My rant this week was sparked by the closure of yet another small shop in town (along with a nunnery, but that’s for lack of new nuns), followed by talking to the daughter of one of the few businesses left, where you can get everything (groceries and hardware) within walking distance of your front door. The sudden decline being due to a national chain of supermarkets (Mercadona) opening about 8kms away. Enticing customers with its newness, size, free parking (the spanish hate to walk anywhere), and the notion that they are a lot cheaper and have a much wider choice. Neither of the last two being actually true, but hard not to get sucked in by.
So she’s begun a campaign on Facebook, with a page for her father’s shop (https://www.facebook.com/latiendade.alfonso?fref=ts) to try and reverse the tide.
This got me thinking about what they actually do offer in these vast ugly out-of-town sheds, and whether it is actually as claimed. Or to be honest it was balsamic vinegar. Too expensive to be available locally until Mercadona arrived, but makes a big difference to cooking, so now worth the treat every now and then. Or so I thought. Reading up on the subject (in the excellent Zingerman’s guide to good eating ISBN 0-395-92616-5)) it turns out Mercadona’s offering (or anyone else’s, in 98% of cases) is nothing more than a fake. The only real one is from Modena (Italy), where they produce a limited amount so not surprisingly it costs a small fortune and never reaches the shelves of supermarkets. What they are selling then is nothing more than a taste-alike, created by food scientists, using the cheapest (and possibly harmful) ingredients/ artificial flavourings possible (including that unholy trinity of sugar/ salt/ and vinegar). With the added incentive it reaps them a fat profit over staple products, because they believe it is worth paying the extra.
Which led me to go through more of Mercadona’s offerings. Their wide range of international cheeses for example, which currently include Cheddar/ Mozzarella/ Parmesan/ plus many others remembered from our Tesco days. They are all fakes too.
On the opposite side of the same aisle is the delicatessen, another speciality/ high-priced area because the local Iberian Jambon pigs have spent their life roaming free in the countryside eating nothing but tasty acorns. Or that’s what they claim. Take a look around the Sierra. How many pigs can you spot? Certainly not anywhere close to the 3 million they claim to be slaughtering in Jabugo alone. The only certainty is they met a grisly and painful end here, subsequently to be turned into ham, the rest was probably an even nastier existence imprisoned in a shed, somewhere in Eastern Europe, being fed/ dosed with nasties until they reached the required weight.
Then at the end of this aisle are the herbs and spices. This one is easy, not one of them tastes or smells remotely like those grown wild.
I won’t bother going through the rest of the place, its more-or-less the same story. Basically what these places are offering is a copy of the real thing, the Dollar Store/ £ shop/ Chinese or Moroccan experience. Packed to the gunnels with choice, and all for next-to-nothing. Which at Lidl, also includes organic. Yet all are copies, very poor/ unhealthy ones too.
That’s just the food. Most other stuff also turns out to be the same. For which we have to thank the Chinese (again), who now produce counterfeits of everything. An example being a pair of good-quality secateurs I bought recently, from Amazon (yes, I know). But when used they didn’t feel right so as it wasn’t anything obvious I emailed the manufacturer to ask why. They amazingly replied immediately, with the news that these are fake too. This company has never sold through Amazon.
When you think about all of this, virtually everyone we deal with: public servants/ private companies (especially the utilities)/ doctors (particularly the drug companies)/ lawyers/ builders/ plumbers/ electricians/ garages, you name them, all lie or offer poor service when it suits them. We just take it for granted now that this is how our (part of the) world works.
Newspapers are the same. Freedom of the press, ha! It’s a business, like any other, and they have vested interests. As do all forms of the media.
So too do local councillors/ county councillors/ members of parliament/ ministers/ prime ministers and presidents. They all say what we want to hear, even if it isn’t the truth.
Which in turn has created in us a sense of place that has become detached from reality, especially for those where there is little or no opportunity for actual contact with the making process or those who make. And why people like me feel so isolated, because it is only us, those who exist self-sufficiently/ sustainably (out of the loop), who grow their own food, make what they need, or buy/ barter direct, who get to have now a true experience of things, as well as some kind of control over what they are eating.
Given all that then, the next question has to be: how on earth can anyone who exists in this fantasy world ever be trusted to make rational judgements about anything, let alone for the good of the planet?