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What price for my shopping?

By Elaine Bardwell - Posted on 28 January 2012

The coming of Tesco right into the heart of our local community raises many issues. It is a long time since I ventured into any Tesco store - a personal decision taken after our truly eye opening Lent course on 'Food' a couple of years ago. Since then my thinking as well as shopping habits have gradually been evolving but in all this I have still accepted, alongside the majority of our population, that supermarkets are essential and indispensible.
But the explosion of more and more supermarkets opening all over the centres of our towns and cities, especially in Oxford and then the clearly inappropriate Tesco development here in Marston has made me examine the activities of supermarkets in much more detail. As a result I have come to realize that we are living in a truly Orwellian nightmare. There are 4 chains which dominate the supermarket share of the economy and 1 of these has grown so mighty that it is untouchable by its competitors. Tesco can now more or less do what it likes. I don't mean in just the trading sphere either. The reality is that Tesco is dictating events to governments as well as local communities like our own.
Well this might just about be OK if supermarkets were the 'people's friend' as we have all been led to believe - they help us, don't they? They offer us choice, they offer us real value for money, they allow the poor access to food at an affordable price which would otherwise not be the case, they offer convenience and they are providing lots of jobs which is especially important in these times of growing unemployment. In short they have persuaded us that we would be very stupid indeed not to shop in a supermarket and indeed to be loyal to one in particular: Tesco.
And I do feel stupid now that I have taken a bit of time to investigate what is really going on. In a nutshell it is all 'lies, lies and more lies'. In my eagerness to go for the cheaper goods, the special offers, the sense of getting a bargain I have been, unwittingly, undermining my own values of goodwill. In religious language I have sinned. Is that rather over dramatic? I don't think so. In truth I have not been paying the true cost for what I have consumed. As a result food producers and small shop traders have gone out of business. Let's be clear what this means: people out of work, usually bankrupt and often rendered homeless too. That's without the human cost of all the stress and sense of failure, for most of the small shop owners have set out to render customers genuine service and have not just been in it for the money alone. This makes the loss of their business also the loss of their whole way of life.
But it doesn't stop there. Farmers who have large enough production lines to sell to the major supermarkets dare not complain about the increasing demands made on them by their task masters. It is by now well known that only produce which conforms to a certain size, colour and type will be taken to the stores but how many of us knew that famers are also being required to package and label the goods at their own expense, cutting the cost of course to the supermarket so they can make more profit? The preferred methods of working for the supermarket are to reduce marginal costs as much as possible to maximize profits and this means increased industrialization of our food production, bigger lorries transporting goods longer distances. Even the fresh food in the store will have travelled a very long way. All of this is having a detrimental effect on our environment - there is the diesel and the greenhouse gas/carbon footprint problem but also the road mending and even building as well. And that's just food produced here - the problem is even larger when you take into account goods sourced further afield.
I feel a sort of despair when I realize that even this is not all - who has paid the real cost for the items in my shopping trolley? Just about everyone: my neighbours in my own community - that'll include the people whose spiritual well being I am supposed to be nurturing as the parish priest - the poor enslaved by low wages if they have a job but are more likely the ones unemployed because of the breakdown in community life and thus fewer jobs, the developing countries who are being plundered of natural resources and kept impoverished by unfair trading practices and of course the environment. 
I am brought back by my reflections to words on the lips of Jesus  (Mark 8:36)
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
At the moment too many pay too high a price for my supermarket shopping - but I can act to change things - yet that is a whole topic on its own and must wait for the next posting...



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