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Dodging the supermarket in 2015 - January 2015

2015's challenge is going to be to spend as little as possible in the supermarket. I don't hate supermarkets, I love them. I always have, since Safeways opened in Yeovil in the early 1980s and opened my eyes to a whole world of food that was unavailable to a teenager in 1970s Somerset. A huge space full of food is a fabulous thing to someone as greedy as me, but the relationship has turned sour, and it is time to break away.

Before Safeways, there was the village shop, dark and dusty, or Gateway, with its lino, green uniforms and deli counter with bacon, three strengths of cheddar and what we used to call 'pink meat'. Safeways was a revelation, full of things I had never eaten, like tinned spinach and asparagus (yes, we were a 1970s rural working class family, and we had never eaten spinach or asparagus!). The deli counter had vegetable pie with different coloured layers - orange, green and white. Who cared what it tasted like, it was stripy pie! At home we ate faggots with mash, and stew. Highlight of the week was Sunday roast, with Angel Delight for afters. When my mother, like every other 1970s mother, bought a freezer and discovered Iceland, our diet shifted to crinkle-cut chips and ultracheap burgers, fish fingers and individual pizzas. We had joined the junk food generation, although to listen to my mum talk today, we existed on a diet of sun-dried tomatoes and braised pheasant!

Supermarkets were where I learned that other foods existed, and the day when I ceased to find anything new and interesting in them was a sad one indeed. Supermarkets make a lot of sense - everything under one roof, trolleys, economies of scale. There's no reason why they have to be soulless or exploitative. In my wonderful local independent, Dykes of Stalbridge, I see the same faces each week, staff and customers, and they say good morning and pass the time of day. It's a thoroughly jolly, friendly place.

My principal problem with supermarkets is that they are frontmen for the food industry. If ever there were two words that should not go together it's 'food' and 'industry'. It's a bad mistake to let multinational corporations control the food supply. The multinational corporation is a machine for making money. It has no morality, no conscience, no social responsibility, because those are all human characteristics, and a corporation is not human, it's a construct, an imaginary thing that exists only because we all agree that it does. The people who run it are serving the machine, and they are not ultimately responsible for what it does. The people who receive the profits from it, usually several steps removed via pension funds, are too disconnected to feel responsible for what it does in their name. As long as the money keeps rolling in, who needs to think about how it is made? Corporations have no responsibility to the future either. If they can use the ground we stand on and the air we breathe and turn it into profit today they will do so, regardless of the fact that money is of no use when there is no planet left. Which is basically the situation we have today, with our governments bowing down to the corporate machines instead of regulating them as they should.

So multinational corporations now supply our food. They are not into farming, or cooking; that's too much like honest hard work. They like to take something cheap, like wheat, and manufacture it, brand it and package it into something more profitable, like frozen pizza. Having done that, they cut costs. Cheese is too expensive, so they develop a cheese substitute, and a ham substitute made from shreds of meat jet-washed off the carcase and squished together in a ham shape. Then they develop a machine to spread the tomato really thin, and voila!, they have something that costs 50p to make, stores forever and sells for £2.99. It looks and tastes like shit, so the marketing people make it a fancy box and pay an A list celebrity to pretend to eat it on the telly and say that it makes them feel great and look sexy. All this fake, industrial food makes people ill. The empty carbs make them hungry all the time, so they become obese and get heart disease, diabetes and cancer. But that's OK, because the corporations also sell diet food, exercise DVDs and pharmaceuticals. The drugs won't cure the chronic illnesses, but they are very profitable indeed.

Our world is becoming like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, except that instead of robots taking over, or computers, it's corporations, and the supermarkets are doing their dirty work. The advertising industry makes us want it, the supermarkets supply it. And because they have convinced us that the most important thing to look for in food is cheapness, not taste, quality, sustainability or nutrition, they have driven down the price of milk, eggs, meat and vegetables - proper food - so low that farmers must cut corners and join the industrialisation or go out of business. All of this means that our food gets ever more empty of, well, food. Cut-price imitations of artisan food undermine real skills, and a generation has been convinced that cooking is an arduous chore to be avoided, so that many people have no confidence in their ability to perform this basic life skill.

All in all, you might say that my love affair with the supermarket has come to an end. My local independent may be wonderful, but the products on its shelves are the same old mass-produced rubbish. The majority of goods on supermarket shelves should have a health warning on them - all that wheat, sugar, trans fats and chemical additives will harm your health as surely as nicotine and alcohol. But that's where the profit is, in crisps not carrots; profit is the god and it demands human sacrifices.

Supermarkets have us convinced that we can't live without them. After all, they have driven all the small, independent shops out of business. All you are left with is a choice between the bad guys (the big six) and the slightly less bad guys (Waitrose and Coop), but even the Coop got bitten by the profit bug and almost destroyed itself.

Well I am a contrary soul, and I don't like following the herd and doing what I am supposed to do. I'm pretty sure there is another way than being a fly in the spider's web of the pact between food manufacturers, supermarkets and pharmaceutical companies. I want out of this relationship. I haven't figured out exactly how I'm going to accomplish this or what it will cost, but it's a new year and the experiment is underway!