Thought Leadership

Cheap vegetables

By Colin Walls

We are told that the second most effective thing that we, as individuals, can do to help save the planet is give up eating meat. [The 1st thing on the list is get an electric car – I am still thinking about that.] I have no plans to give up meat any time soon. However, I am very happy to consider reducing my consumption – make meat eating more of a special occasion – and get more creative with vegetables. This opens the question of where to get vegetables from …

In an ideal world, I think that I would like to get a lot of vegetables from the garden. However, ours is quite small and my wife can only grow a few things. I have no gardening skills at all.

A few years ago, there was a greengrocer’s shop a very short walk from my house. I would go there several times a week to see what he had brought from the market that morning and got to know the greengrocer quite well. Sometimes, late in the day, he would have a box of vegetables [Brussel sprouts, broad beans or whatever] that he knew would not be sellable the next day, so he would let me have them for a very low price, knowing that I would sort through them for the good stuff and there would be no unnecessary waste. His business became less and less viable, as most customers preferred pre-packed items in the supermarket, and he closed.

We decided to have a “veg box” delivered each week. We chose an organic supplier and selected the size and type [only veg, no fruit, and no potatoes] and it is delivered every Friday. We never know exactly what we will get, so inspecting it is always interesting. Once in a while, I get an item that I cannot recognize; that is always exciting. Our box costs £14 [nearly $20]. I am not sure that it is great value for money, but it is convenient and interesting and stops me from buying the same old things all the time.

I do shopping in local supermarkets, as I need other items and some additional veg. My favourite shop has recently started a new initiative, that I really like. On certain days, they collect together fruit and vegetables that, whilst still edible, may be imperfect or have limited shelf life. They pack selections of items into boxes [reused veg delivery boxes] and sell them for £1.50 [around $2]! This is fantastic value, as I estimate that the contents of a typical box, if bought conventionally, would be at least 4X this price. Of course, it is only good value if you use the contents, but that is not too hard. In this example box:

  • the cauliflower and onion are useful staples
  • the potatoes were large and good to be baked “in their jackets” for lunch
  • we eat quite a lot of fruit, so the clementines, pear and bananas were no problem
  • I was planning a pork stew, so the carrots and parsnips were spoken for; I was inspired to use the apple in the stew, which turned out great

Initially, I was confused as to why these boxes are on the wrong side of the registers – on the way out of the store. The only way to get one is to grab it just as you are paying. I learned that the reason for this was to prevent unscrupulous customers “topping up” their box with other items!

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at