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Maple Street Co-op News Articles of Particular Relevance

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From NEXUS Magazine, vol. 12, no. 1,
December 2004 - January 2005
(Ph 07 5442 9280, website http://www.nexusmagazine.com)
Reviewed by Ruth Parnell 

SHOPPED:  The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets
by Joanna Blythman
Fourth Estate/HarperCollins, UK, 2004
ISBN 0-00-715803-3 (368pp pb)
Availability:  Fourth Estate, http://www.4thestate.com

Supermarkets have become an all-too-pervasive aspect of our lives.  In the Western world, few people can entirely avoid supermarkets, even if they do the bulk of their shopping at their local greengrocer, fishmonger, butcher, hardware store or health food co-op - small outlets that are becoming more scarce as the giant chains continue to fight each other for ever-greater market share and dominance. 

In Shopped, award-winning UK food journalist Joanna Blythman attempts to tear the blinkers from the eyes of ordinary consumers who are unaware of or just don't care about what they're forsaking for so-called convenience and lowish prices.  She entreats us to see the supermarket giants for what they really are:  feudal tyrants that tell us what we think we want to buy (the more processed, the higher their profit margin), that tell lies about the quality of their products, that tell growers what and how much to produce and how and when they must present it.  It's sad that the British, once considered a nation of independent shopkeepers and with their rich local food traditions, could think that what is best for them is access to a supply of variable quality, in- season foods from anywhere on Earth any time, at the expense of their own seasonal foods; this only shows how conditioned they've become.  Local livestock and food producers have become poorer as a result. 

In the UK, a few supermarket superpowers including Tesco, Asda (owned by the US Wal-Mart) and Sainsbury's control around 70% of the market and keep battling for greater shares based on further manipulation of the shopper's mindset and wallet and exploitation of suppliers and workers. Cheesy American staff-training styles and "retailtainment" distractions are infiltrating the British social fabric, already rent asunder by the giants' setting up outside town and causing the demise of high-street shopkeepers... only to set up again in town in "express" stores designed to get rid of the rest of whatever competition is left. 

Ultimately, says Blythman, we do have a choice in the face of the big supermarkets' imposed choices:  we can support local growers and suppliers; reject ready-made meals and processed ingredients in favour of home-prepared meals that use fresh, nutritious, even organically grown ingredients; and make a stand for real, not fake, communities.  By doing this, we can change our lot.


From NEXUS Magazine, vol. 12, no. 1,
December 2004 - January 2005
(Ph 07 5442 9280, website http://www.nexusmagazine.com)
Reviewed by Ruth Parnell 

NOT ON THE LABEL: What Really Goes into the Food on Your Plate
by Felicity Lawrence
Penguin Books, UK, 2004
ISBN 0-141-01566-7 (272pp pb)
Availability:  Penguin Books, http://www.penguin.com

After reading Felicity Lawrence's book, you'll never feel the same way about shopping at the supermarket.  Like her, you'll become a shopping detective, checking labels, questioning the sources of the products on show, wondering what the heck really is in frozen chicken nuggets (if you even bother to go near the frozen food section), and perhaps thinking there has to be a better and healthier way to eat and not be beholden to the industrial food giants.

In Not on the Label, Lawrence incorporates much of the undercover investigative reporting covered in her columns in the UK Guardian newspaper in recent years.  And eye-opening it is.  Despite health authorities' controls, there are still significant breaches in protocols that take place between farm and supermarket.  Readers will be gobsmacked to learn that Dutch food processors have worked out ways to incorporate beef protein and extra water in frozen imported chicken breasts to plump them up, and even to evade detection in DNA tests. 

But this is just one of a number of adulterated foods that Lawrence focuses on thematically - other foodstuffs being salad, beans, bread, apples and bananas, coffee and prawns, and ready-made meals.  She argues that the powerful supermarket chains and the corporate industry that they support are not just compromising the quality of our food supply but are promoting practices that are ecologically unsustainable and are unjust to marginalised workers.  Indeed, migrant workers in the UK as well as workers abroad bear the brunt of a callous, globalised food production/distribution system. 

We need to reassess where our consumer society is heading--a society that forgoes seasonality in favour of all-year-round produce, takes the easy way out with processed foods and snacks, and doesn't really care if our food is genetically engineered or not. 

Among the positive strategies that Lawrence suggests is that we support local organic food production as well as Fair Trade products that help Third World producers improve their livelihood.