In the early days of retailing, all products were generally served by an assistant from shelves behind the merchantÂ’s counter while customers waited in front of the counter waiting to be served. Most foods and merchandise did not come in the individually wrapped consumer-size packages that we take for granted today.
The fish was purchased at the fishmongers, the meat at the butchers, the fruit and greens at the greengrocers and the tins or groceries, non perishable foods, were sold by grocers.
O.K. so it was a bit of a bind to have to go round so many shops, probably on a daily basis when it came to buying fresh produce like meat, fish and vegetables. The shopping process was slow and the number of customers who could be attended to one at a time was limited by the number of attendants employed in the shop. One thing is certain though, fresh meant really fresh.
According to the Smithsonian Institution, the first true supermarket in the United States was opened by Michael J. Cullen, on August 4, 1930, inside a 6,000 square foot former garage in New York City. The store, King Kullen traded under the slogan Â“Pile it high. Sell it low.Â”
The self service idea and bulk buying practices of grocery stores did not take long to be accepted by the public. The saving of staff costs and cost of supplies bought in bulk was immediately welcomed by the consumer when such savings were reflected on the cost of weekly groceries.
This was the beginning of supermarkets growing in numbers all over the world but greed prompted them to supplying perishable foods too and the idea of doing the whole shopping under one roof was certainly found to be most convenient by shoppers. The problem is that buying in bulk foods that have limited shelf live becomes an expensive proposition. Consumers would not buy stale bread, fish or meat and vegetables that have gone off, with the result that supermarkets had to find ways to extend the life of fresh supplies so as to keep them fresh looking for as long as possible.
Regretfully the companies in question have become so big that they have an unbalanced place in the market with the ability to abuse their position, while their immense buying power puts undue pressure on other parts of the food chain, from farmers and the environment to consumers and competitors.
The bigger the supermarket chain, the more ability it has to abuse its position setting prices and demanding longer and longer shelf life for its products.
But what does this really mean to us? What are we really eating when we go the supermarket and purchase our food supplies for the week? Everything is nicely wrapped, clean, well presented and even marked with a sell by date, but are we sure that we are eating what we think we are eating? Perhaps the most honest supermarkets are those that sell frozen produce, at least you know irt was fresh when frozen. Or was it?
Vacuum-cooling the produce where it is cooled in a reduced pressure environment prior to packaging, certainly lengthens shelf life by slowing the growth of bacteria and fungi, however it is a relatively expensive method. Fresh can only mean one thing: FRESH!
Available to consumers with a few hours of it being picked or caught or killed or cooked. It is the bacteria in the air that cause food to literally rot away, but there are many methods devised for preserving food. Below is a list of commonly used preservation techniques, they all in some way either eliminate the microbes or slow their growth, but no way can they qualify food as fresh, even if some methods give the food that appearance.
Refrigeration/Freezing Â– Pasteurization Canning Â– Pickling - Salting/Sugaring Fermentation - Chemical Preservation- Dehydration - Freeze Drying Â– Irradiation -
Canning, pickling, freeze drying, dehydrating, salting, sugaring are obvious methods of preservation but the food is no longer fresh although we might like the taste of the altered state of the food such as jams, pickles, etc.. What I really find deceitful are the other methods of preservation, devised to give the false appearance of freshness to deceive the consumer.
CanÂ’t you tell the difference? Fruit is usually intended to be picked when ready to eat, not kept from maturing on cold shelves or other method for it to rot soon after you purchased it. Fresh fish means fish that is still wriggling when you buy it, certainly not 3 weeks old!
While supermarkets are excellent and good value for money in many respects, they should be banned from selling fresh, perishable produce intended to be consumed Â“freshÂ”.
We should refuse to buy such products from the superstores and look for and encourage the specialized green grocers, butchers, fishmongers and bakers. It is of little surprise that the world is so plagued by obesity and diabetes when our choice of food becomes more and more limited to foods processed for long shelf life or artificially given a fresh look for the same reason.