Skip to main content

Wishful thinking on the demise of supermarkets

Should I give up Asda, 5 minutes walk away, and drive a 10 mile round trip
to get to a butchers, greengrocers etc?
I have a bit of a history with 'natural food' journalist Joanna Blythman. Don't get me wrong, I've never met her, and we've never argued, but I have often mentioned a quote from her in her days at the Soil Association when she came out with a statement that managed to be both an understatement and an unnecessary scare. Writing in the Guardian, she remarked:
You can switch to organic... Or you could just accept that every third mouthful of food you eat contains poison. Are you up for that?
The understatement is because practically every mouthful you eat contains poison, whether you buy organic or not. Food contain poisons both natural and artificial. Usually far more are natural - typically around a factor of 1,000. And the unnecessary scare is because the fact is that the levels of pesticide residues on non-organic food are sufficiently low that they provide far less risk than that from the food itself - and that risk is (for uncontaminated food) is minimal with almost everything except that ubiquitous poison alcohol. The key to understanding poisons is that it's the dose that matters. However, I should move on, as this isn't the topic of this post.

In her recent article in the Observer, Ms Blythman celebrated the demise of the supermarkets. I don't disagree with her assessment of some of the issues faced by the big supermarkets, but I think she is indulging in pure wishful thinking if she thinks that in a few years they will have disappeared and we will all be good Stepford Wives/Husbands, spending the entire day trolling from butchers to greengrocers to half a dozen other shops in order to have the tea on the table when our partners come home.

Yes, it's true that we are tending to shop more frequently in small quantities, rather than a single big weekly shop, but most of us don't live in a fashionable London suburb, or a quaint market town, that still has its neat row of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers all ready for us to pop in with our hessian baskets akimbo. For good green reasons I do most of my food shopping on foot - and that means shopping at an Asda superstore or a Tesco convenience store. The Asda (pictured above) is closer and has much more range - and is very friendly and has some good pricing - so that's where I go.

About once a week we do a bigger shop, though no longer the traditional 'shopping for the week' and for that we go to Waitrose. It's a new building, well-designed with great facilities in which to sip your free latte (or whatever). It is actually the most enjoyable supermarket I've ever used. Unlike the butchers, I don't have to stand in a queue - in fact not even to check out, as Waitrose have the natty check-yourself-as-you-go system.

Of course it's a dangerous trap to assume the rest of the country is like you. (Could Ms B be doing this?) Lots of people have a day job that makes it less easy to pop to the shop than mine does - and many of them will pick up food shopping in whatever they pass on the way to the bus or the station. They don't want to spend an hour browsing round six different shops, they want to quickly pick something up and get home.

So by all means enjoy the decline of the big supermarkets. They were, indeed responsible for the kind of misleading selling that Ms Btythman mentions. But it would be wrong to assume that this means that they are going to disappear - they will change and survive - or that most people will go back to toddling round a whole range of food shops on a daily basis. It's not going to happen. It will remain a self-indulgent luxury for those who have the money to live in the right places and the time to do it.


Popular posts from this blog

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Which idiot came up with percentage-based gradient signs

Rant warning: the contents of this post could sound like something produced by UKIP. I wish to make it clear that I do not in any way support or endorse that political party. In fact it gives me the creeps. Once upon a time, the signs for a steep hill on British roads displayed the gradient in a simple, easy-to-understand form. If the hill went up, say, one yard for every three yards forward it said '1 in 3'. Then some bureaucrat came along and decided that it would be a good idea to state the slope as a percentage. So now the sign for (say) a 1 in 10 slope says 10% (I think). That 'I think' is because the percentage-based slope is so unnatural. There are two ways we conventionally measure slopes. Either on X/Y coordiates (as in 1 in 4) or using degrees - say at a 15° angle. We don't measure them in percentages. It's easy to visualize a 1 in 3 slope, or a 30 degree angle. Much less obvious what a 33.333 recurring percent slope is. And what's a 100% slope