One of the first things you will notice in numerous countries outside the Western world is that many of them rely less on supermarkets than they do on local markets. And while the term “organic” might be nothing more than a gimmick in places like the United States (where I watched my mother pay $2 USD for a single cucumber and $4 USD for single onion in 2010 at her local Safeway in Colorado), once you get into the real world outside of the FDA-approved food industry you will discover a wide open world of true organic produce. The kind that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg and doesn’t need an organic label on it because the locals aren’t chemically engineering their produce, but rather growing it the way nature intended. It is simply organic by its very nature.
That’s not to say that supermarkets don’t exist around the world, because they do. However, when you go to places like Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Turkey, Colombia, Mexico, Serbia and beyond, people split their shopping between the local markets and the supermarkets for a very good reason. Not only is the produce significantly cheaper at the local markets, but you are supporting the local economy (in most cases) as well as purchasing produce that is fresh and (for the most part) hasn’t been tainted by the chemically-driven, mass-production-oriented industry where the goal is to push out as much produce as quickly as possible to feed the masses.
To give you an example, when I was living in Sofia, Bulgaria I purchased the vast majority of my produce (fruits and veggies) at the local Women’s Market, known as the Zhenski Pazar in English or in Bulgarian as the Женски Пазар. Here, you can pick up literal kilos of produce for 3-4 dollars/2-3 euros in comparison to what it costs you in the United States or other Western countries where they regularly practice highway robbery hidden behind a veil of “superior quality and service” at places such as Safeway, Wal Mart, Tesco, Whole Foods, Carrefour, Aldi or Lidl.
Bear in mind that negotiation is key when it comes to local markets, because while at the supermarkets you are relegated to paying full price because everything is barcoded, once you get out into the local markets things are sold on a local basis without regulation, which means there aren’t any barcodes and your chance to walk away with a good deal depends entirely on your ability to bargain with the merchant for a better price on tomatoes or onions or bananas or whatever your particular fruit/vegetable selection is.
Another example is here in Cancun, Mexico, where I am currently based as of 2012. While Market 23 is one of the best places to go if you need fresh produce on most days of the week (and if your negotiation skills are primed and ready), the supermarkets here have special days known as the Dia del Mercado, or Day of the Market. This isn’t specific to Cancun; rather, it is a common occurrence throughout Mexico. There are also specific months of the year which certain supermarket chains have “half off month” or “two for one month”, and most merchants have some form of Dia del Descuento, or Day of Discounts. For example, one of my favourite pharmacies has 15% discounts every Monday, which means all my vitamins and other supplements can be picked up at a discount.
As I posted about back in October of 2011 at Marginal Boundaries, one of the benefits of living like a local and going native in your community is knowing when and where to buy cheap produce, such as picking up tomatoes for a whopping 4 pesos per kilo. But the only way you are going to know about discounts such as the special Market Day for your city or the best local markets to shop at is if you are living outside of the special expat communities where people only speak English and only go to English-speaking supermarkets and grocery stores and huddle about in special expat-only communities.
While market days and market towns exist in the U.K. and farmer’s markets are scattered across the U.S., you are still entrapped by the whole “organic” gimmick that exists in the Western countries. This is a scam, just another way to get you to pay ridiculously marked-up fees for things that you should be able to purchase from your local farmers for pennies in comparison. You don’t need to be paying $3 to $6 for a kilo of normal tomatoes in the United States (and they are imported, too boot!) when you can pick them up for 4 pesos in Mexico or other countries like Mexico, where the farmers are growing things naturally (and locally!) in the first place, without the fertilizers and chemicals that the mass-production farms are using.
Once you go global you’ll find yourself saving thousands per year on your grocery bill alone. It’s a lesson that more and more people are learning as they begin to read the first-hand accounts of location independent travellers from around the world, people who have left the sky-high costs of living behind them in trade for destinations where the cost of living is low enough that you can actually utilize your pension or income for more than just basic necessities, because $1,500 a month (or the equivalent) allows you and yours to live like kings because you are living intelligently beyond the web of the Western tax regime.