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The Cult of the Supermarket

By archangelG     Mar 15, 2007 in Lifestyle
A topic of recent acclaim, is the supermarket becoming the downfall of the older values of society?
The cult of the supermarket
It used to be, in the old days (not that I'm much of age to remember), that when you went to do your shopping, you would go to a grocers for your fruit and vegetables, the bakers for your bread, and the butchers for your meats, and a fishmonger for all of your fish. This kind of arrangement went on for countless years in communities, and relationships between customers and traders were strong. Day to day shopping was a friendly experience whereby customers needs were met with a personal touch, from both the trader and customer point of view.
I can long remember stories that my parents, and my grandparents used to tell of how things used to be. They knew every person in those old shops, and would hold good relationships with them.
Somewhere along the line, among the great commercialisation of the economy (and the welcoming of decimalisation), there came to be the answer to all problems of convenience, places that sold goods that everyone needed, without the hassle of going to different shops to purchase them. These great machines of trade promised value, convenience, and the generation of jobs when times were harsh, and work was scarce. Yes that's right, the supermarket.
But what has the rise of the cult of the supermarket bought us? We can shop at any hour of the day, if it suits us. We can visit a supermarket when we wish to, pick up virtually what we need at any time. We do not have to wait to go to certain shops anymore. We do not mind paying that bit extra either, which i find a little concerning. But the appeal of the supermarket has bought home to us, what we want when we want it. But how long will it last?
Following the TV programme i saw last week (Dispatches), about how the supermarket chain Tesco utilises its affairs, i began to see another side to the instant gratification it gives us.
The most major thing that Tesco concerned me was the amount of land that tesco own. It was well voiced that Tesco, as a brand and commercial "cloud" buy land, so that any competitor or smaller business cannot, and then let it fall into such bad states that this then will affect the decisions of planning permission etc.
As a cloud entity / conglomerate, Tesco is huge. It has been well documented that Tesco is the second largest commercial entity in Britain (next to British airways). In October 2006, the company was estimated to have a total market value of about 2.909 billion. Every little helps eh?
But not forgetting the amount of weight that Tesco has over the retail market. Tesco do not just specialise in food, they also sell clothes, consumer electronics, insurance, fuel, personal finance, and even have their branches in the media & telecommunications market, with Tesco mobile. Its very difficult to find something that Tesco do NOT sell.
But is all of this convenience good for society? We are living in a society that is geared to convenience, with lives and responsibilities becoming busier, it is becoming harder and harder to find a moment in the day, even if we wanted to, to do shopping the old fashioned way. In the older days, we used to be able to buy fresh produce, that would be a lot fresher than that of the supermarkets. Now, we are used to selecting items that are prepackaged and preserved for longer shelf lives. We are forced, to a certain extent, to buy our groceries a week, two week, sometimes even a month in advance in order to accommodate our busy lives. Frozen and chilled food is cheaper than that of the fresh produce, especially in supermarkets.
Is the life of convenience ruining old values, to pave way for a capitalist empire of conglomerates? Today, i went to a local market to test this theory. The town that i live in has an indoor market, that has many stalls ranging from fresh fruit and veg, to fishmongers. I normally do my shopping on a day in the week like Wednesday, so it was most convenient. I bought some fresh fish (cod and pollack) which was of supreme quality, and no older than 12 hours. I bought some sirloin from the butchers (which had an excellent colour and texture), which was moderately cheap by comparison to supermarket prices, and finally some vegetables from the fruit and veg stall. Some parsnips, carrots and potatoes. And i was proud to say, that they all had the dirt still on them. They were fresh (this is a good indication by smell), and were very cheap. I was pleased with my purchases from the market.
But as i wandered the aisles of stalls in the market, i noticed something quite profound. The market was busy, ill make no mistake, but there wasn't a person there shopping under the age of 35. I, a meager 25, felt moderately out of place shopping here, as far as my age was concerned. Lending more weight to my theory however, i did not discriminate.
To complete my quest, i made my way over to Tesco (a 5 minute walk). It was merely for a browse more than anything, since i had already got what i needed. The first thing i noticed, was that the frozen section of the store took approximately 1/3 of the shopping space. Now thinking about all of the products that Tesco sell, i began to think that only 2/3 of the products sold are food / consumables. That would mean that approximately half of this was frozen fayre! At a quick calculation, about only 1/8 of the food based products would be fresh. A disconcerting thought.
I made my way over the the fruit and vegetables section. I began to test the freshness of the vegetables, by both touch and smell (two good indicators of fresh fruit and vegetables). As i smelled a gab of netted carrots, a nearby Tesco operative asked me what i was doing. I told him, exactly what i was doing, and he seemed suspicious, and unaware that things were done this way. he proceeded to follow me around the rest of the store for the following 5 minutes i spent there. I did not buy anything, out of principle. But i did notice something valuable. It was full of young families, and mostly younger people, a generation that had grown up with the cult of the supermarket. At a guess only 1/8th of the people that were there were over 40. That's about the same proportion as the fresh produce.
So on the way home, i began to piece this all together. A small conclusion brought me to thinking that the advantages of the old methods of shopping were thus: higher quality produce, moderately cheaper than that of the supermarket, and a lot friendlier. The advantages of the supermarket are thus: Its noisy, its busy, and its full of people who aren't really old enough to know better. Yes every little might help, but the help i got from the supermarket was little, and the impression i got was that of a "hurry up, grab what you can, and leave promptly". The market however, showed me that you can be friendly, you can talk to people like human beings, and its likely that you'll be shopping with people who've done it that way for years. And i would not have it any other way.
More about Supermarket, Tesco, Cult
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