Those of you who have been with me for a while (and for those of you, congratulations and hello!) may remember that I once had a dramatic Damascene revelation in Sheringham and decided I was going to make more of an effort to avoid supermarkets and seek out more local options. Well, it has been quite a ride. It has had high points, i.e. I have discovered that there is still fruit that tastes like fruit in this world, and have been introduced to such things as purslane, sea bream, sloes, samphire, it has been thrilling. It has had low points, notably when I managed to spend £7 on a single portion of fish, how did I manage this and was it gold plated or the fish equivalent of fillet steak, I do not know but fortunately it has not been repeated. Before I started heading bravely out and seeking out markets and farm shops, this is what I thought of the whole avoiding-supermarkets situation:
1/ I thought people who made a point of avoiding supermarkets were effete middle class people who ought to be worrying about more serious things.
2/ I thought there were no local shopping alternatives anywhere near where I live.
3/ I thought when people talked about non-supermarket shopping they meant things like expensive Italian delis like on food programmes on the TV where you go and buy a slice of proscuitto and a small block of parmesan and it costs you £10.
4/ I didn’t understand what people were talking about when they said eating seasonally was cheaper.
5/ I thought if I was busy or tired it was reasonable that cooking was the first thing to go and I could be perfectly healthy if I chose my ready meals carefully.
|And the moral of this is, never pose with a pig, even a dead one, as the resulting photograph will inevitably turn up on some kind of protest literature|
In terms of eating supermarket ready meals: I now cook from scratch for (virtually) every single meal. It’s often no more trouble than putting a ready meal in the oven, because I don’t cook complicated things all the time, and now I’m buying better food I don’t mind having it plain. I don’t know if it’s better for me, but I will tell you that I used to have IBS so badly that up until last year I used to spend a couple of days every fortnight doubled up with stomach ache, if I woke up too early I would throw up, and it was generally a bit miserable to be spending quite so much time googling ‘acute appendicitis’ every five minutes and wondering if I ought to drive myself to casualty. Now my stomach is fine, and I look a lot healthier. Obviously there are other factors (trust me on this one) so don’t take that as gospel, but, you know, I do wonder if eating better food has helped a tiny bit.
|I can absolutely promise you that this shop sells things you can't find in Tesco|
Basically, because the supermarkets have levels of wealth that would make Croesus a bit nervous, they buy their way out of the planning regulations. They do this by appealing, appealing and appealing again, while the council runs out of money to fight the appeals, until they get a foothold, or by offering to pay for other things a town might need at the same time as building their depressing warehouse full of crisps. In Clay Cross, which is near where I am from, Tesco used the latter method, and gave Clay Cross money to ‘redevelop’ in return for building a huge superstore in the town centre. In Cambridge, which is a (relatively) wealthy city, Tesco used the first trick to get a supermarket on Mill Road, which is famous for its independent shops. Now Sainsbury’s is trying to open a store a couple of hundred yards down the road.
|Apparently not universal support for a new Sainsbury's|
Now, this is where I normally think of something cheerful to say at the end: but, like I say, I do think it’s a bit depressing, so instead I’m going to recommend some things to read which will depress you more, but if you’re interested it’s worth having a look. When I was at university, someone once had a Tesco Value Range party (aaaaand I was at Oxford. You are more than welcome to refer to my last post about poverty tourism). They were more innocent times, when the blue and white of the Value Range was looked on with affection, and when Tesco was not seen as a mean old rampaging beast. Perhaps if the Big Four would all bugger off with their mad expansionist plans those happy times could come again?
Tescopoly. Information, articles and reports on the impact of supermarket expansion
Shopped, by Joanna Blythman. This is v exciting and actually a page turner
Bad Food Britain, also by Joanna Blythman – more about the effects of supermarkets on our food culture. I am her biggest fan in a non-creepy way
The No Mill Road Tesco campaign which failed
The No Mill Road Sainsbury’s campaign setting off
Clay Cross, which was ‘regenerated’ with money from Tesco (I rang and asked how much but they refused to give me a figure, although he said they wouldn’t ever have had the chance to regenerate Clay Cross without Tesco)
Guardian article on supermarket protesters, no beard or muesli necessary