Terry Durack: Stuff Tesco. Some things are more important than low prices

The quality of food seems to be going down with the prices
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The Independent Online

I am miffed. Living in Notting Hill, I had been protected from the power of the "Big Four" (Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Asda). Then the Europa around the corner was closed, only to re-emerge as a Tesco Metro.

Initially, I embraced it. They got me in the door with their amazing deals. I signed up to a Tesco card, and I wondered what all the anti-supermarket fuss was about. Now I know.

At Europa, I could get ham and turkey carved from the leg and a whole bird. I could get Stilton cut from a round. Little things, but there was pleasure in their quality and continuity. Now I have a Tesco and I can get none of these things. There is no deli, just acres of food that is so packaged and primped and processed it is barely recognisable. As for choice, the more own brands there are, the less choice there is. Sure, I can get Tesco tagliatelle, Tesco pre-sliced ham, Tesco pre-sliced roast turkey and Tesco Genoa cake, but I don't want them, I don't trust them and I don't like them.

The quality seems to be going down along with the prices: one tin of Tesco tomatoes was so acidic that it could have written its own restaurant column. As for convenience, I don't find it convenient to trail through aisles of ready-meals I don't buy. I don't find it convenient to stand in queues. I don't find it convenient to be stuck with plastic bags that do not carry recycling symbols. That leaves me with one reason only to visit Tesco: price.

The Office of Fair Trading claims that the competition between the supermarket chains results in lower consumer prices. True enough. But why does it always have to boil down to price? Why can't we be equally obsessed by flavour, or variety, or healthiness? Or fair play?

So now I'm fighting back. I have cut up my Tesco card, and will now support the smaller local stores. This being Notting Hill, that's no real hardship. It means walking around the corner to two great fish shops, and not much further to two great butchers. It means walking the length of Portobello Road to get to Garcia & Sons if I want ham cut from the bone, and buying my fruit and veg from the Portobello Road market.

We have to shop and forage for food, and it is human nature to want to spend as little time and money as possible on the task, which is how the Big Four got to be big. We're too busy or too lazy to do much about it, which means they are only going to get bigger. We will soon have a generation of people without shopping skills: unable to tell a rotten banana from a good one; a day-old fish from a six-day old one; real bread from plastic bread; real food from crap. Shopping is a survival skill. It should be taught in schools, along with self-defence and drug rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, support your local community. Seek out your nearest farmers' markets. Check out local organic box schemes. Every pound diverted from the supermarkets will help independent stores to stay open. Join the campaigns by Friends of The Earth ( www.foe.co.uk) and the Women's Institute ( www.womens-institute.co.uk).

If we could turn shopping for food back into a pleasure, surrounding ourselves with tempting smells and the anticipation of good flavours, the transaction warmed by small courtesies and a little recognition, then the world would be a better place.

Supermarkets are here to stay. I will use them when I have to. Where I have a choice, however, I will not give Tesco my money. But then, I'm luckier than most. I still have a choice.

Terry Durack is The Independent on Sunday's food writer

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