Tuesday, 24 March 2009
My super(market) award
Fiona's post Death by Shopping made me think a bit. I thunked and thunked and then decided I'd better 'fess up and be done with it. I'm a poseur, a hypocrite, another shame-faced contender for the If You Think You're a Naturalist or Environmentalist or Conservationist or Humanist or Whatever Grand and Noble Label You Love to Apply to Yourself You're, Like, Totally Deluded award.
I remember the little shops of yesteryear. My grandfather owned one. These shops fascinated me as a small child - a fascination that turned into aversion as I grew older and joined the throngs stampeding our way to the supermarkets.
Supermarkets are spacious. They have parking. They are clean. They don't smell. The goods are shiny and spotless, tastefully arranged, and the choices border on bewildering. They are impersonal. The little shops and mini-marts, on the other hand, are none of the above. My grandfather's shop smelled of the salt fish, the buckets of pig's tails in brine, the smoked herring that used to be an important part of the local diet. Produce was weighed on a crude scale (like the one pictured above) and wrapped in brown paper. There was a system of 'trust', or credit. No one ever went without because they were short of cash; Grandfather would remove the pencil from behind his ear and write the amount owed on a scrap of paper, which he would then slip on to a wire hook that hung from a nail in plain view. Customers settled their account when they were able, and there were no late-payment fees. No money for bread? You could 'trust' it, and some butter and milk too, from my grandfather.
The lady who served at the counter was chatty, and I could never get away until I had answered a stream of enquiries about the health of every member of my extended family, and assured her that I was doing well at school. Going to the shop was a social event for many, and Miss Olive would not even notice my presence if she was engrossed in a lively conversation with her customers. As a child, back then, I couldn't ever betray signs of impatience. To do so would be 'womanish', and an accusation of womanishness would get back to my mother resulting in dire consequences for me. So I stood in the hot, close space, surrounded by odours and humanity - humanity that knew me and every member of my family for generations back - and suffered in silence.
Do you know what I love most about supermarkets? The air conditioning. Really, I'm an AC whore. I live on a tropical island but I hate to sweat. There are exceptions, of course, such as when I'm exercising. If I'm hiking in the forest with the prospect of the sea of a rock pool ahead of me, I tolerate stuff oozing out of my pores. Outside of these and a couple other special circumstances, I try to live a no-sweat existence. So, I bypass all the hot little shops struggling for survival and sashay into the cool and cavernous, overpriced supermarket, conveniently forgetting that it contains all those tons of plastic - yes, that non-biodegradable stuff that ends up in the landfills, the waterways, and the sea. I shop in splendid isolation, avoiding eye contact with the strangers around, silently bitching about all the high-cholesterol, high sodium, high sugar, high trans fat, high everything processed foods from which I must choose.
See why I'm a contender for that award? The little shops and minimarts are so much better for the environment, for the community, for health, for humanity. They are usually within walking distance, mind you, but I ignore them and join the streams of cars headed for the huge, shiny, electricity-guzzling, plastic-spewing, air-conditioned box on the horizon, our toxic exhaust and stupidity puffing in our wake. And heaven help me if I run out of cash, or the snarky little machine declines my bank card - as it has done on occasion with no provocation whatsoever.