By Mick Le Moignan
EVERYONE is allowed a personal ‘bête noire’. Mine is the ubiquitous supermarket, which I loathe with a passion.
Across the world, supermarkets are a blight on our society. They infest practically every town and village. They are colossal combine harvesters of consumer cash.
They have driven small retailers out of business and squeezed – in many cases fatally – independent farmers, growers, graziers, fishermen and other fresh-food providers – because the convenience of the supermarkets is served by less competition and fewer wholesalers.
They argue that the overall effect of this process is to drive prices down – but at what cost? Producers are forced to compete with competitors from around the world, which can be detrimental to fresh, local foods and drinks. Goods are often transported large distances and placed in storage as part of a process of centralisation, all of which can affect their freshness.
Any savings to the household budget are routinely squandered on the many things we all buy in supermarkets that we neither need nor want. Who benefits from all the food we buy and throw away?
In Australia, they have only recently stopped loading us up with ‘free’ single-use plastic bags, billions of which have found their way into the world’s oceans, where they are mistaken for jellyfish by turtles and other creatures, with catastrophic consequences for the marine ecosystem (In fairness to the CI Co-operative Society, I understand it was one of the first supermarket groups in Britain to introduce a charge for plastic bags, about 15 years ago, and has since donated the profits from these sales to environmental causes.).
The supermarket trolley is another example of fake convenience. Under the pretence of helping us to transport our shopping, they induce us to buy more stuff than we can carry. How many of us are self-disciplined enough to take a shopping list to a supermarket and buy only the things on the list? Instead, we rush around like greedy children let loose in a toy shop, filling our baskets with ‘impulse buys’.
I visited a town in North Wales recently and found it full of barbers, nail salons, coffee bars, cafés and shops selling tourist tat, but practically bereft of independent food suppliers – probably because the ‘cheap’ chain supermarkets at either end of the town had made them unviable. The one exception was a butcher, who sold me an exquisite leg of Welsh lamb and the best and freshest sausage roll I’ve tasted.
Where is the benefit to the consumer in this decimation of small businesses and the local employment that went with them? Many of today’s supermarkets are laying off cashiers and urging their customers to ‘self-scan’ and pack their own items.
Jersey is in a much more fortunate position. How long it will remain so depends on you, dear readers, applying a little more thought, care and perhaps time to your weekly or daily shopping.
The Island still offers a wonderful alternative to the bland and soulless supermarkets: the Central and Beresford Street Markets (including the fantastic Fish Market) offer a rich variety of outstanding fresh, local produce and many other goods.
To start with the most striking, there was a dazzling array of fresh fruit, flowers and every kind of vegetable, displayed to maximise customers’ delight and appreciation, with obliging stall-holders and knowledgeable assistants happy to answer any queries about provenance, which is mainly local.
There are two excellent butchers providing personal service, bakers, patisseries, delicatessens and a cake shop where I enjoyed watching a master craftsman cutting long, square strips of pink and yellow sponge, sticking it together with jam and wrapping it in marzipan – the ‘window cake’ of my childhood, aka Battenberg. They also sell the best éclairs Jersey has tasted since the late, lamented Gaudin’s closed its doors.
For Jersey’s drinkers, there are excellent wine shops selling local spirits and craft beers. For instant gratification, there are coffee bars, cocktail bars, juice bars, grills and sandwich shops, tapas, noodles and other exotic delights.
I was pleased to see that another childhood favourite, Red Triangle Stores, is still trading. I doubt if they sell Dinky Toys’ Maseratis and Ferraris these days, but their signs still promise model kits and model railways as well as other toys.
At the back of the market, next to the remarkable ‘relish’, a cornucopia of exceptional cheeses and wines, is a splendid antique shop stocked with fine silver and second-hand books.
Jewellers, clock-makers, watch-menders and haberdashers rub shoulders with purveyors of pottery, glassware, china, statuettes and ceramics and other Jersey gifts, from the simple to the sumptuous.
You can have plaques and signs made to order at Little Wren, you can buy birthday cards, postcards, parking paycards, calendars, ties, tea-towels, cake-decorating supplies, party paraphernalia and even marijuana memorabilia. For gardeners, there are tools, seeds, plants, other supplies and free advice.
The only disappointment was that, while the central pond and fountain still feature, they no longer house the goldfish that fascinated me as a toddler, standing on tiptoes to peer into the depths. I was not alone, the goldfish pool was a better babysitter than our modern, electronic equivalents, allowing busy mothers time to shop in peace.
No supermarket can compete with the joy of a trip to the real market. They don’t provide trolleys; perhaps they should – or you could bring your own.
Jersey’s great markets are not, as far as I know, under any immediate threat – but they are surrounded by voracious and unrelenting commercial competitors.
In spite of the baffling lack of goldfish, the message for Jersey’s shoppers is clear – use it or lose it.