Sunday, June 17, 2007

The supermarket - foodie friend or foe?

I would dearly love to write here and tell you that I do all my food shopping at quaint little markets and small quality local shops. I have a lovely image in my mind of me wafting down the Northcote Road dressed in linen carrying a wicker basket filled with goodies: bread from the Lighthouse Bakery, organic meat from Dove and fresh veg from the market. It is true that I like nothing better than a food-orientated stroll down the aforementioned road in London's Battersea. In fact, it is one of my favoured weekend activities. But, alas, life is not just one long weekend. During the week most of these wonderful shops are closed by the time I get home from the daily grind and (unless I have been super organised and 'planned ahead'), if I want to eat I find myself heading to the dreaded supermercado.

Whilst supporting local businesses is something I wholeheartedly encourage, it is sadly not always practical. Who can honestly say that the convenience factor of having everything 'under one roof' is not a godsend to the ever-busy consumer? Whilst hitting a certain large branch Sainsburys earlier today, I felt a curious melange of irritation and wonder at the retail experience I was encountering...

You may have noticed that my initial reference to the supermarket incorporated the word 'dreaded'. This is because I approach one with a certain level of dread running through my veins. The whole idea of aisles upon aisles of stuff I don't want - jumbo packs of crisps, microwavable chicken tikka, bars of chocolate the size of my head (actually, I wouldn't mind one of those!), freezers full of frozen roast dinners for one and microwavable pizzas - is enough to make me race back to the comparative safety of my car. And all the other people with their trolleys bashing into yours - ugghh. And all the marketing - glorious multi-coloured displays of things 'not on the list' that almost throw themselves into your trolley. Shelf-stickers duping you with their 'Buy one get one free' messages (read:buy one, take another home which won't fit in your fridge and will almost certainly have gone mouldy by the time you get around to eating it). Tasting samples of wine served in ridiculous plastic shot glasses. Completely and totally awful.

Despite all this, I enjoyed today's trip to Sainsburys. Sure there were too many people. Yes there were a lot of things I didn't want. But there were also an impressive number of things that I really did want. Great variety, plenty of specialist ingredients and lots of seasonal British produce. I have, in fact, just eaten a bowl of organic strawberries (from Kent) and raspberries (from Scotland). They were most delicious. Amongst the items in my trolley today were unwaxed lemons, creme de marrons, a selection of green teas, shampoo, smoked rainbow trout, sweet potatoes, a Hydrangea plant cress and sun-blush tomatoes. I still find it fairly impressive to find all these things under one roof even if the experience is rather impersonal.

Perhaps my biggest gripe on the subject of supermarkets is that they do not cater well for the single person. As a twenty-something singleton living solo I find that I produce an embarrassing amount of food waste. You simply can't buy things in portions for one - I might like a salmon fillet but I have to buy two, or one chicken breast. Perhaps I have a craving for sugar snap peas - sorry! You have buy a pack that will feed a family of four. Did I not mention that I my craving is unlikely to last for four days in a row? Apparently, over 40% of the UK population now live in single-person households - why do the supermarkets not cater for them? No doubt they would answer that they do. One only need to look at the raft of individual person ready-meals that line the aisles to see that this is where they believe they meet the needs of the busy singleton. What they have failed to realise is that they are some busy singletons that actually like to cook!

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