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We’re used to having choice, cheapness and convenience when it comes to food shopping. Coronavirus has shown us we need to be more self-sufficient.

This article is part of our Voices of the Economy series. The project brings together the economic experiences and opinions of people from a range of different backgrounds and showcases voices which are not heard as often when we talk about the economy. To find out more and share your own story, click here.

Mary Smith* lives in Glasgow with her family. Alongside her caring responsibilities for family members, she is an active part of her local community. This includes her involvement with the Poverty Truth Community, which she credits with building her confidence and voice. 

* not her real name


I live in a decent street in the North West of Glasgow in a generally less well-off area. I started life not far from here in a place that is often seen as one of the "worst", with drugs prevalent, an average low income, and not very attractive looking. But I had many wonderful friends and relatives with hearts of gold.

I used to work in microbiology labs and then electronics but left the workforce after having my second child to look after my little ones. I’d enjoyed electronics and it used to pay quite well but the Scottish electronics industry has since collapsed. My husband, who used to work in the same factory as me, had to retrain. He now works in milk bottling.

I currently live with my three kids. My younger two are moving into their penultimate and final year at school (which is being taught online for the time being) and my eldest was away at university but moved back home when the lockdown was announced. So we’re all together again.

When the lockdown came looming, it certainly did feel like a big gate shutting down on us. It was like a great storm coming towards us, everyone running here and there, stocking up whatever wee extras we could think we might need so that we wouldn't have to venture back out till it was safe - whenever that would be.

With the lockdown comes less choice. Where I live I normally have many shops within reach, either on foot, or by bus, or car, given enough time. Formerly, I would visit all different shops through the week as  I knew which ones offered the best value and quality for what.

I have to juggle my money, so I used to punctuate my day with stops at local shops, or make special trips to the larger ones, to gather the best offers or bargains. Getting reduced meat and meals did free up so much money needed for other important things, especially with two teens anxious to fit in socially. I felt like I could run a "best price" website, with all my "research", if only I had enough time!

However, for the past 12 weeks, with shopping limited to essential trips once a week at most, and stock much reduced, I have just been grateful for what I could get a hold of. On the plus side, trying to always get the best value was quite a time consuming activity, which I had already wanted to cut down on. But the difference in costs was a new reality for me. I’ve found myself restricted to paying through the nose rather than having all those offers of the week and reductions I previously was used to.

When lockdown first started, I’d felt secure that I could feed us all for quite some time with the stocks I already had. With my money-saving mindset it had been my habit pre-lockdown to pick up a few extra packets of pasta, rice, tins and shampoos whenever the price was good, to save extra journeys and time going back to those specific shops so soon. A friend always joked how we would never starve in this house! So I thought we’d be alright.

It did go okay for the first two or three weeks, but I couldn't believe how much was needed for home cooking twice a day, every day, especially when feeding two big boys and my 17 year old daughter. I eventually ran down the staples that I had, so I had to think about the dreaded shops again. I was particularly nervous about it because three of us have asthma, with occasional hospitalisation, and I'm an older mum.

At first I considered online shopping. I'd been deflated by the many stories of 11-day delivery slots, but did try one shop, of which I was a member online. My password didn't work. I tried resetting - a few times -but got no acknowledgement of it, so I just gave up. I’d also heard about the set boxes for delivery, which are a great idea, but I don't use a lot of the things in them, like biscuits, coffee and parsnips, so it would have been a lot of extra money to get all we needed.

Luckily, my family was taken under the wing of some real community gems. For years we’ve been part of several community groups here - from youth clubs to mum support groups -  that have no airs or graces, are all inclusive, and have been there when we really needed them. One youth club in particular really looks after kids with genuine care and attention, as well as for their carers. They put their all into fundraising and take each child in turn away on a once-in-a-childhood summer camp, which makes a big impact on their independence and confidence.

Since their activities stopped in March this group has been making food parcels for those in the community who either couldn't get out or ran out of money for whatever reason. My daughter started volunteering with them and in return, they very kindly provide me with essentials and even a freshly made meal of the day, supplied by one of the West End restaurants.The Head of the club is a well-loved local hero, who works tirelessly to gain donations from food distributors and local businesses. They also have a Go Fund Me page, where we are able to return the favour of the convenience. I was very fortunate to have the kindness of this group to top us up with some provisions.

We also got some supplies from my kids' dad. He has continued his factory work throughout the lockdown so considering his continual exposure to others at work he felt no more risk in going shopping as normal. I would therefore meet him outside the supermarket on the weekly trip to drop off our son overnight (permitted through the lockdown, and a necessary break for both me and my son, being indoors all week together!) and give him money to pick up an additional couple of things we were short of.

However, it turned out that these were both short-term measures. My daughter had to eventually give up the club for the new school year commencing after Easter, and dad grew impatient with the extra time spent searching round the supermarket on his days off. This was my cue to face the reality of getting on with life in the new normal.

Overall, with shopping and trips out being limited to essentials only, life under lockdown has been tough. I have learnt that trying to conjure up appetising food every day, twice a day from scratch, requires a lot of imagination and time, so it doesn't become predictable, monotonous stuff out of a pot. And after all those weeks missing the choice and convenience that we'd grown so used to, such as frozen chips, tasty pre-prepared meats, snacks and even pizzas, I've realised just how dependent I have been on the shops "making the dinner" for us! However, I think coronavirus has shown us it's in our interests to be less reliant on convenience and become more self-sufficient.

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