I’ve been thinking a lot about food retailers (supermarkets and large grocery stores) in the past few weeks, and I thought, what good is a blog if you don’t use it to share such thoughts -especially when those thoughts revolve around sustainability, food systems and agroecology, right? My inspiration for bringing this up comes from a relatively new supermarket based in Stockholm called Paradiset, and a talk held by one of its founders a few weeks back. In his speech, he makes a compelling argument for reinventing the supermarket — which is, for most of us, the one stop shop where we get our food.
Supermarkets have enormous powers over what we buy and eat, but this fact is very rarely discussed. When we enter a supermarket we’re often greeted by a phletora of foods, and an abundance of choice. Everything you need, convenienty collected in one place. Apart from getting food delivered straight to your home (which is becoming more popular), it’s hard to find an alternative as convenient and compelling as this.
But the supermarket isn’t always a nice place. Just think about it, most of these organizations compete against one another on one thing, and that’s price. Everywhere you go, these entities proclaim that they have the lowest price on the market. This is distrubing, especially when you look at what the farmer gets for their hard labor to produce that food. Many of them are in a squeeze, trying to make ends meet, and meanwhile, the last player in the chain wants to cut prices even more? Alright, sure, they’re businesses, they have to compete in a capitalist society. And if they make a lot of money, why shouldn’t they? They’ve got a good business model! Sure they do. But we can’t be that black and white. These organizations know so much about our purchasing behaviour, and can direct what we buy by preselecting what’s in store, placing it at entreances and check-outs, at eye level – easy to spot, in colorful packages, using “green” words and by lowering prices, among other things. Should we not question how this influences us? Especially when we only have a few of these big chains to choose from?
Give these things a thought next time you enter a supermarket. What happens when you place a cheap meat package for say, 4 dollars next to an organic meat package that costs 8 dollars? What if you remove the cheap meat from the equation all together? Would it make it easier for the consumer to pay the extra cost of going organic? Yes. Most definately yes. But what if you can’t afford it? That’s a different quesiton alltogether. Good food will cost money, but access to food is a socio-economic and political issue better addressed in a nother post. And what about the candy mecca present near the check-out in almost every supermarket? It’s unheard of for people to shop before dinner right? Or to be tired when they reach the end of the store? How convenient for the consumer to get some cheap energy before they leave the store, don’t you think?
Paradiset is one of the new supermarkets who have taken the lead on this, by offering their customers a real dinner before going into the store, taking away products that are inherently bad for you, and/or produced unfairly to people and environment, and selling mostly organic foods. You shouldn’t have to stand there, debating with yourself which product is less bad for you, and you shouldn’t have to think that the store is just out to lure you into buying high margin goods. After all, how convinient is that, for a convenience store?
I applaud stores like Paradiset for doing this, but there’s still work to be done on this front. But if we are to continue to buy our foods from retailers the way we do today, the other companies are going to have to up their game.
This post was meant to highlight systematic problems in how we buy and consume food. If you think that I’m praising Paradiset too much, you’re free to do so, but these are my oppinions.
Disagree, or have any thoughts you’d like to share? Leave a comment below or throw me an email.