Consider the last time you went on a “cultural excursion.”
Perhaps you watched someone perform traditional dance or music. You could have visited an important landmark or place of worship. Maybe you enjoyed some authentic cuisine prepared by someone with knowledge of food preparations in a particular region of the world.
But have you ever considered visiting a grocery store as a means of cultural experience?
Think about it – food is widely considered to be a central part of how we define as a culture. As a necessary part of life, what and how people eat can offer a great deal of insight into societal customs and attitudes. Just as important as the preparation and eating of the food is the gathering of it.
And this is where the modern day supermarket comes in.
While farmers’ markets and smaller venues of food vending still exist, the overwhelming source of food for citizens in the UK is from the local grocery store, where you should be able to find any type of food you should need, and then some. In Canterbury, there are three main choices for your grocery shopping needs: Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA.
After the first couple of weeks of shopping at Tesco because it was the only one I
knew of, I asked my roommates if there were any other grocery stores in town. Little did I know, this simple question would launch a debate about which place is the best and why.
“It’s simple,” one of my roommates said. “There are three stores, and each one is more industrial than the last. You have little Tesco, then Sainsbury’s and finally ASDA, where you feel like you’re shopping at a warehouse. The prices are cheaper at ASDA, but the quality is best at Tesco.”
Another one of my roommates argued that there is really no big difference. The prices are about the same, but she said Sainsbury’s is average in price and value so it’s the best place to go.
The third roommate in on the discussion argued that the real supermarket in town is ALDI, because it’s German, but that’s another discussion for another time.
Interested in their analysis and having some time to kill, I decided to visit each of the grocery stores for myself to see the differences. What I found were not only differences in price and quality of food but also a notable contrast in the types of people that frequent each store and what sorts of foods are offered.
Each grocery store seems to serve a distinct part of the population in Canterbury, making a visit to each store a different cultural experience.
For example, Tesco tends to cater to the younger, student population of Canterbury with its proximity to the city center and easy access by buses that run by campus. It is smaller than the other two stores, but offers a sufficient variety of foods and a large frozen food section with items that are quick and easy to prepare, which cater to the needs of young (and perhaps lazy) people living the college lifestyle.
On the other hand, Sainsbury’s is further away from the city center, and it offers a wider variety of foods in general, as well as a greater selection of foods that could be considered “English.” This store seems to be frequented more by young families and English students who live off campus.
Finally, there is ASDA, the industrial superstore of Canterbury that offers a selection of furniture, toys and electronics in addition to the food lining the fluorescently lit aisles.
This store seems to be more for families who live in the surrounding areas of Canterbury, but not necessarily in the center of the city or near the university. It has the greatest selection of traditional English food, as well as the sterile and impersonal feel of a corporate powerhouse.
I could go on for days about the little differences in each store, from the Starbucks installed at one to the extremely efficient self-service kiosks at another.
However, the real point is that you don’t have to go to an exotic market or on a hunt to kill an animal to experience the culture involved with food gathering.
The local supermarket is full of just as many cultural nuances and interesting surprises worth observing, if you’re in the mood to learn about the mysterious behavior of human beings in the modern age.