It was the great salad revolt that decided me

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The Independent Online
I CAN pinpoint exactly when I fell out of love with the Sainsbury's way of life. I was in the kitchen mixing a greenish salad, tossing together a selection of those interesting tasty leaves that shoppers encounter in Sainsbury's stores, things such as oak leaf lettuce, rocket, feuille de Chine, frisee and lamb's tongue.

My husband looked into the bowl and groaned. 'I'm fed up with frilly salads that look as if they have come from a French nightclub. What on earth is wrong with real lettuce?' The children continued the attack. 'We like salads with green lettuce, tomato and cucumber and we like ordinary vinegar, the sort you put on chips,' the eldest said. My seven- year-old added wistfully, 'for school dinners we have real salad cream with our salad.'

When a state-of-the-art Sainsbury's store opened at the end of my road more than a year ago I was delighted. I too could make those effortlessly superior meals advertised by the stars on television. Visiting friends who shopped at Sainsbury's convinced me they enjoyed superior perks: their barbecues had fragrant hickory chips thrown upon them. They bought balsamic vinegar, dark and mysterious, by the cut-price pint, vacuum-packed ready-to-eat chestnuts, high-juice natural squashes for their kids.

But the reality of shopping at Sainsbury's proved disappointing, compared with the smaller supermarkets and local shops I had used before.

First, it took so much longer, at least 40 minutes more per week. This is because the entire neighbourhood flocks there; first you hunt for a parking space, then you face queues at the checkouts - even on Sundays.

The distance you are expected to trundle your trolley is equivalent to a good hike. I had not expected to encounter the Sainsbury's exhaustion factor but it is horribly real. I arrived there at 9.30am on Friday morning and was still there at 11.45am. One day I returned home, sat on the sofa and woke at 2.30pm. It was time to pick the children up from school. Sainsbury's was taking the best part of the day.

Second, despite all those cut- price offers they advertise, I persistently spent more than I wanted to: perhaps pounds 30 a week - even when I tried steeling myself against temptation. Another drawback was that I kept running into people I knew. A good friend said it was the only supermarket she knew that she put lipstick on for. I found myself reluctantly accepting supper invitations and discussing teachers while pondering the packs of chicken breasts.

In order to avoid all this, and save time, I even experimented by going at 8.30am. But what shop is worth doing that for? It was just at this point that the salad revolt occurred, a month ago. It hit a raw nerve. I was secretly raring for change. There was something relaxing about standing in a local shop watching the assistants weigh the exact produce you wanted. Local traders, who estimate they have lost 30 per cent of their business since the Sainsbury's store opened, welcomed me back. They even carried my bags to the car.

The specialist cheese shop two doors up now sells better unpasteurised cheese than Sainsbury's: even Lenny Henry's chef would be impressed.

Three out of the four butchers around me have closed in recent months. But the one that remains sells fine meat. The children's favourite lunch, believe it or not, is roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. They also love the shop's sausages made into toad-in-the- hole. These were children recently toying with vegetarianism. They also prefer traditional gammon to the slender, sweet-cure packs I bought at the Sainsbury's store. I have also started to make real rice pudding (1 pint of milk, 1 1/2 tablespoons of pudding rice, 1 tablespoon of sugar), at a fraction of the cost of those fiddly yoghurt desserts. It goes down famously.

In truth, I never once made a Sainsbury's celebrity recipe. There was something too manipulative about it all. My final discovery is that the smaller local supermarket I used to despise is a joy to visit. It is deserted. I go there every fortnight for boring basics and there are always plenty of people available to help me pack.

So, until Sainsbury's makes the experience less exhausting and cheaper I will remain a satisfied post-Sainsbury's person. I've been there and I've done it.

And I've been testing out my experience against friends. They too have been put off. We say long live local shops. But my small daughter has yet to amend her version of the famous nursery rhyme. It runs: 'This little piggy went to the supermarket . . .'