About “Better” Supermarkets


Tony Naylor, from the Guardian, writes here about rethinking his relationship to Waitrose, the UK’s principled (and generally upscale) supermarket chain that puts Whole Foods to shame.

We should unquestionably support good supermarkets, but we should also be pushing them to:

–          carry sustainable seafood exclusively

–          carry ethically raised meat and poultry whenever possible

–          carry organic and/or local fruits and vegetables whenever possible

–          buy from suppliers who themselves have a conscience whenever possible

–          pay their own staff a living wage, with benefits

–          think about their energy usage, their waste, their community service

And so on. All of which will, yes, make food more expensive. It has to: crap is cheaper than real food, and treating your employees like indentured servants or worse saves employers (and consumers) money, as does treating the environment as a dumping ground and the oceans as if they were inexhaustible. Reversing these policies will raise food costs. (Though there is an argument that reducing food waste will allow us to raise quality while raising prices less.)

For consumers, the basic answer – unexciting as it may sound to some – is to buy and cook real food whenever you can. It isn’t about Waitrose’s (or anyone else’s) artichoke sauce, which is never going to be an item for someone on a budget – it’s about, as Mr. Naylor says, buying a more expensive chicken – one that actually tastes like chicken – and then making it last for three meals. It’s about choosing quality over quantity.

Whenever a supermarket makes a good move, we should applaud it – it doesn’t mean we rush down to Walmart and buy organic milk or suddenly start buying all our seafood at Whole Foods. It means we say, “nice work, we appreciate that, and we’ll take advantage of it – but what’s next? There’s a farmer over here who’d love to sell you his corn, and there’s a single mom working your cash register who has no health insurance, and when are you going to stop promoting industrially raised chickens?”


4 thoughts on “About “Better” Supermarkets

  1. What if we subsidized the stuff people should be eating (ie whole grains and vegetables) by paying farmers to diversify and by expanding our conservation programs to better incentivize organic farming, and stopped subsidizing the processed junk? That would certainly change the pricing rubric.

  2. Thank you for this! There’s been WAY too much tacit sponsorship of Whole Foods which has a shameful record of among other things payment and benefits of workers.

  3. This thinking should also apply to other food retail sectors, e.g., fast food, convenience stores selling food, etc. These smaller individual stores fill urban and suburban landscapes and intersect with so many consumers on a daily basis. If people could "applaud" good moves by these players, but then ask "what’s next", we could accelerate the strengthening of regional food systems. That’s what we’re doing at Sugarsnap, which opened its second store in Burlington, Vermont, focusing on making fresh, healthy and delicious foods more accessible to more people.

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