Clare G and Karen introduced the topic of supermarkets in an entertaining role play between a supermarket-addict and an ethical consumer, before we were all invited to share our views on the pros and cons and the environmental aspects of supermarkets, consider the point of view of suppliers, as well as give our suggestions for alternatives, in the world cafe, complete with cookies and flowers!
The Café was arranged into four tables each of which had a discussion topic.
The topics were as follows:
1. Pros and cons 2. Alternatives 3. Environment 4. Suppliers
To begin, a role play discussion was held between Karen and Clare in order to provide background information for the ensuing discussions. Should you wish to have sight of this information, please contact Clare firstname.lastname@example.org
Highly recommended reading:
- Not on the Label – What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate by Felicity Lawrence (Penguin Books, 2004. ISBN 0-141-01566-7 £8.99)
- Shopped – The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets by Joanna Blythman (Harper Perennial, 2005. ISBN 0-00-715804-1 £7.99)
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Bloomsbury, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7475-8683-8 £7.99)
1. Pros and cons
CONS • Over packaged foods • Highly processed foods • Food additives and preservatives used frequently to make sub-standard food taste and look better than it otherwise would. • Supermarkets are not accountable to the local communities in which they are located. • Destruction of the high street • Hyperactivity link to food additives • Food security issues – centralised distribution systems create vulnerability to rising fuel prices and conflicts • Convenience foods such as pre-washed bagged salads may have been through several processes such as frequent treatment with pesticides, irradiation and chlorine washes • Global markets hurt small scale suppliers • Food miles vastly increased by importing exotic and/or out-of-season fruit and vegetables • (Many more! See especially ‘Not on the Label…’ and ‘Shopped…’ for easy-to-read further information).
PROS • Loyalty cards • 1% cash back • Money saving vouchers • Loyalty cards contribute to supermarkets’ awareness of your tastes and preferences and thus lead to more appropriate provisions • Economies of scale • Market differentiation • Open more hours of the day • Range of prices – cheap, medium and luxury • Standard sizes • ‘Good’ quality • Market dominance leads to reduced prices
2. Alternatives • Farmers’ markets • Food co-operatives – bulk orders for local people and get local growers involved • Grow your own • Local shops • Don’t import/encourage importing unnecessarily • Community supported agriculture • Bartering • Sharing produce • Growing in the city • Seasonal food • Less packaging • Greater regulation of supermarkets • Teach cooking • Education of children • Growing food in school grounds • Inclusion of parents in children-centred addressing of the issue • Allotment Act 1929 – use it! (Find online) • Build relationships with local suppliers • Planting orchards • A lady on Avondale Road bakes and sells to local corner shops • ‘Windmill’ Wholefoods – use them! • ‘Kinsey’s’ bakers on Aigburth Road – use them too! The business is actually for sale – any takers? Unsocial hours but good money, apparently. • Community shared meals – similar to internet dating but for matching those who want to eat similar meals at similar times • Vegetarian cooking skills taught at school • System of locally produced convenience meals which are almost ready-to-cook. This idea would involve taking locally grown, seasonal produce to create dishes and/or ‘meal kits’ which could be supplemented by food items one may already have at home. Using specially designed software, the service would take into account your available items (if any) and seasonal availability before devising a meal suggestion and a subsequent meal kit. The kit could then be delivered to your door in a reusable (non-plastic?) container whereupon you would complete minor final preparation before cooking and eating. • Information, menu ideas and recipe cards at veg box schemes or community centres, for example, which make meal suggestions based on current availability and seasonality. • Sadly, it can be very difficult to completely avoid using supermarkets!
3. Environment • Supermarkets have a massive environmental impact in terms of energy use, waste, ecologically detrimental distribution systems etc. • Building on Greenfield sites • Energy wastage of 24 hr stores • Encourage monoculture which has an adverse effect on biodiversity • Excessive use of packaging • Excessive use of pesticides to meet ‘quality’ standards • Organic produce may be grown abroad. Local produce may be a better option than supermarket organic? • Local, small scale organic produce is best for the environment • Monoculture supported by artificial fertilisers (usually synthesised from oil) which impoverish the soil • Supermarkets divorce us from where our food comes from • Encourage local milk production delivered by low emission vehicles • Supermarkets promote excessive car use and car dependency
4. Suppliers • Suppliers are squeezed to the limit by supermarkets who have the clout to make increasing demands and dictate exacting terms • Suppliers in developing countries usually get a raw deal. They should be feeding themselves instead of exporting food to richer nations • Farmers bear the loss for produce which fails to meet exacting standards or late deliveries etc • Exclusive contracts • Distribution systems, for example, make it much more of a hassle for supermarkets to deal with small scale suppliers • Farmers’ co-ops may be a possibility to give them some control back and a better return for their produce • Centralisation – small producers have little choice but to grow bigger or face having no buyer for their produce • Unrealistic margins for farmers • Unseasonable food • Unrealistic standardisation • Separation of consumers from producers