One of the remarkable things about India that we’ve noticed so far is the dearth of supermarkets. They are far and few between, and the ones that do exist seem to be small-ish independent ones. Unless we’re just looking in the wrong places, we’re really not seen any large chain supermarkets like the ones in the west and many other parts of the world. Joanna Blythman’s excellent book, ‘shopped’, which we’ve both read recently, confirms all those suspicions about supermarkets that have been gathering over the years. They don’t act in the favour of suppliers or consumers, rather, they act in the interests of the bottom line, doing anything that will bring them more profit. They reduce rather than expand choice, particularly in the area of fresh produce, where a few commercially viable fruit and vegetables bred for looks and longevity (rather than flavour or nutrition) dominate. They defy seasonality, flying in ‘off season’ produce from around the globe at terrible cost to the environment.
So it is exciting to be in a culture that seems to be all about food, and not at all about supermarkets. Piles of vegetables are sold in markets, on street sides, and in little shops. Fruit vendors pile their wares up in pyramids and bunches on little wooden carts (though some of it seems to be imported fruit). Other shops sell a huge variety of legumes rices and pulses in dusty sacks. Its not the most convenient way to shop, it takes a bit of getting your head around where to get things from, but it seems to be that people have a real connection to their food. People are proud of the regional differences in food and fiercely attached to their local food customs and specialities. We’ve asked loads of questions about the new vegetables we’ve seen, tried any new fruit we’ve seen, and seen all sorts of foods growing for the first time. Indian people seem to understand the use of food for health and food as medicine. Many of the spices used in cooking have other health benefits that seem to be generally well known. India seems richer and more beautiful for its supermarket free food culture. Long may it last.