Supermarkets: a means to supply people with fresh, healthy, and affordable food that supports the livelihoods of their producers. Or so they claim. Unfortunately, the reality is a certain ugliness embedded within supermarket culture – one that’s quite representative of the Big Food industry as a whole.
So what really goes on behind the big discounts, boundless imported produce, and highstreet monopolies? These books have all the answers.
Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets
While the supermarkets’ sterile environment may kill off any pleasure or romanticism otherwise associated with food, they’re a hotbed for an industry driven by profit. No matter the cost. In Swallow This, Blythman picks up on the self-perpetuating war on mass produced food. When one ingredient or additive is denounced for its affects on the health of a nation, an even more nefarious substance will take its place (as is the case with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, or butter and margarine). Swallow This should come with a warning that, after reading, there are some things you will never want to put in your mouth again.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma
We need to change the food system, or it’ll change us. That’s one of the running themes throughout The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s most recognised exposé on the wider industry which provides us our food. Pollan calls for the intricacies of the modern food chain (he traces the making of a MacDonald’s burger from a cornfield in Iowa to the sandwiched beef patty in his hand) to be reeled back to a more localised way of procuring and consuming food, particularly in the interest of dulling the impact the food system is having on the environment.
What to Eat
This is the book Michael Pollan describes as ‘absolutely indispensable.’ Emphatic words for a 600-page tome that is at times not the easiest to read due to its almost encyclopaedic nature. However, Marion Nestle is as – if not more – knowledgeable and informed than anyone in her field.
In What to Eat, Nestle asks the reader (it’s definitely a case of ‘asking’ rather than ‘imploring’) to recognise most food sold to us is more about profit and less about quality and nutrition. In tying to reach a state of happiness with a wholesome diet, this is the book to consider.
Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat
Intensively farmed meat is often dismissed as an exclusively American problem. But anyone thinking the UK somehow escapes all this is reminded by Lymbery, the Compassion in World Farming CEO, that A) the UK does, and will continue to, follow America’s example, and B) this is a global problem in which all countries are interconnected. South American forests, for example, are routinely wiped out to sow the soy bean to feed pigs and chickens in China. Lymbery points out how these are the foundations upon which supermarkets rely, and it’s a basis that will result in a ‘Farmageddon’, if things stay as they are.
Not on the Label: What Really Goes Into the Food On Your Plate
Since its release in 2004, this book has been changing the shopping habits of those who read it. For many readers, it disclosed the consequences of supermarket food, and for the first time provided the eureka moment as to where our food comes from. The conversations Lawrence has with exploited and benefit-bereft migrant workers hits home the most. Yes, it’s more than a decade old and some food standards have moved on since then. But, the fact we’re talking about the same issues all these years later puts into perspective how things can only improve if we collectively take action.
Tescopoly: How One Shop Came Out on Top and Why it Matters
Though expansion has slowed in recent years, supermarkets continue to snuff out the lives of local economies. Villages, towns and city neighbourhoods are becoming homogenised and faceless, and there’s not much communities can do about it (with the odd welcome exception). Simms’ book looks at how supermarkets, Tesco in particular, are erasing facets of British culture that we hold dear. It begs the question – should we really be adding to their profits?