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Supermarkets – Good or Bad?
Are supermarkets ruining society or are they an easy and efficient way to provide food for everyone?
Are supermarkets good for health?
Let’s first define the possible benefits of a healthy shopping trip.
- Buy the freshest food possible.
- Buy foods that contain a lot of vitamins and minerals.
- Buy food without additives.
- Buy natural, unprocessed foods.
- Walk to the store and exercise.
- Chat with the shopkeeper. Get some social interaction and learn about the food you buy.
Unfortunately, due to the modern supermarket business model, you’ll be lucky to get any of the above benefits.
Packaged food: Supermarket produce is mostly packaged. Take a walk through your local area and count how many aisles are devoted to unpackaged goods. There is usually only a fruit and vegetable section at the entrance of the shop, and then some less convincing imitations of the usual “high street” shops, such as in-store bakeries, fishmongers, butchers and eateries. Now most packaged foods are by definition not fresh because they are produced in factories days, weeks or months before being sold. Vitamins and minerals are often removed by processing, or lost in ingredients. Sometimes they are added back as fortification, which is an improvement, but it seems silly to first remove the natural vitamins and minerals and then add some of them later.
Fresh food: You will be very lucky to find this in the supermarket. Supermarkets ship their food from large warehouses across the country. This allows them to import goods from all over the world, store them cheaply in several places and then transport them to stores across the country at a later date. Due to the number of miles that food has traveled, often in container ships, it is usually weeks or even months old by the time it reaches supermarket shelves. This method keeps the price low, but the downside is the heaps of additives and treatments designed to keep the food looking as fresh as possible. Unfortunately the food usually loses its flavor. The answer to this, which supermarkets use, is to flood their food with sugar and salt to disguise the lack of taste. In the case of fruit and vegetables this cannot be done, and as anyone who has tasted fresh produce from the allotment knows, supermarket food is in its own bland state.
Seasonal food: Another aspect of food that is not available in supermarkets is seasonality. While some may prefer to have access to the same foods year-round, it seems that I prefer to enjoy different foods when they are in season. For one they will be fresher, second you immediately get variety and finally you will be able to enjoy them without needing all the millions of miles of food used by Kenyan green beans and South African apples.
The car is king: Supermarkets encourage people to bring their cars, do the weekly shop and drag all their bags home in one big weekly chore. By doing this, they miss out on walking to the store regularly and exercising say 3-4 times a week. Cars are accustomed to clogging our roads and the space they occupy is removed from local use. Recreation areas, school playgrounds and leisure centers are all alternatives that can use the large spaces across the country reserved for parking. Factor in the pollution of both the cars and the big trucks that supply these supermarkets and you can get a sense of the environmental damage that living with a big supermarket causes.
Less service: The quality of interaction with shopkeepers who own their own shops, another thing missing from the sweep of supermarkets. I found my greengrocers and butchers quite willing to tell me about the best food they had, to get me a selection from the back and to chat about their business and life in general. This interaction is in my view intrinsically more satisfying and life-affirming than a walk through the supermarket. Unfortunately for the workers at the local supermarket, the head office insists on certain standards that do not allow equal interaction between staff and customers.
Does the supermarket provide options?
Foods packaged using the same ingredients: There may be plenty of options in the supermarket, but they don’t really stand up to close scrutiny. most packaged foods look different, but the ingredients come from the same factory and consist of the same constituents. For example, a ready meal of cod and parsley pie may contain the same white sauce used in other supermarkets with a moussaka topping, a tomato goo pizza topping may be the same as in a tomato and basil pasta dish.
Fresh food only uses a limited range: Did you know that there are about 2000 varieties of traditional British apples? How many of these have you seen in the supermarket? You might be lucky to see more than 4 or 5. Supermarkets can’t afford to deal with small suppliers because the unit costs are huge when small quantities are transported to their main depot? This then limits them to a small range produced by major contract suppliers in various countries around the world. The garden 100 feet from the supermarket was the last possible candidate to supply it. The proceeds will go to local vegetable markets and greengrocers.
But I don’t have enough time to change where I shop!
There are various reasons that a person can use, but ultimately what we do in life boils down to the choices we make. Some of these choices are of course very difficult, and it’s a personal choice how far we’re willing to go to keep local shops and merchants thriving. I will write another article soon that will look at alternatives to supermarkets and how easy they are to use.
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