S.A.D Death by Supermarket?
SAD: Standard American Diet
Result: Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cancer, Auto Immune Disease
We have shopped at supermarkets since the 1970’s. Who hasn’t shopped in one?
Over the last 40 odd years the ‘one stop shop’ supermarket has become part of our social fabric. Most towns throughout NZ are now defined by their presence.
Depending on your view of these symbols of the food industry, they are either welcomed with red ribbon openings as a sign of progression or regarded as a purveyor of disease as they spread like a cancer throughout our communities. As the last corner grocers and independent food retailers buckle under the weight of supermarket price manipulations we rejoice in the cheaper food options available. Supermarket shelves are filled with products sourced from all over the world. The diverse range of foods on offer is indeed impressive, and compared with the days when olive oil and avocados were things one only found when travelling overseas, we are now wellserved with a humongous range of food from every corner of the world all year round.
It is a world wide western phenomenon. One that surely makes us feel part of the progressive world. Supermarkets have become part of our social psyche. They bear a resemblance to other ubiquitous gathering places like airports, hotels and fast food chain outlets; uniform in their appearance and familiar in their purpose and function, devoid of intentionally obvious social differentiation. We find their sameness comforting as they allow us to maintain our habitual ways of using them, we feel comforted in the fog of nutritional propaganda that they pump out in the more conservative channels of the media. We feel satiated by the barbiturate effects of the SAD foods we purchase and we are hooked, returning again and again. We have become dependent upon them. Addicted.
SAD foods make up the bulk of what lines the supermarket shelves. Around 84% are of the highly processed nutrient deficient kind laced with addictive ingredients like refined sugar. We can get our fix 24/7. Local culture, once defined by its food in some places in the world, is being replaced by this SAD diet. The supermarket tendrils are long as they cater for any demographic and ethnicity. Middle Eastern foods to organics, booze to barista coffee, baked breads and sausages. Like junkies, we find it hard to imagine life without them. They push the products upon us and create the illusion of choice. Our national pride is fuelled in the knowledge that they can provide us with the best of what are NZ’s best foods. We are the biggest exporter of dairy, and NZ lamb and beef is world class.
If the supermarkets are the street corner pushers then the meat, dairy, wheat and sugar industries which supply them with the goods are the dealers. These industries have grown and flourished in an unregulated environment since we began to adopt the characteristics of the American diet in the mid 50’s. Supermarkets, like the size of their trolleys, keep getting bigger, they can afford prime positions within our towns where once the corner grocer may have stood. The industry is so large and the supplying companies so profitable that the representatives of these companies influence and create government policy from food regulations, export and import legislation to Recommended Daily Allowances of food. Their proxies stand on boards that influence what we eat, they fund health advisory groups and provide funding and sponsorship of medical research. Revenue from the profits in food production are such that these industries and corporates are a force to reckon with.
It’s what the people want they say. Free trade, free choice. It is true. Choice is good. People too are free to choose what they eat, where they shop. Supermarkets provide us with cheap food. They are shrewd in marketing using words like locally owned and market fresh to keep their sceptical customers. They provide jobs, they buy from local businesses, we don’t gohungry. They feed the world by creating food industries. The owners are capable of philanthropy. Free trade is good we are told.
But, not everyone is convinced. There is a shifting culture of conscience afoot and many of us won’t have noticed it. It has been triggered by the epidemic of illness thatis being fuelled by the SAD diet whichsupermarkets base their existence and profits on. It grows from a discontent at the realisation that perhaps all is not well in the food industry we have come to rely on. Some of us are awakening to the realisation that contrary to the propaganda which pretends to offer choice, there is in fact very little.
Countdown has around 2,400 private labels and Foodstuffs around 3,000and many of these arebranded in ways to make customers think they are buying independent ‘home made’ ‘artisan’ ‘wholesome’ products when in fact it is simply a deception.
People have become fat and lazy as a consequence of their shopping choices. There is suddenlynowhere else to shop.
What has been lost? A butcher, a baker, a fish shop, a couple of specialist grocers, maybe a florist, pet shop, hardware shop, fruit and vege shop? Once these buildings become vacant soon tofollow willbe theclosureof other businesses in the immediate area which previouslyrelied on the foot traffic. Have you noticed thishappen before? It’s a common occurrence and has been the subject of university theses and urban development studies.
Most small owner operated food businesses simply cannot compete with predatory pricing from supermarkets. Supermarkets like their cousins the big box stores kill small towns by killing smallbusiness. This phenomenon has a name – the‘Dead Zone’ or ‘Food Deserts’. These dead zones are characterised firstly by the closure of long standing small owner operator businesses. Then there is usually a proliferation of fast food and chain junk food outlets. Small towns are robbed of any individuality they may have had, their character resembles that of other small towns suffering the same disease. They have none of their own individuality.
Smallbusinesses which offer unique character are snuffed out. They become ubiquitous like the supermarkets that define them. They change what we need and want by restricting what we can want and what we might need. In the end we have no choice other than to buy from them, we need food after all. The effect on the community is profound. The only food available is processed and junk. Those most impacted by this usually live in the immediate area and are those whose social circumstances are such that they are unable or unlikely to search further afield for other food sources.
Customers are realising sometimes too late that while they have been busy enjoying the convenience of the supermarket the small businesses they may have once supported are either in their death throes or are now vacant buildings.
By killing off those small local businesses which may have provided uswithlocalfreshmeats and small goods, freshly made authentic baked goods, fresh fish and fresh fruit and vegetables means fewer local farmers providing food, fewer farmers growing grains for localflours, fewer horticulturists growing fruit and vegetables, fewer local fishing boats in our harbours.
Small independently ownedfarms struggle to compete to supply eggs, and chicken and pork when it can be grown more cheaply and efficiently fromfactory farms both in NZ and overseas. Small independently owned horticulturists struggle to compete with cheap imports from overseas. Small goods producers struggle to compete with imported lines. Smallproducers cannot compete with large industrial sized production. You will have heard about the buying power of supermarkets before. Nothing has changed.
They have the power to undercut any competition on price. Here’s an example of what they do. They find out what are the top selling products of their competitors no matter how small that business may be. Then with the buying might they have they buy cheap from suppliers thereby undercutting the opposition. Then, once they have beaten the opposition they can either refuse to buy from the supplierunless the price is again lowered or they can just put the price back up. Either way the supermarket dictates to the small producer.
It is also common practice in the industry to replicate a popular product at the expense of theoriginal one. The Lewis Road Creamery saga is an example of this. Fair competition? Most consumers are easily led and even fewer may realise the inferior product they end up with.
The insidious nature of the business cannot be understated. Buying out the small operator is common practice to ensure maximum profits. You can’t blame the original owners for wanting to cash in their hard work but what usually transpires in these deals is the end of anything ‘ethical’. Big food industries have seldom got where they are by being ethical or sustainable. They are, however, very good at disguising their greed and avarice by ‘giving back’.
Supermarkets are not independently owned. In the case of Foodstuffs they may have local operators but the operators are tied to the larger conglomerate like the operators of McDonalds outlets.
New Zealand’s supermarket trade is the most concentrated in the world having only two corporates; Foodstuffs with New World, Pak n Save, 4 Square, Henrys, Liquorland, Raeward Fresh and Trents, Progressive Enterprises with Countdown, SuperValue and Fresh Choice. Progressive Enterprises is owned by Australian giant Woolworths. The supermarket industry is remarkably unregulated, until you realise how much political power they weild. The mercenary head of the Food and Grocery council is ex cabinet minister Katherine Rich.
The reality is that when two corporates dominate, the likelihood of unfair and unjust business practice is high.
There are calls for some form of regulation in NZ to rope in these ruthless corporations. The supermarkets currently have the ability to exploit the current hole in legislation and regulation and do whatever they like. Theduopoly that these giants wield over us is unrestrained. But economics aside, the biggest problem with this industry is what it is pushing. They call it food.
There is an increasing awareness oflocal andmore wholesome, organic foods and a desire to eat them. Supermarkets are shrewd in their marketing by reflecting the current trend in their promotion, labelling and packaging to try and capture this latest audience. But those of us who don’t rely on the mainstream media for information are not so easily taken in.
Fancy packaging and using the right words like local, market andfresh are not enough to calm the increasing awareness and alarm regarding the fact that there is strong correlation between processed food and disease. Processed foods make up a large percentage of the food stocked in supermarkets and dietary related chronic disease afflicts a large percentage of the people who eat that kind of food. Diabetes, cancer, heart disease, strokes and auto immune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, are being linked to poor diet. A Standard American Diet is one that the majority of westerners suffer today. Refined products, processed foods, sugar, meat, dairy and alcohol. You know where you shop for them.
These are historic times of mega food production. The tendrils of the industrial era have reached every corner of the world. Today even third world countries are reportedly producing corn, wheat, soy and palm oil all in the name of free trade and economic development schemes. Depending where you look, you can find stories of success and stories of disaster. But the fact is that the industrial model of farming has enveloped the world. It is USA driven. Yet still people starve. This is the long arm of the industrial food system with the supermarket at one end and environmental destruction at the other.
So what does the future of food look like? Statistics and general common sense tell us that it looks grim for most people who consume the SAD diet readily available from a supermarket near you. If there are no alternatives where do we get our food?
Fortunately there is hope. Fortunately that culture shift is having an impact on lives near you. You can see it in the small producers and growers at Farmers Markets. You can find it at small food farms and those keen to reinstate the orchards and berry fields that have been lost over the years. People are discovering the benefits of eating well and avoiding the SAD foods. They are seeking out certified organic foods and growers. They are choosing to shop elsewhere. They are realising what they had nearly lost.
But sadly there are many who have not realised the link between their supermarket SAD diet and their health. While health boards are funded by the meat and dairy industry and words like saturated fat are used instead of words like meat many people will continue to experience extremely poor health. This cultural shift is also evident in other countries who also suffer the blight of supermarket dominance. Take for example the supermarket tax system which was enforced in Northern Ireland and Scotland until governments buckled under pressure. More recently the discussions in local council chambers in the UK indicate some individuals are concerned enough to give tax consideration. Research has shown that 95% of all the money spent in any large supermarket leaves the local economy for good. Whereas just 50% is likely to leave the area from local independent retailers. How can we reinstate quality food distribution?
I am incidentally, all for less government involvement in our lives. However when elected councillors and government representatives cower to lobbyists representing greedy and ruthless food industries and when greedy unethical individuals push for trade deals and food safety legislation whilst we humble consumers get fatter and sicker then who is accountable? When we are well most of us would want a healthy community and healthy land and also want to see a fair distribution of money which contributes to local jobs and local trades. We would also want a local counciland a government who understood the link between food production and self reliance.
Are the benefits of a healthypopulation sought after? Shouldn’t small business educational programmes that encourage sustainable methods of food production be the norm? Where could we relearn about real food in schools free from the insidious industry sponsorship which corrupts our youth now? We need small business incentives and big business regulations. Tax the bastards. It is working with tobacco and needs to be extended to the (frankly) poisonous food peddled in the supermarket.
If the long term political social mandate was to ensure that there was a culturalunderstanding of the link between our health and ourdependency on real food we could steer ourselves away from the immediate future whichconsists of a grossly unhealthy population defined by trade agreements, corporate greed and the processed food industry. Stand in the street and look at the people.
So where do you choose to buy your food?
‘No future, your future dream is a shopping scheme’. Johnny Rotten‘No future’.
Supermarket Tax: Ref: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-28495631
The Life and Death of the Super market. Thesis by Mathew Leehttp://researcharchive.vuw.ac.nz/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10063/2189/thesis.pdf?sequence=2