I have a complaint. It is Bank Holiday here, so, in need of provisions and with a sudden desire for apricots, I was obliged to go to the supermarket. I don’t do it often. It depresses me. But that isn’t the complaint…
I really didn’t need much; it was mainly the dog who needed supplies, but I thought I would grab some fresh stuff while I was there…you know, a few vegetables, some fruit…nothing out of the ordinary. Wandering round the produce section, the temperature began to rise.
I live alone and, in spite of the recalcitrant waistline, I eat very little. There are only so many portions of anything that I can eat and many summer fruits and vegetables do not keep well. I learned to shop for fresh produce in France, where ingredients are taken seriously and shopping is a tactile exercise. I can feel ripeness and readiness from avocado to zucchini.
Except, now, I can’t.
It is bad enough that, as a single person, I am condemned to eat the same vegetables four meals in a row because they are all now packed for an average sized family. I, personally, am not an average sized family. Or that I must buy a pack of several when I want only one. Quite apart from the unnecessary use of plastic in which they wrap the stuff, this just encourages food waste when things do not get used… or indeed, bought. Instead of disposing of one pepper past its best, the supermarkets throw out the whole pack when the sell-by date has gone by. Not that sell-by dates have any relevance to the useability of the food; they are there only to keep the displays looking fresh.
That is a long-time grouse. I’ve never been happy about it and much prefer to shop at the greengrocery …of which we now have none at all…or the market…which is no longer much good around here. The supermarkets are cheaper and their food is all clean and shiny, nicely packed in the ubiquitous plastic, and apparently no-one wants to wash or peel food any more. And who brought in that idea? The supermarkets.
But I digress.
The thing that set me steaming was the plastic pot in which, apparently, all soft fruits are now sold. They have used them for years for mushrooms and strawberries. I can understand that. Mushrooms are what they are… strawberries are always pot luck unless you can taste them first, although you can, at least, see when they are ripe. Not so with apricots. Or peaches, nectarines and plums.
The apricots, for which I’d had the sudden craving, came packed in a strawberry-type punnet, with a sealed plastic lid. On further investigation, I found that all the stone-fruit did so. There is thus no way at all you can check if they are ripe or still iron-hard teeth-breakers.
I can understand that the supermarket finds this better as it prevents a certain amount of wastage to bruising, and gets both punter and punnet through the self-service checkouts far quicker, thus saving money on wages too. Even though the punnets that remain unsold past their sell-by dates will be thrown out anyway, regardless of ripeness or otherwise and completely ignoring the fact that we, the customers, are paying for that process.
Well, me, this customer, does not wish to be charged for unnecessary plastics or economic waste. All I wanted was a couple of apricots that I knew were ripe.
What really gets to me though is the way that the food giants are divorcing us from our food. We are dictated to at every turn and forced, through lack of choice, to accept what we are given as the norm. I want to be involved with my food enough to know what I am eating. I would like our children and grandchildren to realise that a steak is a slice of cow, and that it doesn’t come out of some magic machine neatly packed in plastic. I want to be grateful for what I eat, recognising that, lettuce or lamb, my food once had a life of its own, even if that life was different from mine. And I don’t want to encourage food waste when so many go hungry.
It is a matter of respect.
And that, it seems, is something the supermarkets do not have in stock.