I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of the meals I have eaten in my life have been prepared from food purchased from a supermarket. If you're reading this, I'd say that is true of your life as well. My first workplace, at which I spent six and a half years, was a supermarket.The supermarket has been a defining institution in my life, for whatever that is worth.
Since I settled in to my new home, I've been buying my fruit, vegetables and meat from the Queen Victoria Market. Considering it's only a quick walk (or an even quicker tram trip) from the flat, I figured I would probably get cheaper, fresher food and a more vibrant experience than shopping at the supermarket. So now part of my Saturday morning routine is making a list of the ingredients that I'm going to need for my week's meals and then trekking out to the market. This might seem odd, but I feel like making this change has been somewhat challenging for me.
The supermarket, to me, is all about convenience. It has everything you might need to sustain yourself and your family available in one handy location. Fruit and vegetables glisten under bright, fluorescent lighting. Shelves are neatly stacked by people in coloured uniforms that are almost as neat. Trolleys rattle, click and wobble; registers chime and beep as products are scanned and paid for. Aisles logically progress from one category to another, carefully laid out and signposted. It's an extremely orderly, controlled experience; one perfectly suited to the suburban lifestyle.
I know what you're thinking. Ugh, listen to this guy. Five weeks after moving to the city and he's already looking down his nose at the way he did things before. Believe me when I say that I'm not trying to make any value judgements here. It's not my intention to be critical of anybody's way of life; I'm really just looking to think about these different ways of doing things and what it might mean for us as people. I'm not an expert of the way food is grown, transported or sold, so I don't want to make any statements or comparisons between the alternatives from that perspective either. I'm just fascinated by the contrast of the two different experiences.
At around midday each Saturday, I'll grab my trusty black backpack, tie my shoes and get busy on crossing things off my list. Compared to what I'm used to, it's anarchic. It's loud. It's busy. People of every nationality are selling and buying. There is produce I've seen an eaten a million times and there are things that are entirely new to me. Try to visualise me with my bag slung over one shoulder, my list in one hand and a clenched fist grasping gold and silver coins in the other. It's pandemonium, and it's beautiful. It can also be stressful, but I think it's worth it.
It's fascinating to me to think that in some many places in the world, this is the normal way of shopping for groceries. What looks like chaos to me is probably utterly boring for the majority of the people who wheel their carts or trolleys up to the stalls each week. Modern life has taken away so many of the inconveniences and frustrations of our everyday lives, and for many of these I'm eternally grateful. The flushing toilet. The gas stove. Running water. The air conditioner. I realise we are extremely privileged to be living in a world where we can dispose of our poop with the press of a button, I can assure you. If you ask me, a controlled, orderly life has many things to recommend it. Having said that, seeing the way things work at the stalls these last few weeks has shown me that sometimes a little bit of craziness and disorder can be just as beautiful as the flawless, shiny apples stacked neatly on a display.