British journalist Nick Cohen has a funny story about his socially conscious mother scouring the supermarkets in the 1970s for “politically reputable citrus fruit“.
She refused to buy oranges from Spain because of the fascist regime of General Franco. South Africa was off the list because of apartheid, as was Israel due to its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Even Florida oranges were on the banned because of his mother’s hatred of Richard Nixon.
“My sisters and I did not know it, but when Franco fell ill in 1975, we were in a race to the death. Either he died of Parkinson’s disease or we died of scurvy. Luckily for us and the peoples of Spain, the dictator went first, although he took an unconscionably long time about it.”
While my mother never let ideology influence her retail habits – besides a brief boycott of Pura Milk over its sponsorship and renaming of the Sheffield Shield cricket competition – I do empathise with Cohen and his experiences with the politicisation of shopping.
Your 21st century shopper has to do a lot more than merely avoid the fascist mandarins annexing the fruit and veg section if they wish to appear socially conscious.
She (or He, you SEXIST) must forensically examine each tin of tuna, lest they are complicit in the slaughter of dolphins, before scanning the shelves for the brand of free trade South American coffee endorsed by Chris Martin in the liner notes of the new Coldplay album.
Once you’re confident the book choy you selected is GM-free then all that’s left is to fight your fellow ethical consumers for the last carton of free range eggs.
But even if you ensure that every item in your basket has been sourced from a country with minimum wages, a carbon emission scheme and the right to gay marriage, there is still the gnawing guilt you aren’t buying Australian.
There’s probably no truth to the rumour that each time you buy foreign-owned biscuits Dick Smith shoots a koala, but that is what I imagine whenever I pick up a packet of Tim Tams.
Even the your choice of supermarket is fraught with meaning. Do you shop at the aforementioned Coles and Woolworths, thus supporting their undercutting of dairy farmers, or do you patronise the independent corner store even though its extortionate fruit and vegetable section consists of a bunch of flaccid carrots and a rather distressed head of lettuce.
At least Australia’s bland Coolworths duopoly means we are spared the subtle class distinction of British supermarkets.
From what I have gathered on a brief trip to London, my status as a middle class university graduate means I should do most of my shopping in Sainsburys.
In an emergency I could quickly duck in to a Tescos but being seen in an Iceland supermarket is a faux pas akin to not giving a spoiler warning before discussing the latest episode of Downton Abbey.
Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to bed. I need to get to the supermarket early tomorrow otherwise there will only be Irish bread left at the bakery.