Is it ethical to carry out ‘supermarket scares’?

Our ethical columnist on it will take direct action to start stopping the shopping.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

Last week, someone made threats against the supermarket chain, Tesco. As a result, quite a few of their stores were forced to close. Isn’t this a good thing because supermarkets are terribly unethical?

Yours sincerely,

Jack Stockwell
Hemel Hempstead

Dear Jack,

I don’t approve of such things – non-violent direct action is the key, as the great Mahatma Gandhi rightly taught us – but it provoked an interesting question: if the supermarkets were closed for one day, why can’t they be closed every day?

To illustrate Greenhart guerilla action: there are some people who live close to us who have their shopping delivered by Tesco (I won’t call them neighbours because they are simply not acting in a neighbourly manner to the world around them!) I wasn’t going to stand for that. Morally, it is sometimes necessary to intervene where someone’s excesses will lead to harm for all. Let’s just say that the supermarket delivery staff must be pretty stupid if they haven’t realised there’s a pattern that their vans suffer flat tyres whenever they visit our village. By letting the air out from their Goodyears, I’m helping to ensure that the whole planet enjoys a few good years yet.

Naturally, I’m a full-time eco-warrior and I couldn’t recommend this course of action to everyone. I’m hardened to the ways of the fascist bully boy state and its friends in the supermarket industry having been forced to confront them before (see Is it ever ethical to use packaging?).

But some people think I’m over-reacting. They realise that supermarkets are bad but still use them for the bits and pieces that are difficult to pick up locally. All I can say is: just because you’re struggling to buy fennel or fresh pasta or gluten-free crackers, do you think that it’s okay? Do you think that just because you need a light for your cigarette it would be okay to turn on the ovens at Auschwitz? I don’t think so.

Someone who buys from a supermarket is a collaborator, it’s as simple as that. The French knew how to treat collaborators (if not animals, for pity’s sake, those barbaric garlic-munchers). I look forward to the day when using the supermarket is so widely condemned that women who use them have their heads shaved in public and the men are imprisoned or worse.

Let’s just be clear what we’re dealing with here: supermarkets are the apex of a devastating pyramid of consumption. Fruit and vegetables drowned in chemical fertilisers and pesticides, animals abused and slaughtered for their bodily excretions or for their very flesh, carbon fuels incinerated to transport the whole lot. We need to educate people about these things.

For example, some people wander round the supermarket with a calculator to add up the price of their groceries. They want to ‘stick to their budget’. But what about their food miles budget, huh? Let’s see how far we get with a food miles budget of – ooh, let’s be generous – 1,000 miles.

  1. Walk into supermarket.
  2. Pick up bag of potatoes from Egypt.
  3. DONG! That’s it – you can’t buy anything else because you’ve already blown your budget.

I’m always within my food miles budget because my food grows in my garden for most of the year. It’s no distance at all from ‘fork to fork’, as they say. The rest comes from local producers and shops – who probably won’t exist soon because they will all be hoovered up or crushed by corporate giants who refuse to pay the going rate for their produce. It’s only thinking people like me that are keeping them afloat. This, dear Jack, is ethical living at its very clearest. (I do wish, however, that these small producers would not insist on delivering their produce to the farmers market in a 4×4. Is it really necessary? A few baskets of produce carried on the local bus service would surely suffice.)

Of course, buying local means I miss out on certain things but we don’t need ‘spices from the east’, thank you very much. It’s a small price to pay for a healthy planet. Sheba the Unbeliever does complain sometimes, I must admit (‘Can we please have some food with a bit of flavour!’ she says) but I remind her of the ecological damage such thinking causes. British food didn’t have any flavour for hundreds of years, why start now?

It’s not just the food miles – it’s the food noise. As yet another articulated lorry rumbles through our village, the Greenhart homestead is shaken to its foundations by a 30-ton monster packed with crisps and ready meals for the unthinking masses. I suspect when it passes the nearby council estate they come out of their houses and cheer the noisy beast like some kind of liberator.

Supermarkets are really just an extension of the prison system. They imprison animals in cages of various types to produce meat and eggs. They force small farmers and cows into hard labour to produce their vegetables and milk. They condemn the masses to a life of drudgery, stumbling round the shop, anaethetised by boredom, placing one gawdy-coloured item after another into a trolley which, unlike the shopper, still has a mind of its own. And when they get home, they stuff all that junk food into their junk mouths while watching junk television – and all the while surrounding themselves with other junk from Ikea or, even worse, ARGOS!

They’re even selling clothes from these places now, produced by workers in far-off countries earning pennies per day. I think this is disgraceful but it does have a silver lining. While the ‘clothes miles’ are every bit as bad as the food miles, I do think we can learn a valuable lesson from these workers on how to live on a pittance. If a sweatshop worker can make t-shirts and jeans for not much more than a dollar a day, why can’t we all? A small wage packet means a small footprint, remember that.

After all, it would mean we couldn’t afford to go to supermarkets. And that must be a good thing.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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