'I get supermarket stagefright'

“Would someone please think of the little pigs?”


I make an announcement, “Let’s have stir-fry pork for dinner!” It makes sense, there is an abundance of fresh veggies in my boyfriend’s fridge. Plus ginger. Ginger goes well with pork I think.

I graciously offer to pick up the meat on my way home, “No, no, it’s no trouble.” Curiously, I choose to go out of my way to the Coles a few blocks from work instead of the Woolies I actually trip over five minutes walk from home.

As I peruse the shelves in the fresh meat section, my plan to dash home with conveniently sliced pork is stalled by thoughts of pigs in cages. Those poor animals with the intelligence of a three year old, restricted to a life in a cage not much bigger than their fattened bodies.

I think of the incredible things I see three-year-olds do on YouTube like hip-hop dancing, snowboarding and singing. Those poor pigs, eating, sleeping and giving birth to their offspring in those evil cages. They’re denied their natural behaviors and only leave those cages to DIE.

Of course, I make the decision to purchase free range pork. Even if it costs three times as much. I’ll slice it up myself if necessary. But it becomes apparent quite quickly; Coles in the city does not have free range pork. I stare dumbly at the shelves, willing it to appear. 10 minutes passes. I am cold. Okay, it was more like 5-6 minutes. But still. It’s very cold by the refrigerated shelves. I snap out of my stupor: choose a meat to eat now!

I survey the other options and quickly dismiss chicken. We had that last night. And lamb. The cutlets, although on special, won’t go as nicely with stir-fried Asian greens. Luckily, out of nowhere, I get a brainwave. I know! I’ll make burgers, gourmet style, like Grill’d. Let the bokchoy in the fridge languish, there is Angus ready-made rissoles on special. I reach for them. Perfect! But hang on… Don’t they fatten the cows up inhumanely and that’s how they get the marbling? I realise I have absolutely no idea but I can’t afford to take the risk. I will purchase non-Angus beef.


What about Kangaroo? It’s lean, high in iron and I’m practically doing everyone a favour by eating our coat of arms because its population is out of control! It’s a real pest for, I don’t know, Angus beef farmers or something. This seems like a great option. And cheap! But game meat is a real commitment. You need to be in the mood for it and I’m not. It’s back to the non-Angus beef for me. I get distracted by 500g of mince on special for $3. $3!  I imagine my mothers face if she ever saw me put anything other than 5-star beef mince in my shopping basket. The $3, three-star meat stays on the shelf.

By now, I’ve been at the meat section for over 15 minutes. And I’m not even joking. Imagining how suspect I look on CCTV footage, I’m propelled to quickly snatch the organic and over-priced mince in front of me and toss it in my basket. I try to silence the thoughts that threaten to paralyse my shopping efforts as I march towards the beetroot aisle,”Organic? You realise that has nothing to do with whether the meat is humane, right? Plus, the organic meat industry is hardly regulated, what does that sticker really mean? Sucker.”

I surprise myself as I make lightening fast decisions on beetroot, Danish butter and swiss cheese but it’s the mustard shelves that bring me unstuck again. Most of the mustards are the supermarket’s own label which I’m hesitant to purchase. Did the supermarket executives hold metaphorical guns to the heads of mustard factory workers demanding mustard at ludicrously low prices? If I purchase the supermarket’s brand of mustard will the mustard industry remain sustainable? But who actually knows if Masterfoods is anymore ethical? Just buy the mustard.

“I try to buy myself some credit by fitting everything in just one bag.”

Approaching the checkout, just two more decisions remain. One, do I go to the self-serve checkout or the one manned by an actual human? Mum once declared that she always lines up for the human option as she feels in doing so, she is preserving jobs for Australians. I labelled her a socialist and argued that the technology for the self-service option was built by humans too. But were they Australians? Does that even matter? Shut up brain.

The second decision: what do I carry my groceries home in? Plagued with guilt, I realise I was going to go with the plastic bag option. (I had no room in my handbag, trust me, and certainly had too many items to juggle with my bare hands). Standing at the self service checkout, scanning my supermarket brand mustard, using a plastic bag, I realise I am a failure at both dashing into the supermarket for one item or shopping ethically. I try to buy myself some credit by fitting everything in just one bag.

I’m clutching my one bag as I walk to the bus stop but about halfway I realise I forgot to buy buns for these magnificent organic beef, gourmet burgers. Arrrrrrgggggghhhhh. It would be convenient to go to the Woolies on the way home but would also make me feel like an idiot for going to Coles in the first place. 180 degree turn.


I purchase bread rolls (supermarket brand!) and stuff them into my one bag. Are you aware of how thin plastic bags are these days? They’re very thin. It’s about 15 steps to my bus when my one earth-destroying plastic bag ejects the mustard from its base. The bottle smashes on impact and dijon splatters onto the foot path and onto my shoe. Having dropped and spilled many things in my life, I wait for what inevitably comes next: being rescued by my parents or sister with paper towels and spray-and-wipe. But my sister is in London and I’m all alone.

I get a sympathetic look and a “just one of those days” from a fellow commuter. I choose not to enlighten her (“this is like, every day of my entire life”) as I attempt to clean up the mustard mess. My overstuffed handbag laden with gym gear, laptop and books puts me off-balance and I cut myself with glass. Blood goes everywhere including the mustard jar that I briefly considered salvaging the contents from (WTF?). There is blood on the slippery packet of brown bread rolls I am now trying to juggle, blood on the swiss cheese and my beloved butter, blood in my bag as I rummage through it for my bus ticket and blood in my mouth as I suck my wound on the bus ride home.

Even the simplest, best laid ethical dining plans can go awry once your social conscience gets in the way.

Advertising pays Ashleigh Sheehan’s rent but she loves to write. Ash has been published on and regularly blogs on her site You can follow her on twitter @ashleighsheehan

How do you manage to decide what to cook for dinner with all the ethical decisions a supermarket presents?