Back to Basics: Real Food Shopping in St Andrews

Last week, The Saint published an ode to supermarkets parading as a  guide to food shopping in St Andrews.  An affront to any St Andrean who eats?

I am well aware of being on a budget.  I, like many students, checked my bank balance last week for the first time since Freshers and sobbed softly at the cash point.  But I also sobbed softly when I read an article touting Morrisons as the best place to shop. Is constantly buying lunch, frozen meals and jarred sauces from these stores-who-must-not-be-named the best way to save up for tequila shots at the Lizard next weekend? After reading this profoundly misinformed opinion, I stopped writing my presentation due tomorrow and my essay due Friday and started writing this response.  So, here are some facts to set misguided supermarket supporters straight.

Fact: Buying twenty packaged tomatoes that will go mouldy before you have a chance to eat them all is more expensive than buying three tomatoes from the green grocer for tonight’s salad

Arguing that you have to “make do” with the culinary catastrophe that is supermarket meat because you can’t afford nice deli products is a lie. You will save money by shopping at these local shops because they specialize in one-person portions. The Guid Cheese Shop has often sold me a finger-width worth of cheese, and Mitchell’s has been very kind every time I’ve asked for 5 slices of salami.  Birrell’s (the green grocer) will sell you one banana so you don’t end up baking banana bread every week when the 5 you bought but forgot to eat turn black.  Kerracher’s (the fishmonger) will gladly give you a handful of mussels, and Minnick’s (the butcher) has sold me just two pieces of streaky bacon on several hungover Saturday mornings.

Fact: Buying frozen meals every night of the week is more expensive than roasting a chicken on Sunday and turning it into sandwiches and soups through Thursday.

There is one point we all agree on: in order to live on a student budget, you need to know how to shop. We just disagree on how to do this. The Saint’s “guide” seems to encourage a diet consisting in no small part of pasta (do you really need a whole aisle?), frozen meals and candy.  Here is my guide: buy half a chicken from the butcher for under a fiver.  If you have no idea how to roast it, they will tell you. Buy a carrot, celery stick and an onion from the grocery store. Stroll on over to the bakery next door and buy a loaf of bread. Make sure you have salt, pepper and oil at home. Roast the chicken for dinner, make stock with the vegetables and turn half the leftovers into soup, leaving the other half for sandwiches. If you’re a vegetarian, skip the chicken and substitute roasted onions, squash and other winter veggies.  All of this will cost you about £6.  I don’t know what frozen meals cost, but that doesn’t matter because hopefully after reading this article you won’t care.

Fact: Meat from a supermarket is sometimes cheaper than meat from a butcher because it is a watered-down, antibiotic-fed, ammonia-washed disaster.

At an event at the lovely (and local and sustainable) Balgove Larder last week, I learned that the reason packaged supermarket meat has an absorbent pad at the bottom of the container is to absorb all the water that leaks out of the meat. Why is meat leaking water? And why are you paying for it when it comes out of your tap for free? When you buy meat from Minnick’s, they can tell you where it came from, what it was fed, where it was killed and how it was butchered. And they wrap it in paper, because they know no water is leaking out of it.

Little fact: there is so much more than “French cheese” in St Andrews. 

I.J. Mellis specialises in British cheeses (and carries one made in St Andrews), and Guid offers an ever-evolving range of continental ones.  So there.

Now that you’re armed with these facts, walk down South Street. Right now.

I’m sure that after one day in St Andrews even Phelps knew this glorious avenue is the town’s foodiest destination. I can count a green grocer, a bakery, a butcher, a fishmonger, two cheese shops and a gelatteria. 

I appreciate that not everyone views grocery shopping as one of life’s most beautiful pleasures. I understand that you may not take breaks from the library to chat to the butcher about your day. But to me, living in and amongst so many business owners who love food and want to help me eat all day long is a luxury. No one in a supermarket asks how my mac and cheese turned out or whether or not that new cut of beef made a great stew. And after a few visits, independent shop staff all know my personal tastes and ask about my family, deadlines and other goings-on.  We’ve already discussed how many don’t, but wouldn’t you pay more for this kind of service?

I will concede that these stores don’t have points rewards systems.  The reward you get is supporting a community that is so kind to its students. 


The original article in The Saint can be viewed here

Photos by Nina Zeitman, Annie Cornwell and Jenny Stewart.  All rights reserved.  Compiled by Katie Marston.