I put up my preserving page today, and in it I allude (ha!) to my dislike of supermarkets. Because I can remember a world before supermarkets, I know what kind of effect they have had on our society, and I am afraid I am less than impressed. Sure, they are convenient, but at what cost?
I spent much of my childhood growing up in Malvern, in Adelaide, South Australia. In the World Before Supermarkets the main street was a true High Street – lined with individual shops which catered for most of our needs. There was a butcher, a greengrocer, a chemist, a post office, the local branch of our main bank, a hairdresser, a furniture shop, a shoe repairer, a milliner, a haberdashery, a delicatessen, a small cinema – a huge variety of local trades and craftspeople who catered to our local community.
To reach these shops all anyone had to do in our local community was to step out the front door and walk. It didn’t take long – everything was within 20 minutes at most of a slow amble. The shopkeepers were our neighbours – in every sense of that word. They would know most people personally, and they were helpmeets – they did far more than just provide a service for cash. They advised, consoled, and aided however they could (the local delicatessen owner helped my father out by installing a second phone line in our house!), and were, all in all, one of the main threads in the fabric that held our community together.
And we were a local community.
Then along came a supermarket. Over the course of the next few years every single shop I have mentioned above closed. Every last single one of them. Now families had to get into cars to get to the supermarket – all sense of community was gone. Not only did no one know the supermarket staff, the chance neighbourly encounters along the footpath were ended. People drove to the shops, they did not speak to the shopkeeper, they began eating packaged and prepared foods (I can clearly remember the change in my diet once the supermarket had arrived), and the community fell apart. It simply ended. The High Street died. I am sure, also, that many local growers and producers and providers were out of a job once the supermarket began to source its supplies from one giant warehouse hundreds of miles away.
It literally destroyed our community. We all began eating unhealthy diets based on packaged food laced with additives, we got less exercise (we had to drive to the supermarket), we lost all the individual threads which had held our community together, we became isolated in our own homes.
Over the past thirty years the process has accelerated. As cities become nightmarish mazes of urban sprawl (let me save this little morsel for another day), supermarkets are located even further away from our homes – often in gigantic impersonal hateful ‘malls’. I browse online forums and find housewives addicted to brands and packaged foods and lusting after this supermarket or that one, and not realising that they are eating shit, or that they could eat far better if only they grew a few things themselves, or bought from local growers and producers and made food from scratch.
But … what is this I hear you cry? Convenience?
Tell me, at what point in people’s lives do they become aware that every single damned ‘convenience’ in our lives comes at a terrible, terrible cost?