A while ago, during the quiet and meditative time of the high covid alert levels, I found myself in the FreshChoice supermarket at Merivale, a ‘desirable’, ‘chic‘ suburb. I was amazed at the variety and the seductiveness of the lovely things on the shelves and decided I would return to get a ‘fix’ when I felt I needed it. Not to buy – why would I want all that stuff? Just to stand amongst it and marvel. Like a therapy session of cow-cuddling or goat yoga or sound-bathing.
The supermarket around the corner from my house has recently rebranded as FreshChoice – the same company as the old SuperValue, but a more upmarket look. The FreshChoice at Merivale, however, is at least 10 times bigger.
When I returned, my feeling for the place changed from comfort to discomfort. This time, because I was taking photographs, I looked more closely. The deception became clear. And I had a flash of insight into our ability to allow ourselves to be deceived and in denial (explaining, to some extent, why we’re in trouble in terms of our survival on the planet). Working hard to satisfy the expectations of the neighbourhood, the designers have created a high-spec farmers’ market vibe, reminiscent of indoor markets overseas (and now here too). The word ‘market’ is used and ‘grocer’ and ‘butcher’ in the signage above the various sections. The place has the feel of a theme park. Attempting to appease the shopper’s conscience about plastic, vegetables and fruit are artfully displayed in wicker baskets, yet nearby there are plastic punnets of tomatoes and strawberries. Mirrors are used to make the produce seem more abundant. And the quantity and variety is overwhelming. Do people stuff their walk-in pantries, only to throw things out when they pass the use-by date?
Confession: I did buy a couple of things, justified as gifts for a niece’s birthday.
Outside in the mall, there was a school holiday activity: cup cake decorating. I’m struggling to think of a more wasteful, tasteless item of food than a cup cake. Emphasis on appearance not substance. And so I feel I must check how I’m dressed before I venture to this part of town, even though it’s barely 15 minutes walk away. I don’t have to worry about appearances when I do my regular shop at Pak’nSave (economical on spelling and on cost). The Merivale supermarket is all about appearance. I was astounded to discover there is such a thing as collagen coffee and I felt an unexpected pang for people driven to such desperate measures.
Yet I think of the free food fridge and the pantry in the suburbs I drive through on my way to the beach.
I looked more closely at my local FreshChoice. I’ve been in hundreds of times, but just to look for the odd thing I need, not to admire the decor. Does it have a similar design to the Merivale one? It does: wicker baskets, black and white tiles and an exposed-brick wall. I couldn’t remember there being a brick wall before the supermarket was upgraded and asked the check-out operator about it. “It’s not real,” she said and pointed to a corner where a large flap of the wallpaper was peeling away.