living with most British people when it comes to ideas for dinner, as English and Italian cuisine are his favourites. He doesn’t like spicy food too much either, so that often means hot curries like the Madras, Jalfrezi or Bhuna are not an option, and they are some of my preferred Indian dishes. He is also allergic to certain nuts that can be in some products, and he hates mushrooms with a passion (they are strange things but I like them).
Now, if I’m honest I’m not all too hindered as the meals I both enjoy and am accomplished in cooking don’t require anything too flamboyant. The only real issue is when brainstorming ideas in the shop I have to be careful and read the list of ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain cashew, pistachio or pine nuts. Also some foods can’t be considered at all as I know my brother won’t like them. But hey, these really are bordering on entirely ‘first world problems’.
Of course the real issue is simply to do with prices. With all the supermarket competition out there how do I know I’m ever getting a fair deal? I’ve never been one for online shopping with being a bit of a technophobe and I don’t overly trust companies to really provide truly fresh produce via transit – I’d rather see and feel the items myself. What I tend to do, except for buying all the essentials from the closest Aldi store, is to browse for reduced items in my local Co-op, which is indeed the very opposite of buying fresh food, yet it’s cheaper and that makes me feel victorious in my purchase for a brief few minutes (Hooray!).
All in all I believe food in this country costs too much, and to get anything worth using in a meal unless you’re willing to diminish taste entirely you often have to pay higher prices for the more fancy and prestigious products, which when you’re on benefits can in turn mean you have little money for a substantial breakfast or lunch the following day. One just has to be careful not to overspend, and vigilant when browsing for good deals and promotions, such as half price selections.
Another issue here in England at the moment is with the debate over a possible taxation on fast foods. To my understanding it was in February this year that doctors advised for there to be a tax on fizzy drinks and to abolish adverts for unhealthy food. In principle I’d agree, certainly with the advertisements, for I don’t eat too much fast food as it’s already too expensive. But the keyword here is convenience, with most of us needing the occasional quick bite it would be unfair to make products vastly overpriced. The option of being able to grab and eat reasonably priced sandwiches, burgers and other mass produced goods is important to a lot of people and their general daily habits – a busy day at work without much time for a lunch break, for example. However, for those addicted to unhealthy food I agree it doesn’t bode well at all, especially when McDonalds have a ‘99p menu’ that encourages people with little spare money to spend a pound or two on a supposedly filling snack, which often leaves you feeling groggy or unwell. I’m also guilty of doing this myself when I’m in the city centre, but then thousands of other people, skinny and overweight, are doing the same.
So it’s a tricky one in terms of attaining consistently perfect food shopping, but my advice is to pay as little as you can for the best quality, and admittedly that’s rarely easy. Of course it’s important to freeze excess of meals and make sure you’re getting the most out of your acquired goods at home. Throwing decent food away is criminal, even though the odd thing can go off it is so much more rewarding when you manage to use all contents of your kitchen. It’s all a matter of time and money though, and the winner is the healthy one with a satisfied stomach. Or arguably the winner is the full belly with the most savings to pocket, and I like the sound of that.