A year without supermarkets

Our new year's resolution

By Sara Bragg and Mark Erickson, North Laine residents

Our New Year's resolution in January 2007 was not to shop in supermarkets for the year. Our main targets were the big four supermarkets, ie Sainsbury's, Asda, Tesco and Morrison's, although we also included Waitrose and Somerfield in our resolution. Our reasons started with wanting to avoid the corporate chains that suck money out of local economies, close down independent stores and turn high streets into clone towns.  And having campaigned for years against the siting of the new Sainsbury's superstore on the Station Site, we were determined not to be seen creeping out of it loaded down with bags!

Why we avoided supermarkets

However, by the end of the year we have concluded that there are good intrinsic reasons for avoiding supermarkets. Doing so:

-       makes shopping more relaxed and less time consuming. It avoids the queues, the harsh lighting, the traipsing round aisles, the time-consuming dilemmas of pointless choice.

-       is more interesting - we have had more contact and conversations with the people from whom we make our purchases.

-       is less stressful and dispiriting - because you aren't faced with the constant incitement to buy.

-       is healthier - because we can't be tempted to buy the processed, high fat and high sugar foods that deliver high profits for supermarkets (and which we do tend to fall for).

-       is quite possibly cheaper.

This last is a surprising conclusion perhaps and we haven't assessed it scientifically. But we used to pop into a supermarket for one or two items and come out with dozens - a consequence of the irresistible special offers that mean we'd save a few pence on essentials but spend pounds on items not on our list. These items we'd then either consume unnecessarily or they would end up in the bin (like a shocking 30% of all food in this country).  And being forced to look elsewhere has meant identifying sites like Pulse Organics at the Open Market, whose 'scoop and weigh' system for (admittedly only organic) dry goods works out cheaper for every product we compared to Sainsbury's: they also deliver and their reusable paper bags cut down on waste.

It's easy in North Laine

Of course it is relatively easy to avoid supermarkets when you have somewhere like Infinity Foods with its fantastic range on your doorstep as we do. However, we have also explored a wider range of shopping locations (making greater use of the Open Market, the London Road, the Sausage Company for cheese, other North Laine shops, the fair trade market at the Friends Centre...). We have very occasionally used the Co-op, on the grounds that although a 'supermarket', its ethical policies deserve support (whilst its endearing tendency not to stock what we want makes it eminently resistible!).

Julie Burchill's view

In a recent Guardian article (reprnted in The Argus), Julie Burchill lambasted the anti-supermarket brigade, proclaiming her delight in out-of-season goods when she wanted them, the ease of shopping, and the benefits of 'under one roof' provision for elderly and disabled people. We wouldn't want to deny the convenience supermarkets offer, or their pleasures. (We now recognise these more clearly when we have no choice but to use them - for instance visiting Mark's mother in Edinburgh, where a nearby retail park means there are no independent shops for miles. Thus the only way to stick to our principles would be to make her shop for us, which would seem to miss the ethical point. And yes, it's fun: once or twice a year...).

Conditions of production

However, supermarkets do inevitably conceal the conditions of production of the seemingly cheap goods they bring - we have to be made to forget or not to care about the sweatshop or forced labour at the point of production, the environmental consequences of how goods are grown or made, transported and sold to us, and so on. One further reason for supporting Infinity Foods in particular, then, is not just what it sells, but that it itself is a workers' co-operative and thus it demonstrates what genuinely alternative relations between consumers and producers could be like.

So we will certainly be carrying on our resolution into 2008.  Why not join us?

[Previously published in the 'North Laine Runner', No 190, Jan/Feb 2008]

Editor's note: As a matter of policy the 'North Laine Runner' and this website do not usually publish articles recommending particular shops or tradespeople, as these can easily be 'planted' or at least encouraged by the shop owners themselves. However, an exception has been made in the above article because the shops mentioned are referred to only in the context of the authors' resolve to avoid using the big supermarkets in our locality.

This page was added on 01/06/2008.

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