A large self-service grocery store selling groceries and dairy products and household goods

Everyone’s giving supermarkets such a bad rap these days, aren’t they? I think they’re a great invention. I don’t know if you remember the days when you had to go around different local stores just trying to find the goods you needed!

If you come from a developing country you may not have supermarkets yet, but hang on in there because they’ll be on their way soon.

We used to have to go to the chemists to buy toiletries, the greengrocer for our vegetables, the butcher for our meat, the hardware store for our household mops and cleaning products, and finally, the off licence to buy our alcohol.

Imagine having to walk round different shops to buy things – what a terribly old fashioned idea!
These days, mega-marts are everywhere. Huge warehouse type constructions filled with everything you don’t need, and need, and there’s tons of it. Literally millions of tons of consumer goods. All at LOW LOW prices. There’s always a saving to be had. They’ve thought of everything; some of them even offer their own credit cards, insurance, and loans. I will assume you have actually been into a supermarket and actually know what I’m talking about. They make it so easy don’t they? It’s irresistible. You just turn up in your car (make sure it’s a big one) to any one of the major supermarkets where parking is never a problem – open 24 hours a day in some cases.

You grab your mega trolley, and away you go! First through the veg section, you grab whatever you can – whatever is on special. Oh, look at those beautiful strawberries imported all the way from farawayland!

Through the meat and fish section, taking lamb, beef, cod, steaks, mince, cutlets, and through to the tins, grabbing peas, beans, corn – on to pickles and jams, passed marmalades and marinades, into dairy; 2 litre semi-skimmed x 4, 4 kg block of cheese x 2, yoghurt, make it natural, x 6, mustn’t forget a dozen eggs. Dried goods next, here we come, a bag of rice, a sack of spuds. Plain flour, wholewheat flour, rye flour.

Oh damn! Back to dairy, a pack of butter.

Raisins, sultanas, apricots, oh so good, go lovely with my organic 12 berry cereal, mustn’t forget my pumpkin seeds.

On to bread, a dozen kinds, morning rolls, dinner rolls, evening rolls, sandwich rolls, oh, and I fancy a cake too. But hang on, where am I?

I’m in the clothes section now. Wow! What a bargain, some socks, some underwear, a couple of t-shirts and I’m on my way. Step up a gear now before the food starts to warm up, and now it’s time to chill down, frozen here we come.

Pizza italiano, chicken breasts, bags of chips, maybe some frozen veg, but definitely some ice cream.

Quickly now just one more stop, some cleaning products in Aisle 10, no time to lose, the frozen food hasn’t got long.

Screech into aisle 7, toilet rolls, soaps and shampoo, and maybe something to turn the toilet bowl blue. In the queue now. Five people in front. Can’t they see I’m in a hurry?

I grab some chocolate as a treat, and maybe a celebrity magazine or two. Checkout now. Do I have card? Visa or mastercard? Yes, of course I collect points! Enter your pin, transaction complete. You rush to the car, load up and start up, and a few minutes later, you’re home safe and sound.

Unload. Unpack. Unwind.

Anyone got a comment to make? Does this sound like you or anyone you know? Well it should do, because most people do their shopping in huge supermarkets, although there are still a few shops left on the high street.

Why do people go? Because it’s convenient and we’re lazy. Well, we’re not lazy, we are just so very busy, being caught up in our busy lives, that if it weren’t for the supermarkets how would we cope? I have heard friends talking about how bad they think supermarkets are, but then admitting that they actually use them all the time, even though they know they shouldn’t, but they are open late etc.

Let’s face it, for us humans with a tendency to laziness, they are one of the greatest inventions of our time. Think back to your grandparent’s day, when your parents were young, when the local shops were all they had. They weren’t well stocked, and they didn’t carry a huge range of products. How did they cope? They didn’t have credit cards to pay with so they had to use cash! There were no reward cards to collect points on at mr smith, the grocers. It must have been terrible back then. Come to think of it, they didn’t have mobile phones or cashpoints either!

I’m glad I didn’t live back then. Life must have been depressing. Not only was life hard financially, it must have been tiresome going between different establishments just to buy the basics. What do you think?

So let’s all agree that supermarkets have been a good thing. They have given the consumer access to a wide variety of products, from all over the world, at a reasonable cost, and as there are many competitors in this market, price has been kept low. They have also provided employment for many people.

Many people have benefited from the introduction of a supermarket to a small town, and there are jobs at a national level, from management to distribution, and extra pickers and packers on the farms to satisfy demand. Supermarkets really are the ultimate modern retailer.

Having used supermarkets my whole adult life without a care, I have to say, that on the whole, I enjoyed the experience. I liked that there were fifteen different kinds of deodorant. I liked choosing from five different brands of baked beans. I liked the challenge of comparing products vs. price. Why was this one so much cheaper than that one? I wonder what the catch is? This was consumer empowerment at its finest.

No longer were we being dictated to about which products we had to buy, now there was a choice and if we liked a product but it was too expensive we could go to another supermarket.

In the uk, in the nineties, there was a price war between retailers which ended up with one supermarket reducing the price of its “own brand” baked beans in tomato sauce (a british favourite) to nine pence per tin. Compared with the leading brand organic, naturally sweetened beans at sixty five pence per tin, this was too good to be true. I know which one I would buy. Do you?

Imagine if there was this kind of choice in your grandparents day! They must think we have got it sooo easy. Which they would be right about. We have, and we take it all for granted.

Let’s build a supermarket!

If the retail figures are to be believed, opening a supermarket can be a lucrative business indeed, so that is exactly what I have decided to do and I want you to be my business partners. I assure you a good return on your investment. You just have to go with me on my decisions, even if you find them unethical, or not in line with your values. What? You’re not getting cold feet are you? Come on, you do want to make lots of money?
“So here it is, the plan for my new supermarket, councillor.”
“Ahh, very good alan, I see you have thought about almost everything, I don’t see a problem in pushing this through, after all you are creating a lot of employment in the area, and as I’ve always said, a happy worker is a happy voter!”
“Quite,” I remarked, putting the plans away in my briefcase.

Several months later, the planning approval came through. There had been many objections to our proposals – we had expected that. From concerns about increased traffic through the town, to building on what used to be greenbelt (a belt of parks or rural land surrounding a town or city) land. People even had concerns about businesses being affected.

We are a little behind schedule, but still on track for the grand opening. The steel frame is going up, and now it’s time to concentrate on getting suppliers. We have to have branded products that people recognise but we also have to have the lowest prices around so we will have to drive a hard bargain with the suppliers. It’s no use trying to source the cheaper brands from the uk though, so we will have to look further afield. China is a good place to start. What with their massive manufacturing infrastructure, and minuscule wages, we should be on to a winner there. We will have to source from other countries where labour is cheap as well if we want to keep costs down.

There is the problem about storage when we fly all this stuff in, so we will have to create some kind of central distribution area. Where would we find land? A quick call to the local councillor and we were recommended several greenbelt sites that would suit our requirements. We have had a few difficult suppliers but we eventually drove down the price of fresh vegetables with them. They weren’t happy, but what could they do? We will be their biggest customer, so they have to do what we say!

With the building almost complete, supplier negotiations finalised, distribution and transportation arranged, it’s time for advertising. We have a large budget for tv, radio, and print. We will be sending out thousands of flyers to local homes and we will have a celebrity to open the store. This is going to be great.

“Nice to see you all here today for the opening of our new superstore, where people will be able to find everything they need under one roof… No need to brave the british weather anymore dashing from shop to shop. This will be a unique, integrated experience! You will never need to go anywhere else, we are your friends now, ready to support you every day with new products and fresh bargains! Did I mention we will be contributing money to your local charities? All you have to do is keep spending here, and we will donate books and computers to your schools. We will also set up an environmental charity to protect the planet…”

“I think the opening went very well alan.”
“Thanks for your support, councillor, we won’t forget this.”
“Oh, it’s a pleasure, what are your plans now?”
“I can see the future councillor, and it will have our supermarket logo all over it. I want to take choice and low prices to the consumer, wherever he may be… It’s time to build, build, build.”

Our supermarket is complete, with more on the way. Profits are soaring. I’d say it’s the start of a beautiful friendship my fellow partners, don’t you? All we have to do is keep people coming through those doors.

Why do I feel ever so slightly uncomfortable every time I see a new supermarket going up on the edge of town? Is it just a case of nostalgia for the town centre that starts dying as soon as the supermarket has set up? After all, we do live in a free market economy.

The local traders could have set their own supermarket up, couldn’t they?
It’s what the people want. Choice and low prices. Choice and low prices. Choice and low prices. Like a buddhist mantra, it goes through your mind over and over and over.

Choice and low prices. Maybe a little more like brainwashing I think.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I can’t bear to see desire and greed ruin the local community. Maybe people will think I am being nostalgic (hey, I’m only 38), but wasn’t it nice wandering through the little stores in your high street?

“No” says you, the shops were expensive. The choice was limited. The staff were unfriendly. I just like going to the supermarket. It’s bright and shiny, the goods are bright and shiny, the staff are bight and shiny, the prices are low (which makes me feel bright and shiny), and the car park is huuuuuuge. Why would I go back to shopping in the town? No thanks. Give me the supermarket any day!

Supermarket 1 – Local Business 0

I feel slightly detached from reality when I go through the doors with my huge trolley. There is something disconcerting about the whole experience. Something like being disconnected from nature (and plugged into a different channel – the brainwashing channel).
“Welcome shoppers… Everything will be fine in your life, just listen to what we say… Buy some out of season strawberries today imported all the way from mars, they’re lovely. And on special offer today, we have multi-packs of cardboard biscuits. Buy one get ten free.”

You may not have read the topic on “fast food,” which relates to anything we don’t grow ourselves, but it was about just picking up food from the shelves without any thought as to how it got there.

Supermarkets are the epitome of separation from nature. Not only is the food presented for you indoors in a climate controlled zone; it is packaged for you in a shiny plastic wrappers, in case it gets contaminated on its journey across the sea.

They have nothing in common with the local farmer any more. Meat doesn’t look like meat, it is just a square shape in a container. Fruit and vegetables take up five percent of the available space, and the rest of the space is dedicated to manufactured products. These are products which have been made in a factory by machines. (even the humans working there are machines).

The companies making them are not charities either. They are massive companies dedicated to the pursuit of profit, whatever the cost. They will cut corners wherever necessary to maximise their profits, adding weird and wonderful ingredients to every product. They may say it’s to preserve it, but who needs biscuits with a shelf life of one year? Oh yes. Supermarkets.

You wouldn’t need all these preservatives at home, because even the most extravagant baker would only bake enough for what they could eat.

Tinned, shrink-wrapped, and “sealed for freshness!” Our ancestors would roll about laughing if they saw what we were doing with our food. Like all products that are made a long distance from the point of consumption, they have to be packaged well to make sure they are not damaged during the transportation process. Funnily enough, this results in a massive use of resources. Plastics, paper, cardboard. Yet the supermarkets only tell you about one.

The great plastic bag swindle

That’s right. It’s the good old plastic carrier bag. Some time ago, an environmental group got onto the supermarkets for the amount of plastic bags being consumed and soon the supermarkets were chastising the poor old general public about it. “Save the Environment!” they screamed. “Stop using Plastic Bags!”

Of course, everyone took notice, and, thoroughly shocked that they were personally responsible for destroying the environment, rapidly bought the companies “bag for life” in which to transport their shopping!

Have you got one? I’ve got about twenty, because I always forgot mine when I was out shopping, and having a guilty conscience, was forced to buy a new one.

You can get all sorts of bags in all shapes and sizes. Most are plastic, usually with a picture of dolphins or some other image designed to make you think you are in tune with the earth. Some are made of cotton or hessian, which are a much better image for the environmentally aware supermarket shopper.

Except. Wait a minute. Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just me? It doesn’t matter a damn what you are carrying your shopping out in!
“Do you want a bag?”
“No thanks, I’m saving the environment,” you reply as you carry out your plastic wrapped biscuits manufactured 200 miles away, which used electricity to make them, and fuel to transport them, and plastic to wrap them, and cardboard to box them. Ok, so your vegetables are loose in your hands, but they didn’t come like that. They were washed, boxed, then air freighted from the other side of the world! It doesn’t matter that you hold your mango in your hands without a plastic bag! Can’t you see it’s a smokescreen, designed to keep your attention away from the real environmental problem, and that is the supermarket itself.

Just think of the amount of energy it takes to not only make all those products you casually toss into your family car sized shopping trolley, but the energy it takes to get them from half way around the world to the shops, and finally to your home and to your table, where they are consumed in seconds.

Stop. Stop for a moment and think what that means.

Our laziness has meant that products we can easily make in our kitchens, or grow in our back gardens, or greenhouses, are being flown around the world. What would our ancestors think of fruit from a tree not being eaten by local people, but packaged and flown 10,000 kilometres to another country, where it is driven around, stored in a cool storage facility, driven some more, spending time under lights, and finally driven some more, stored in a cool storage facility some more (your refrigerator), and then maybe eaten, or discarded. Do you think they would be proud of our “progress”?

Hey everybody, let’s buy a ready meal!

Now this is a fairly recent invention. A supermarket interpretation of a takeaway. All it requires it reheating – fantastic! You don’t even have to go to the takeaway anymore.

Everything you need is in store. In the uk (and coming soon to a country near you), is the plastic lasagne, the rubber indian meal for two, or the two millimetre thick cardboard pizza. Not only are we buying food ingredients imported from all over the world, we are now actually buying our complete meals from a chiller in a warehouse. No more home cooking needed for us humans, fifteen minutes in the microwave, and it’s ready to be served.

“Who cares what’s in it! As long as it tastes good, it’s cheap, and is ready in under a nano-second, I’m happy. I’m too busy you see. I have children you see. I work you see. I…”

What has happened to us? I mean really happened to us? We are the most intelligent species on the planet. We have amazing levels of creativity, yet we have let that go in the one area on which our survival is imperative.

Do you realise that without food you will die? Do you realise that the food that has been processed, reprocessed and reheated by machines, has no love in it? Do you know what cooking with love means, where you put positive energy into the creation of something that sustains us in our daily activities. Do you know what it feels like to grow and harvest vegetables, or to bake bread in the oven, or to take time over the preparation of a meal?
It doesn’t matter how rich or successful you are, you need food to survive. But this isn’t just about survival, it is about recognising your connection to the earth. That you are an animal like all the others on this planet, yet every day we grow further and further apart. It’s almost as if we want to deny all connections to our past; as if we want to say: “See, we couldn’t have come from the apes, look how sophisticated and refined we are in our modern civilisation.” Yet it is all an illusion. The connection is still there, only less and less people have it.

Less people farm the land now than ever before. Everyone now works in jobs in towns and cities. “You see, I went to university, so now I use my mind, rather than my hands for work.” It amazes me that with so many intelligent human beings on this planet, none of you can see what you are missing every day you shop in the supermarket. All our food is so clean and hygienic now, there is no trace left of its origins.

Not a drop of soil remains…

Do you even know that food has to be grown? I’m not being funny here but it seems to me that most of us assume that a chocolate biscuit grows in its wrapper on a chocolate bar tree! The number of ingredients necessary to make all of these processed foods is huge, and that means resources. Chocolate has to be grown (in only a few countries) in the form of cacao beans that have to be harvested, roasted, ground and then processed into our favourite chocolate bars, then wrapped and shipped to distribution points. Then it’s off to the individual shops, then unwrapped in three seconds and eaten in ten. What a waste.
“But I enjoyed it,” you say. “I like chocolate.”

Food that takes a second to buy and eat has no love in it. When you stand over a cooker, carefully preparing and mixing the ingredients, then watching it cook in the oven, and finally sitting down to enjoy it; do you feel satisfied? I do. Anyone who has ever done home baking will say the same. It may be more expensive to make. It may take a long time. But it is the knowledge that you have created something which has taken time. Something you have given your attention to. Something you cared for, and nurtured as it was cooking.

Compare that to a frozen supermarket pizza, shrink-wrapped and boxed, made by machines, and heated in the oven for 25 minutes. Is there any difference? Can you still not see it?

Making the connection

I am currently writing this book on a small island in scotland. The whole island is a retreat and environmental preservation area, and I am volunteering as a chef. We have an organic vegetable garden, but still have to buy in dry goods from the mainland as well as the majority of our vegetables. As a vegetarian I told people I cared about the planet as a whole, whether that be humans, plants, animals, fish, insects, or trees, but it was really only intellectually. I couldn’t really ever say that I could feel a physical connection between myself and the earth. Until recently.

A lady came to volunteer in the kitchen who was a chinese herbalist and acupuncturist. We were talking about healing energies from the earth and the healing energies that came from food. I was interested, but not overly convinced. As a westerner conditioned to needing proof of things, I listened with a little scepticism.

One afternoon when I mentioned I was going to walk over the mountain (the island is two miles long, half a mile wide and the summit is just over a thousand feet) she mentioned I should do it barefoot!
“Barefoot? you’ve got to be kidding!”

Although grassy on the flat, it quickly turned to loose rocks which were pretty sharp, even with shoes on.

Everybody else who walked over the top always put their strongest walking boots on (very sensible). But being the adventurous type, I decided to take her up on it.
“Are you coming as well” I asked.
“Sorry, I have other things to do this afternoon,” she replied.

So, equipped with only a water bottle and my noticeably white bare feet, I set off. It was a strange sensation going out for a long walk with no shoes on to protect my delicate soles. As I started walking up the track, it got steadily narrower and more rocky, not large stones, but little sharp ones whose points seemed to find every tender spot on the soles of my feet!

This was no connection, this was agony. I also noticed that due to not knowing where to comfortably put my feet, I felt strangely off balance. I didn’t feel like the strong confident human being I was supposed to be, especially as only days earlier had powered up the hill in my off-road trainers! I was suddenly very weak, very fragile, and every short step I took was hard. I wondered whether or not our ancestors traversed the land like this thousands of years ago, or were their feet slightly tougher than ours! I finally reached the top with scratched, bruised and cut feet. They were throbbing. “This is no fun,” I thought, having wished I had brought my shoes with me. I got down the other side three hours later, feeling very tired.

“How was it?” asked the chinese lady.
“Fine, just a bit sore” I lied.
“You must be mad, alan” remarked another volunteer. “You wouldn’t get me doing that.”
“Do it for five more days” said the chinese lady again, “and you will start to feel the power and energy of the earth; you will feel the rocks pressing the reflexology points on your feet, and the rocks massaging your soles.”

Not one to give in to a challenge, I accepted.

The second day I felt stronger, though moving just as slowly to watch where I placed my feet, and I did notice that the larger stones seemed to massage the very areas that felt painful the day before. Day three, and my confidence grew. I was quicker over the stones, my mind became more alert, although my balance grew worse as I tried to go faster. Day four and I slowed down again. This time it felt like I was going at a more natural pace, my feet naturally started to feel for the shape of the rocks under my feet.

The mud I had avoided the day before (and at all other times to stop my trainers getting dirty), I gladly waded through, taking time to savour the luxury of squidging it between my toes (hey it feels good).

Day five, and I playfully moved from rock to rock, ever mindful of the placement of my feet. I started to enjoy this new found freedom. A walker in the opposite direction remarked:

“Wow, you’re doing it barefoot! I think I’ll take my shoes off.” To which her companion replied: “Don’t be stupid, come on, let’s go!”

That final day, I took time to think what it had meant to me to be walking barefoot, over miles of painful rocks. What had I learnt? Was it just a good physical challenge, or had I truly learnt the connection of Man to the earth? One thing I did know was that I would never again wear my shoes to walk up that mountain.

Boots seemed so unnecessary. They seemed almost like a barrier to experience, which is precisely what they are. The shoe represents Man’s control over his environment. His mastery of nature.

No longer do we have to tread carefully on the earth, we can crash through it without a care. No gentle footsteps, only heavy footprints. I realised whilst walking barefoot that I was made of the same stuff as the soil I squidged my toes in. I looked at the mountain goats and wild horses clambering on the steep hillside, and felt like them for the first time in my life. I was an animal too, and by removing my shoes, it was a symbolic gesture that placed me on equal footing with them – although they seemed a lot more sure footed than I could ever hope to be!

For a short time, I didn’t feel part of a dominant species. But it didn’t last long. As soon as I had showered, and scrubbed my feet, I lay down with a nice cup of tea and relaxed. Human again.

“Nice story, alan, but what did all that have to do with supermarkets?”
Think about it for a moment. Let the story sink in.

From the soil, grows everything. The vegetables we eat. The trees that absorb carbon dioxide and replenish the world with oxygen. The trees that bear fruit. The grass that grows that feeds the animals that other animals eat. The soil (material in the top layer of the surface of the earth in which plants can grow) is perhaps one of the most important features of the earth, yet the more “developed” we become, the more we seem to forget that fact.

Supermarkets, and all shops in general have removed the connection, not deliberately, but nonetheless it has happened.

How many of us know where cotton comes from that makes most of our clothes?

We seem to think it is companies who provide everything, but the raw materials have to come from somewhere. It is just a hidden process now, everything is produced behind closed doors, until it is finally unveiled in all its glory in the shop.
It’s not just food, it’s everything we buy, from clothes to computers; tv’s to tomatoes; flat packed tables to packs of biscuits. Everything is produced in the factories. Massive production lines, produced where the labour is cheapest, flown or shipped in, all ready for fast consumption. I fail to see why we need so much stuff on the shelves though.

Oh yes, of course. We need to keep making things to keep people employed, so that people can use the money they earned to spend on the goods that the people spent time making so that staff can get paid and the government can get its tax revenue!

Or maybe you crave this stuff. Maybe you can’t do without the choice or the low prices, which if you think about it, is just to encourage you to buy more stuff you don’t need.

As we have discussed in other topics, need is purely subjective, save for food, water, clothing and shelter. The massive choice available at prices we can afford (or not) is there to encourage us to spend more. Why do you think supermarkets sell everything?
“I just came in for a bag of carrots, but I left with a new mountain bike for my son, a whole weeks shopping, a new t-shirt and a new cd for the car.”

It’s too easssy. You don’t even need to think about cash, do you? You don’t need to think, “I’m buying food today, I will take out £30 from the bank, and I won’t spend a penny more.” We’ve got credit cards to take care of that now. Who cares if you’ve only got £30! You can spend spend, spend much, much more than that! Don’t worry about it. Take it easy. Relax. You can afford it, you don’t need to worry about the price. We’re already the cheapest in town and you can spread the cost all around! You’re here anyway, why not have a look down aisle 12 – clothing, or aisle 3 – cosmetics, how about aisle 34 – kitchenware, or aisle 18 – garden furniture. You don’t have to buy anything, just have a look, it costs nothing to look….

So this is going to be the way of the future, is it? People going into massive warehouses designed by retail psychologists, led around from product to product, tempted until veritably salivating. I want it.

Why can’t I have it? Look how cheap it is! We won’t get another bargain like this again! Let’s get it. We can put it on the credit card. Oh, look. There’s a buy now, pay in four years scheme at zero percent interest.

Who could say no? They are positively throwing the stuff at you. But like everything in life, things that come too easy are never valued.
Can you remember really wanting something and then going out to work until you get it? No. Neither can I. Can you remember saving for a whole year to go on holiday? No, why would you? You can stick it on the credit card and pay later.

Everything has a cost, but this has nothing to do with price. The cost we pay with this frivolous meaningless lifestyle is our connection with nature.

If a horse could understand what we were doing don’t you think it would find it hilarious? Imagine the animals crowding round to see what these silly humans were doing. “Why are they buying all that stuff? What do they need that for?”

Imagine the animals who eat what they need and no more, doing a shopping run in one of the big supermarkets. “Right, we’ve got all the grass we need for today, how about an outdoor table with a matching parasol?”

Choice and low prices have hooked into a section of our brain, called “mindlessidiot,” where clever humans have realised that they can make a lot of money out of us. The section: “mindlessidiot” resides just right of the amygdala (part of the limbic system it plays an important role in motivation and emotional behaviour), and the marketers know just which buttons to press to access it. Don’t worry, you don’t even know they have you under control, but they do. Not in some conspiracy theory way, but in a real “we don’t even have to convince you to spend your money way.” You just come in your droves. The lazy man with too much money.

Let’s face it, it is nice when you don’t have to do anything yourself, isn’t it? The less real work that needs to be done the better. That’s called progress. That’s why humans are number one. We know how to use our minds. We don’t have to use our hands anymore.

Except someone is making all this stuff. Someone you’ll never meet. He’s probably working in a factory thousands of miles away from you (or maybe close to home), and paid a pittance for his labour. He, and advanced manufacturing techniques which use machines, are the reason for your cheap plentiful products. The reason you want them is because you are addicted to buying “stuff” you don’t even need.
“We had to work like that in the factories for 200 hundred years,” says you. “It’s only fair that someone else has to work in them for a while. They’ll get richer, and then they’ll get someone else to do their factory work, that’s the way it goes.”

Except one day we’ll run out of people who are prepared to work for a pound a day. Where will you get your cheap goods from then? You better enjoy this while it lasts, before the earth’s resources, or the abundance of cheap labour to exploit, disappear. I wonder which one will be first?

A letter you might want to write…

Dear Supermarket chief executives,

Just a quick note to say thanks for setting up these big stores where I can get all my “stuff” for cheap. I have had a great time spending money I didn’t have on products I didn’t need, but I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had my fun now, and I’d like it to go back to how it used to be.

You see, I used to enjoy walking down my local high street, going into local shops. I used to enjoy chatting with all the people, it was kind of like a community, where people were specialists in their trade, and I got the feeling that they knew what they were talking about. Sure they didn’t have the same range as you, and they were a bit more expensive, but these were local people, who lived and worked in the local area, so they had to earn enough to pay for everything they needed. I had to wait for things like tables to be built, because the carpenter had to make it by hand. He was expensive, but I knew the product would be built to last.
I wasn’t going to bring it up, but some of the “stuff” I bought from you didn’t last; I think there was some pretty shoddy workmanship going on, but it was cheap, so I didn’t complain.

Funnily enough I talked to my local farmer for the first time, and he was telling me that although he didn’t have the “stuff” I used to buy from you, it was because it was out of season, and that if I could wait, it would be the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted. He said it’d be a bit more expensive, but I could save up. He wasn’t as friendly as your staff, and he didn’t have a uniform with a name badge on, but I think he was tired, as he has to work long hours in the fields.

On another note. I’m not sure all your staff are as happy as they make out. I saw some of them walking home in their uniforms, and they looked pretty miserable. Maybe they don’t like factory work. So anyway, here’s the point of my letter.

I’m sorry to say, but I think it’s time for you to close up your warehouse. I don’t need 30 kinds of toothpaste, or fruit imported from outside the solar system. I think I’ll go back to buying local. In fact, I may set up my own fruit and veg shop. It might not be as big or as flash as yours, and I can’t promise to smile all day, and I definitely won’t be able to afford all that fancy refrigeration, but it’ll come from the local farms in my area, so I won’t need to have big lorries – that’ll save me a few pounds on the old fuel.

As for flying stuff in, if my customers want a coconut I’m afraid they’ll have to fly over to the tropics and get it themselves. Maybe I’ll even try planting a coconut tree but I’m not sure it’ll take with our weather here in england.

As for selling other products, I think I’ll leave that up to someone else. After all, there’ll be plenty of room for some new local business, once you go.

Oh, and sorry that you’ll lose your job, but you’re pretty intelligent, I’m sure you’ll get another one and so will the staff. I’ll even promise to give some of them a job myself, but you might try to rebuild your empire from my fruit and veg shop; So on this occasion I’d have to say no to you.

yours sincerely

alan orr

You see, that’s all it takes to regain control of our communities. Do you want to have a lively town centre again? Do you want to see local businesses prosper? You have to support them or they collapse. After all, every man needs to eat and have a roof over his head!

Are you prepared to set up a business yourself? Wouldn’t it be so nice to have local food for local people! Local products made by local people. Real skills used in the community for the community again, instead of just living in a place and using a massive corporation as your community.

Do I have your attention?

The way of the supermarkets is unsustainable. We cannot continue to live like this. We are so out of touch with the natural world that it is time to rebuild the connection with the earth, and to do that we need to grow local produce and keep it local, or regional. You may think you will be missing out on things, and I am not suggesting that everything you want will be available instantly in every local town, but this will be a big shift. We will be instantaneously cutting down on the amount of energy we use, by not flying, or driving, produce half way around the world.

The more you support local business, the more prosperous the town will be, and the more opportunities will be created by local people. Try it. What have you got to lose? Nothing, and all to gain.

Without this shift, we will soon be so reliant on imported food and supermarkets, that it will be almost impossible to go back. Please don’t let it happen. Let us try to make this a success. Future generations will depend on it.

I have made a vow to only use local vegetables and fruit and will be working my hardest to make sure this happens. This is a process, but if we all care about the future of our food and our local communities we will succeed. Every country with arable land and enough water can produce the food it needs for its people. If I want to have exotic fruit, I’ll just have to go somewhere exotic.

In the uk, we have become used to eating certain fruits, or used to eating food all year round when some is clearly seasonal. If you are eating strawberries in november, the chances are that they have had to be grown in another country for your pleasure. We need to learn the art of patience when it comes to food. It is not an old fashioned concept.

Most fruit and vegetables are harvested at different times of the year, so if you are eating something out of season, it has either been grown under artificial conditions, or is from another country where it is in season. Wait. It will be worth it. We do not have a divine right to eat strawberries all year round. They will be in season when they are in season, after that you will have to wait.

We have become so used to getting what we want when we want that this will be a difficult concept to grasp for many of you. Don’t panic when you can’t get what you want. You don’t really “need” anything in particular. You won’t die if you can’t get something you used to get at the supermarket, but you will get used to living without it if no one grows it locally, and you can’t grow it yourself.

Ultimately, the human being has been so successful, because he has been so adaptable. Allow yourself to adapt. You are a wonderful human being. You are not reliant on chocolate biscuits from brand X, you don’t need processed foods from machine controlled production lines. You have great dexterity in your hands to “manufacture” food yourself. Spend some time learning to make food with love again. It’s called “home cooking.” Not a revolutionary concept, just something that the large supermarkets have been attempting to extinguish in the name of choice, and low low prices.

Ultimately their motives have nothing to do with offering you choice and low low prices, but everything to do with profit. Food isn’t supposed to be like that. Food is what makes children grow. Food is what nourishes the brain and the body. Food is a symbol of love. Let yourselves become a part of real food again. Plastic bread versus home baked bread. Hot house tomatoes grown a thousand miles away, versus tomatoes grown in your back garden. It is your choice. Only yours.

I leave it up to you.

by alan macmillan orr

“The natural mind – waking up”



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