Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Supermarkets are taking over the planet


Book Review: Shopped, The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets (2004) by Joanna Blythman, London: Harper Perennial, 382 pages including Index.

Supermarkets are taking over the planet, so says Joanna Blythman in Shopped (p 240). After reading this book, I came to realise that supermarkets are the key link in the B’org Food Chain. After all, they are called supermarket chains. Get rid of them and the B’org Food Chain will be broken. Keep supporting them and the world’s food supply will only get worse with tales of iniquities unending. Genetically modified/nano foods, cloned animals and industrial farming in general don’t fit in small local shops any more than wholesome locally produced foods thrive in supermarkets. Joanna Blythman explains it superbly.

Blythman’s analysis is full of wit and interesting facts, and enjoyable to read, but her book will leave you feeling like a co-conspirator in a robbery every time you engage with a supermarket. She aptly describes everything to do with supermarkets from the mind numbing experience of shopping and working there to the trials and tribulations of being a supplier or buyer.

There are details in the book about supermarkets liking bright red meat that comes in standard sizes and encouraging short cuts in meat production to lower costs. Indeed, everything needs to be picture perfect and conform to standard sizes. Fruit and vegetables need to be reformulated to fit supermarket criteria. Nutrition and taste do not count, but price does. “The chain takes the product with the cheapest price ... possibly even below the cost of production” p 238).

We have all witnessed the closure of local bakeries, butchers and other such shops, even before the recession. MP John Hayes is quoted as saying that supermarkets have “done more than any other agency to damage the business of local supply...” (p 208).

I would go so far as to say that this should be required reading for anyone who gives a hoot about life. Without supermarkets, many problems would vanish overnight. As I mentioned in my article about food sovereignty, taking responsibility for our food supply means avoiding supermarkets, and if you are having trouble breaking this bad habit, Blythman’s book should do the trick. It did it for me.

P.S.  More wit on supermarket issues surfaced in the House of Lords on Monday, 7 February 2011 in the Agriculture: Dairy Industry debate. When asked about subsidies to dairy farmers, Lord Henley said that he was sure the monies were going to the farmers because he imagined that the cows do not have bank accounts.  (ha ha) He informed the Lords present that a groceries code adjudicator is to be appointed to deal with supermarket price under-cutting but he is unsure of where this person will be sitting. However, as is easily seen from this debate, the government is fully in favour of supermarkets taking over from small shopkeepers and small farmers and a government official to oversee the matter is unlikely to set things right wherever he or she sits (or stands). This is why everyone’s efforts are so important to address this undemocratic situation and imbalance of power.