There’s nothing quite like a modern British supermarket. Aisle upon aisle of soothingly uniform stacked goods accompanied by the monotonous, distant beep of the tills, it’s a somewhat sedative experience. I don’t even have to pick my feet up off the clean vinyl floor. I just drift along, from canned goods to cupboard essentials, escaping from the clutter of my mind and from the chaotic outside world.
You wouldn’t be wrong in saying you can find this kind of experience all over the world. All of the above, granted, are not characteristics unique only to Tescos, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and the like. But it is what they are selling me, which is what makes them like no other. Brands I recognise, slogans that pull me in. Yoghurt pots that take me back to being five, cans of tinned tomatoes that remind me that my mum’s spagbol is the best in the world.
When living abroad in Argentina, I was homesick for the tastes and smells of home that were clearly wrapped up in nostalgia. I was shocked, then, upon my return, by how happy I was to be back in Tesco’s, overwhelmed by possibility, choice and the familiar.
But I am in constant turmoil, you see, because these treasured little escapes, moments of calm and control, fill me with such guilt and self-loathing: how can I take so much pleasure from something that represents a much larger system which I tell myself I am fundamentally opposed to? The convenience, the consumption, the overproduction, the waste, the branding, the seduction, the greed.
Oh, and don’t get me wrong, I am grateful
that I am to be able to shop and live in such a way, with so much choice, so
little effort and I am completely aware of the privilege that I have.
Here’s the thing, we are descendants of hunter-gathers. We may have evolved and our society may have ‘progressed’ but our biological make-up is still very much the same. Global corporations are exploiting us, our behaviours, without a care for the effect this capitalist consumer culture has on our minds, our sanity, our societies or our planet. More importantly, perhaps, without assuming responsibility for the enormous role they play. We have been numbed; a trip to one of these supermarkets requires no foraging. Everything is designed with the ease of your experience in mind, and to make consuming more effortless, more automatic. This is progress, they tell us, this is the civilized world. No wonder western capitalist societies are so burdened with obesity epidemics and soaring depression rates. And let’s not forget that produce which is bad for us tends to also be bad for the planet.
‘But what’s the alternative?’ you might well ask. Selecting your fruit and veg with your hands, checking to see if they are ripe for the taking and then handing them over to be weighed by the grocer. Letting grains, lentils, beans through your fingers before shoveling them into a sack (that you’ll bring back next time to refill!) Poetry aside, being more in touch with our senses brings us back to the present which in itself is a recipe for happiness, as is taking the time to prepare meals from scratch. Buying fresh produce that is local and in season is an important practice too for the health of our planet. However, all of this requires time and effort, something which a lot of us aren’t prepared to sacrifice.
said, as socially-conscious consumers, we’ve already done some good. Our
purchasing power has seen an impressive boom in the amount and quality of vegan
and vegetarian options available across UK supermarkets, high-street chains. We
are more powerful than we think, and our choices do matter. But I’ve realised
that it is important we don’t castigate ourselves too much. We can’t be perfect
all the time, and we can’t expect others to be either. Indeed, it is a
privilege to make certain choices and live certain eco-friendly lifestyles,
being mindful about buying food from sustainable sources or reducing your
carbon footprint isn’t possible for people across the globe, across all
economic levels of society; nor is it the solution for creating the impactful
change we need to see to save our planet. Simply going vegan, not using plastic
bags or not buying plastic bottled water isn’t going to reverse the damage a
population that has been industrializing and globalizing for over a century has
caused; we need to take direct action. And that starts with giving each other
the space to do better, not criticising the slightest oversight.
The greatest thing we can do as activists, as people who want to have a planet to call home in 12 years’ time, is to petition the government and protest against companies and the legislation that protects them. We need to be calling them out, not each other, making them answer for the damage they’ve caused. A culture of blame isn’t helpful when that blame is misdirected. We need to be allies with each other and challenge the root of the problem.
So, I implore you, if you, like me, leave the supermarket on a gloomy Tuesday evening with a frozen pizza tucked under your arm, don’t berate yourself for being seduced by the convenience/the man/the non-flexitarian lifestyle in a hungover haze or a moment of weakness. Instead, direct your energies to dismantling the corporations and power structures that ultimately control the way we live.