Buy Local, Buy Better?

Credits: Flickr, Gil Garber, CC BY-NC 2.0
Fruit and veg stall
Credits: Flickr, marcus_jb1973, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Imogen Byers investigates how easy it really is to revolt against the supermarkets by eating local produce and supporting independent food retailers in Cardiff.

When picturing student dinners, the idea of endless plates of beans on toast, frozen pizza and pre-made pasta sauces are often the first images to come to mind. The bulk of this food stash quite likely hoarded from the cheaper chain superstores such as ‘Iceland’ and ‘LIDL’, simply due to the lower prices and convenience.

However, among the budding student cooks who care a little more about the origin and freshness of their food, are those who dare enter the seemingly hidden world of local produce. Throughout Cardiff there are independent retailers selling all types of food from the surrounding area, striving to provide organic flavours and a fresher taste. For those who have not yet ventured into the unknown, Cardiff has a wide range of places where you can buy locally-sourced fruit, vegetables and meat as well as a great range of independent restaurants and cafes where you can support the local community without spending a fortune!

The biggest honeypot of local produce in Cardiff, available within the student budget, is the Central Market located just off St. Mary’s Street. The market makes itself easily accessible with long opening hours (8:30am-5pm every day of the week except Sunday) so there really is no excuse not to give it a try however heavy your timetable may be. There’s a massive range of stalls to explore, with six separate butchers alone to choose from. With similar numbers of fruit and veg merchants, cheese delicatessens and sweeter goodies, there is no lack of variety or choice. Plus for the cheekier chappies among us there’s the chance to try out their best bargaining skills.

For those without the time to regularly venture into town (no doubt, one of the downfalls of such fresh food is its limited shelf-life) there may be other options to support the local community closer to home. The ‘Market Garden’ is a small greengrocers located slap bang in the middle of Albany Road, interestingly positioned right next to our old friend Tesco Metro, a guilty dependence for many of us. The fruit and vegetables on display at the greengrocers may look a little less buffed and perfected than the shiny sprayed apples from Tesco, but the taste is certainly fresher and the price difference is a happy coincidence. Another benefit of these open markets is the friendly customer service that the greengrocers always provide. The owners often strive to pick out the most attractive selection for the best price which is a nice comparison to token mouldy satsuma you’re destined to find at the bottom of a value pack of supermarket fruit.

Credits: Flickr, Gil Garber, CC BY-NC 2.0

So as far as fresh fruit and vegetables are concerned, there really isn’t much of an excuse once you know where to find them. Buying meat as a student, however, can be a  bit of a risk. How much are we willing to trust the sources of the basic, cheap cuts of meat? Any animal produce that you can be sure will be safe even before the cooking process even begins is more expensive than organic produce so it is always a good idea to ensure you are able to get the freshest meat for the best price. As well as the stalls in the central market, there are also a few independently run butchers dotted around Cardiff which sell meats reared in nearby farms with many of the butchers being able to tell you exactly which farm it was sourced from. A good idea for those students trying to save a few pennies is to make visits to these butchers just before closing time in order to get the meat which hasn’t sold that day for bargain prices. Another advantage of visiting these friendlier stores is the personal service and advice the butchers provide about cooking techniques, storage and timings which may be useful to the novice chefs or those simply wanting to try something different.

For the many students under stricter time constraints or the just plain lazy, you will be pleased to hear that you can still support the Cardiff community by simply eating out at the independent cafes and restaurants. How often is it that we find ourselves nipping to Costa or Cafe Nero to grab that daily pick-me-up? Sure, popular chains such as Subway and Starbucks have cleverly located themselves within easy reach of Cardiff students but look a little closer and you will find more cafes providing a different range of goodies, often with fresher ingredients and a more personal touch. City and Crwys Road for those who are situated in Cathays hold a great deal of these independent eateries, often at much cheaper prices than their big business competitors, giving you the opportunity to try something new every time! The tea-freaks among us will be happy to know that generally, in these indie cafes, the range of teas is far more exciting and varied than the average coffee shop. It is often in these types of places that you find a love for a new flavour of tea or cake (courgette and beetroot cake, anyone?) so venturing out is a great idea for anyone willing to broaden their culinary horizons.

It isn’t hard to see that with the appropriate planning and preparation, you can increase your community support by buying from local producers and dining out at local eateries. Who knows what you might discover deep within Cardiff’s realms? After all, for those of us who are living away from home, you might as well make the most of what Cardiff has to offer while you can!