Our love affair with supermarkets? Lessons to be learned...

PUBLISHED: 13:10 21 May 2013 | UPDATED: 13:10 21 May 2013

Life is a trolley dash

Life is a trolley dash


With our love affair for the all-consuming supermarket growing ever stronger, sometimes we deserve exactly what we get, argues BBC Surrey presenter Nick Wallis, who has his own guilty secret to share

I have a guilty secret. I love supermarkets. Yes, I know many have been flogging us drugged-up horse flesh from Romania. But I love ‘em. Sue me.

Repackaging cute little ponies as beefburgers is not our supermarkets’ only sin. I’m well aware some farmers hate them, and the prospect of Tesco setting up shop in a Surrey village can turn even the most fervent free-enterprise evangelist into a quivering heap of nimbyfied indignation. But where else are you going to get lager and cashback at 11pm?

That’s not to say I don’t support independent retailers in principle and practice. Every Saturday morning on my BBC Surrey breakfast show my regular guest is Pauline Hedges, a director of Surrey Farmers’ Markets. She, more than anyone, knows the value and joy that can be derived from enabling a hyper-local supply chain to flourish, and she gets a weekly platform to talk about it.

But I do love supermarkets. I love the way the doors are almost always open. I love the two-fer deals. I even like the trollies. They’re built much better than they used to be, don’t you think? Once wilful reminders of humanity’s apparent inability to manufacture anything that does what it’s supposed to, now the modern shopping trolley is a highly-engineered, pragmatic and efficient machine, operating on the smooth-as-marble performance space which hosts our retail ballet.

Going comatose

Most people use television to put their brains into a semi-comatose, relaxed and suggestive state. I go to Sainsbury’s. We need food, I need to relax. I talk for a living, and in a supermarket, you don’t need to talk, especially with the self-service tills. It’s just you, your little metal chariot and the products. The dancing designs and the promise of so much that’s good and wholesome – or thick and indulgent – underneath.

It’s not just me. In his novel White Noise, Don DeLillo describes supermarkets (with their “dazzling hedgerows” of products) as centres of “magic and dread”.

When Pulp’s arch lyricist Jarvis Cocker is challenged in 1995’s hit single Common People to go somewhere interesting, he takes his first date to a supermarket. As an arty-farty graduate with a degree in post-structuralist literary theory, I remember thinking, “well, of course.”

Aesthetically, I will admit, they are a disaster. Who in their right mind has ever said, “oh, what a pretty supermarket”? It’s worse when they try squeezing local/metro/mini versions into old buildings. Internally, we have to deal with strip lighting, freezing temperatures, odd smells (my wife won’t go in one supermarket because of the overwhelming stink of roast chicken that greets her at the door) and drab colour schemes.

Then you have the pertinent arguments about food miles, the relationship these organisations have with their suppliers and their willingness to keep undercutting independents until our local butcher’s, baker’s and newsagent’s expire in little puffs of despair.

I could decide this is terrible, and that I should resolve to do my shopping in Walton-on-Thames High Street without going to the nearby Aldi, Waitrose or Sainsbury’s but I have to recognise I am what I am. A happy little supermarket consumer. And if that means I end up eating equine derivative from an unidentified East European abattoir, then I’m getting exactly what I deserve.


Nick Wallis presents the Breakfast Show on BBC Surrey (104FM and 104.6FM) every Saturday morning from 6am to 9am. You can also read his blog by visiting his website, which you’ll find at nickwallis.com

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