‘Thuggish supermarkets are endangering our food supply’ … Jay Rayner The Observer 17:2:13

UK supermarkets have taken a PR battering with the recent scandal over horsemeat and pork in beef products.   But for some they’re a permanent blight on our retail experience.   They’re virtually a price cartel.   Their insistence on perfectly shaped fruit and veg sees good food being thrown away.   They do small shops out of business … when we moved to Otley nearly twenty years ago, we had half a dozen greengrocers.   They’ve all gone.   One of them, every autumn, would sell wild mushrooms gathered that morning by local enthusiasts.   You don’t get that in ‘Sinsbury’s’. And they’re the providers of prepared meals that just need warming through.   These meals, popular among the poorest, cost more than making them yourself.   Further, they’ve had the enzymes processed out of them … enzymes that allow the conversion of food into nutrition.   In the absence of those enzymes consumers aren’t even getting the benefit of what little nutrition there is in processed food.   And last year’s lowering of prices paid to dairy farmers by supermarkets was a reminder that they insist that suppliers should supply to them only, making suppliers vulnerable to arbitrary decreases in payment for foodstuff.

I remember a pre-supermarket childhood where my mother would catch a bus into town and shop at the indoor market.   We had bread and milk delivered.   There was only a sweetshop within reach.   We managed fine without supermarkets.   Just a little more time and effort.

It was some time before the horsemeat scandal that my brother and sister in law, Chris and Olwyn, decided to go a year without visiting a supermarket. They’ve completed a couple of months. I asked Chris what problems he foresaw: ‘The first is that supermarkets are convenient for us all because it’s so easy to do almost all the household shopping in one outing.   We are trying to be disciplined about the time and energy (including fuel) we spend on shopping the alternative way.

The other one is costs.   Shopping this way will cost more I’m sure, but then that immediately highlights one reason for avoiding supermarkets: they squeeze the producers (hence the present rumpus over horsemeat).   We will try to keep some approximate estimate of just how much the extra cost is.

Olwyn uses almost entirely soya and not dairy products and so we have to find out if we can make soya yoghurt.   Holland and Barrett in Oxford (where she works) usually stock soya yoghurt but it’s not reliable.   Also, rightly or wrongly, we have a dishwasher and we may have a problem finding dishwasher liquid. You can buy tablets but they discolour glassware.   Otherwise we haven’t anticipated problems of supply, but it’s early days’.

Chris added this more recently to bring us up to date: ‘After another few weeks of it we’re managing on the following –

– local village shop

– Holland and Barrett

– local fruit and veg box scheme, farmers’ markets, other weekly markets

– our milk delivery through which we can order cheese and several other basics

– we may try out the online supplier ‘Suma’’

Thanks Chris and good luck to you both.

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‘Grief is love that has become homeless.’ (Soren Seivstrup – ‘The Killing’)


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