Walking around the shop with my partner Pete I am confused. The usual products I grab from the supermarket shelves are rejected by him and in their place he loads the trolley with brands I have never heard of. Dale Farm yoghurts, Tayto crisps, a whole world of wheaten bread and tray bakes, all of which appear to be produced by local farms and business’s.
We are in Northern Ireland, a country effectively isolated from the ravages of big business by the ‘troubles.’ A country at war with itself presumably does not attract investment but neither, it seems, does it attract Tesco.
This latter absence can only be positive. Instead of Tesco and it’s brethren dominating every high street and out pricing the local butchers, bakers and greengrocers, Northern Irish High Streets are full of the local. Shops where the food is created by the neighbours, livestock is slaughtered close to farms, not shipped around the country in viscous, freight trucks, people have time to stop and talk.
The food Pete picks is delicious, full of flavour and character and people relish their local produce but I fear for it. Fear that as things settle down a little in this country the march of homogeneity will begin.
Outside, on the edges of larger towns, big business circles ready to pounce, Harry Ramsdens, KFC and of course Tesco. Outside town it is 2017, in town it is still 1960. Unless the Northern Irish learn from England’s mistakes their quirky and healthy and local will go the way of our own, only available to those who can afford high prices and ‘gourmet’ food halls. Their farmers, like ours, will be made slaves to the supermarket giants and their price controls.
I want to shake the people with their trolleys of soda farls and say ‘please keep valuing it. Resist the twinkle and free parking of out of town malls. See what the troubles have bought you. Sanctuary. A chance to do right what we got so wrong.’