What is a supermarket?

"Oh, their produce is sub par, and a lot of what they carry is probably gmo."

"You shouldn't shop there because it hurts local store owners' business."

"The only reason their prices are so low is that they exploit workers in poorfagistan."

These all being legitimate arguments, I've recently discovered (through my own failure, that no-speed-limit highway to getting a sense of how much you don't know, especially among the set of things you thought you did) that they don't describe the fundamental problem of the supermarket, which is at best tenuously related to what it does. The problem of the supermarket is what it is. So what is it?

Go, enlist google, enlist "dictionaries", which will happily dish out a buffet of useless synonyms and descriptions of how such a thing is internally organized, all beneath a billowing canopy of ads. Eat it and you'll end up full of shit, the present state of the vast majority of people, who imagine they know what the words they use mean. Here's some pepto-bismol, handed down to me from on high back when I decided I'd rather do just about anything than stay at that corprophagic party:

A definition consists of the proximate genus and its specific difference within the same.

Some fair proportion of my waking hours consists of guessing games; what things mean, as per the above conundrum, what the correct response to some hypothetical or other might be. I hate and love them just about equally, and the question "do you give up?" is always there, looming, like a sort of Everest with its face all curled, just waiting to call the climb I'm trying "cute". Let me tell you, I walked with the question of what the fuck a supermarket is for at least five miles, traversed along streets studded with shops which might've qualified for the definition, but maybe not...what about them, I wondered, could make them a supermarket? Some of them even had the word "supermarket" in the names plastered on their fronts, and for fuck's sake, they didn't meet the criteria I was searching for. Maddening, it was. And if you live amongst the commercial detritus of the west, I gather you'd have a similar experience in the attempt of a definiton, unless of course you've had the wisdom and foresight to really think about your environs and the places you patronize. Who'm I to say, maybe I'm only representing the feeble, contorted Derpidity over here. Hats off to you if you've got it. But if you don't:

A supermarket is that store which broke modern yet virgin ground solely for the purpose of creating the store.

This might seem insufficient at the outset, but think about it: that corner shop that calls itself "Corner Supermarket" might have it in its name, but the place already existed, as a warehouse or apartment construction, and was merely converted into a shop. A mega appliances outlet on Broadway might have all the fluourescent, bargain-screaming trappings of a supermarket as we've come to know it, but it's a working part of a pre-existing commercial street, it has a history that consists of something beyond the first bulldozer and an adjacent meadow-turned-parking-lot.

The fact that its products might not be of a similar quality to those found at a shop trying its earnest to serve you with the genuine article is important, to be sure. But a more fundamental consideration here is that the supermarket, even outside of the question of its internal quality, creates an external hellhole around itself and all that it touches. The land on which it's built and in a frightening circumference is outright vershtookt; atolls of asphalt, man-made hills, retaining walls, and of course, post-apocalyptic traffic with its attendant smog, frustration, and dis-ease.

In contrast, here's a shot of the internals of a local coffee shop1, that being a place for buying coffee rather than a *$ shoved into your town's newest stripmall (why's it a "stipmall"? Hint: it's not because it occupies a "strip".):

Mmm

This place, discovered on the same five-mile walk described above, is an absolute wonder. This guy's coffee is so good, last time I bought a half-kilo and walked out with it pedestrians on the road stopped me to inquire where I'd gotten coffee that smelled -that great-. And it wasn't even brewed yet. Every time I have a pot of this going in my place, its aroma is the first thing out of the mouths of my guests, a la "Oh my god, that coffee smells wonderful!".

So what's the story of this place? It's on an old corner of a very old street, probably in former years a butchery or clothing store, what's it matter other than that some guy who wanted to make a living selling coffee bought or rented a place, rather than imagining he's part of some new "shopping experience" that's so full of crap it's gotta quarantine itself in a kilometer of six meter high sodium lamps and utterly depressed saplings.

***

  1. For the interested locals, Cafezenda, Cabildo 199 []

2 Responses to “What is a supermarket?”

  1. shinohai says:

    I stopped shopping at "chain" and "big-box" stores about a decade ago, within weeks I *felt* healthier. I feel this is the direct result of no longer buying my food from a place where the majority of shoppers also buy their ill-fitting wardrobe.

    Plenty of open-air markets here during nice weather, there are also a variety of "bodegas" that always smell magnificent when I walk in. Much like your coffee experience, when I buy spices or chiles here they are fresh and real. No artificial pepper flavour-in-a-box.

    Now I have to go shopping this morning, this submission reminds me I have no seltzer in the house, and a bottle of apple wine from a store with a soul couldn't hurt.

  2. han@thewhet says:

    Nice to hear it's still possible to shop that way stateside. Though you're prolly on some sort of hippy dippy appley winely noncompliance roster.

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