Supermarkets are where I buy food; they're where I've always bought food. When I'm hungry, I go to the supermarket. When my cupboard is bare, I go to the supermarket. When I want to find some exciting new foodstuff, I look for it in the supermarket. Sometimes, when I'm too lazy to make a sandwich, I buy one in the supermarket. But I will do this no longer. Supermarkets are evil, and shall receive my patronage no more.
Supermarkets are bullies. They dictate prices to their suppliers, forcing suppliers to conglomerate, killing off small suppliers who stand alone. They enforce a "consistency" of product, squeezing out any producers who depart from the norm. They push in on territory where they're not wanted, gobbling up local businesses. They are commercial giants; they can do what they like, unimpeded. All of this reduces the variety of produce available to consumers. Sure, supermarket-goers have "choice" and "diversity", but these are not the same thing at all. Economies of scale force a blandness and homogeneity of product. "Choice" is really a Hobson's choice, as the consumer gets to choose between dozens of indistinguishable brands, each striving to be as similar to each other as possible. "Diversity" is variety as sold by a PR consultant, consisting mostly of packaging, marketing, spin and lies. Diversity is an industrial travesty of the world's cuisines, boxed in bright colours on a shelf; diversity is six exotic ketchup flavours on your McDonald's hamburger; diversity is bland consumer pop with an "African" beat. This is the kind of diversity loved by capitalists and their liberal sympathisers.
Supermarkets also reduce the quality of produce available to the consumer. They thrive on the tiniest of profit margins, meaning that they have to drive costs down as low as possible; and if this means shit food, then so be it. Fruit and vegetables are harvested too early, and consequently lack flavour, to slow the onset of rot during their long transit, warehousing and shelf lives. Meat isn't properly hung. Food is pumped with chemicals and compromise ingredients to make it last longer on the shelves.
Being in a supermarket is an inhuman experience. The shoppers, self-contained souls, push trolleys through lifeless aisles, harried and stressed, before being rushed through the checkout by a worker they don't even look in the eye. The staff are unskilled, uninterested, part-time and poorly paid; their job is a mindless drudge, a series of chores; they look glum and work without enthusiasm. Many of them have to work a second job to make ends meet.
Supermarkets destroy communities. A supermarket is an out-of-town fortress, set off from its surroundings, ringed by a no-man's-land of parking space. It sucks activity from the town centre, it sucks money from the community and into the pockets of supermarket shareholders. It has nothing of local colour or local culture; supermarkets offer abstracted services, generalised across entire continents. No amount of bunting or half-assed local customisation can hide this.
Supermarkets offer convenience -- the convenience to be unsociable, the convenience to be insulated from your community. You can complete a lifetime of supermarket transactions without ever troubling to say a word; you can drive in and drive straight out again. Supermarkets offer the convenience never to get out of your comfort zone, the convenience to get something you just bung in the microwave, the convenience to spend a few more hours sitting on your fat arse. Supermarkets make their money by appealing to the inner slacker.
My own inner slacker was dominant enough that I always ended up shopping for food at the supermarket, in spite of my knowledge of its overriding evil. But on Saturday morning, quite accidentally, I accompanied one of my friends on a quick shopping excursion. We wandered around little shops and markets, and the experience was a revelation. For those few moments, I felt like I actually lived in my town, instead of being an occasional visitor, a tourist who dropped in at weekends. Browsing street markets with fresh local produce, visiting bakeries, pasta shops, cheese shops, talking to sellers about their food -- people who have a knowledge of and passion for what they do, people who are involved in producing what they sell -- the thought struck me: why don't I do this all the time?
So, for at least the next month, I'll try. I will not cross the threshold of a supermarket. I will not darken the doors of Delhaize; I will openly shun Super GB. I'll subsist on the supplies of small local shops: bakers, butchers, street markets, speciality shops. It won't be easy for me: I'll have to come out of my shell, I'll have to become aware of their opening hours, I'll have to prepare more fresh food, and rely less on tins, packages and jars. I'll have to speak some Dutch. And I'll most probably have to spend more money. But it will be a good thing. The money will go to the community, and I will be more a part of that community. I'll feel a better person. I'll feel more alive and more human.
In taking on this quest, I am fortunate in that I live in a civilised place, with lots of small local shops within walking distance of myself and each other, and lots of regular street markets. (I wouldn't be so lucky if I lived in, say, Basingstoke.) I am fortunate in that my job allows me to visit these shops while they are open, and that I don't have to commute hours to work in a dead industrial park on the edge of another city. I am fortunate in that my wage packet doesn't force me to buy the cheapest, most mass-produced food available. I am fortunate in that I can freely give the finger to the supermarkets; it's almost my responsibility not to let them push me around.