Saturday, 29 January 2011

Shoppers repent!

Just like shopping malls, there are several categories of supermarkets here, ranging from the kind in a basement where the shop floor itself is used as a warehouse, to the kind with roomy aisles and fruit and veg in wicker baskets. Near my flat, there is one of each, so I use both, depending on whether I need to get food staples or something a bit fancy and European, like wholemeal pasta or creme fraiche. Although I split my food shopping about 50-50 between these two stores, I don't need to tell you at which I end up spending the most money.

In the UK, this category of upmarket supermarket (poshmarket) is similarly pricey and spacious. However, the image of these UK supermarkets, (and indeed their justification for steep price tags) is based not simply on quality, but also on a responsible, organic, or generally 'local' food ethos. And if the produce is from abroad, well, it looks really really authentic, (you can almost smell the llamas) and it's fairtrade too, so that cancels out the carbon footprint guilt. The supermarket I'm thinking of even has its own glossy magazine featuring interviews with smiling, weather-worn, soil-smudged growers, and food photography pitched at that irresistible spot between natural and mouthwatering.  Poshmarket customers pay for good food and peace of mind.

The Hong Kong equivalent isn't, actually - the comparison ends after the price and decor. Because  poshmarkets here are quite the oposite of ethical, responsible, or related notions designed to comfort the western middle class. Here, you'll see perfect pears wearing individual polystyrene skirts. You'll see special onions from Japan (that look exactly like ordinary onions.) You'll see enormous Chinese chicken breasts which don't look like they got that big by gambolling in the fields. And on every shelf, you'll also see the little flags, proudly announcing where the item has been flown in from. It's almost telling you to calculate the kerosene budget:

Another poshmarket enthusiastically flaunts this element in its advertising poster:
In Hong Kong, buying imported food isn't seen as irresponsible; on the contrary, it represents quality, especially if the items come from Europe or Japan. The territory is so small that it needs to import most products anyway, so hey, what are a few extra air miles if it means one can have chorizo? The supermarket shelves suggest that ethical shopping is still a minority trend here. Tastes are sophisticated, but morals less so (my own included).

In an ideal world, I'd have a house on Lantau Island and grow my own food in the garden. In the meantime, I'm still shopping at the poshmarket and doing my bit to destroy the planet whenever I get cravings for camembert.

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