Laura Gaga tells us why you’ll find her in the reduced aisle of supermarkets searching for the yellow sticker.
I could talk about yellow stickers for hours. These are given to the food that is due to expire that day, and so is discounted by up to 90 per cent to reduce wastage. Supermarkets will also mark down their dry goods when packaging is damaged or when they’re clearing a shelf line. Friends, family and my Instagram will tell you that I speak of little else. I have even been known to show off the contents of my fridge freezer as if I’m on MTV Cribs. However, this was certainly not always the case.
Growing up, there were considerable financial pressures within our family home, which unavoidably impacts on food choices and accessibility. I was ignorant to the financial strain, as I was spoilt. For the main, I was raised on processed foods, which was not necessarily uncommon in the 80’s. If I wanted ice cream before dinner so be it, fast food was okay. There was also the challenge that as a child, and up until my mid-twenties, I was an extremely fussy eater.
There was a running joke in my family that you could spot me walking down the road with a bag of crisps in one hand and a can of pop in the other. At university, I lived off fried chicken. I spent so little time in our halls of residence communal kitchen, that it took me six months to realise that I’d left my denim jacket in there. Ironically, I’m wearing said jacket as I write this, and it gets hung in my own kitchen. I was also a ‘can’t cook, won’t cook’ but loved working out. In my early twenties wanted a healthier diet – translation: I wanted to lose weight. This created further difficulties in my relationship with food. One of the benefits however, was that this desire to slim down encouraged me to prepare fresh food and cook a little. When I started living alone I became solely responsible for the food shopping and preparation of my own meals. I began cooking, but relied on the few recipes that I’d mastered. These dishes included spaghetti bolognese, chilli con carne and shepherd’s pie – basically, anything with mince.
A turning point
One lunch time, a frugal work friend told me of his yellow sticker shopping. I’d never heard of supermarkets reducing produce. Intrigued, and like most of us, wanting to cut my grocery spend, I started looking out for these reduced goods. The first thing that I remember buying was a bag of doughnuts for 10p. The buzz was incredible, but I couldn’t survive on doughnuts alone. I began shopping for my staples – fruit, vegetables, dairy, bread, fish, meat and herbs, and froze what I could. Supermarkets tend to mark down by 25 per cent in the morning and increase the discount nearer to closing time. Not only was I saving a fortune on my grocery bills but I was trying and embracing new foods. I tried radishes for the first time. I was experimenting in the kitchen, relying less on recipes, making use of what I already had. My confidence increased and I began to substitute ingredients. Now, the bulk of my meals are cooked from scratch and I’ll seldom buy what’s not reduced.
I’ve shopped yellow sticker for around eight years now and my diet has changed. I went from omnivore to pescatarian, then vegetarian and have been vegan for over a year now. It was a natural transition, as there tends to be more available fruit and veg than meat. I’m living proof that you can eat well for less irrespective of dietary requirements. There can be a misconception that a vegan diet is expensive, yet, by cooking fresh there are savings to be had on any diet. Because of yellow sticker shopping, I began to care more about the environment and took a greater interest in food waste.I began volunteering with food waste and food poverty charity The Felix Project. It even had a knock-on effect in other areas of my life, such as reducing the amount of new clothes that I buy.
The future is yellow
Yellow stickers have meant more than financial savings, they have afforded me with skills, creativity, and personal growth. For supermarkets, it is indicative that wastage continually needs to be addressed. It can provide a window into food poverty across the UK, and how this is becoming even more indiscriminate. Food means life, survival, strength and health. None of us can do without food. It connects us all regardless of any other differences. We all need to eat, the same as our neighbour – bear this in mind next time food is heading for the bin. Be it the leftovers on your plate, or the 10p donuts in the bakery aisle.