15th July 2017

In the supermarket this morning I was thinking about the desire for things we do not need, the way in which it shapes and directs us, and whether the supermarket is merely a reflection of it or a source of it, a chicken or egg kind of question. Supermarkets have changed since I was a child. When I was a child the supermarket was about the size of a ‘local’ or mini-market or whatever the term for such a thing might be now. Our local supermarket had four aisles, an equivalent amount of space that might now be taken up by beans and ham and breakfast cereal and coffee. The ham section in the supermarket is a constant source of wonder to me. Who knew that ham could come in so many forms, so many different shapes and flavours, sources, such an array of cost and packaging? My supermarket has an entire section dedicated to ham, not a great comfort if it’s beef that you desire. I wonder about the burgeoning fascination with avocado and quinoa, and where the desire for these things have come from. Is the desire manufactured by the supermarkets? Or do the supermarkets respond to a desire? It seems an unsolvable question. If avocado was not in my supermarket, would I want it at all? Would I miss it? Would I feel that I was missing out by not having it?

[in fact I do not like avocado at all]

This question is not limited to the exotic, the unusual fruits and vegetables that aren’t commonplace here. The question is as valid for ham, for cereals, for coffee, for pasta and rice and potatoes (the array of potatoes is almost as impressive as the ham). When I was a child and we went to the supermarket, we might be able to choose between two types of ham and if we chose one of them I didn’t feel bereft of the kind we did not choose. I am not sure if we need all this ham. But if we don’t want it, what do we do about it? We could not buy it, of course, yet the fact that it is there, that we could try it, generates in itself a desire which directs us to purchase it. We eat the ham. Are we better for it?

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