Markets vs. supermarkets

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I’ve noticed lately that supermarkets in their advertising tend to use two kinds of images. One is of a grocery cart spilling over with healthy produce; fresh, colourful fruits and vegetables. The other is of the supermarket itself, with row after row of heavily processed foods neatly arrayed in boxes, cans, and jars. The second photo seems the more honest one, as most of the space of supermarkets is taken up by highly processed foods. Supermarkets are part of the reason for a shift from traditional, healthy diets consisting mostly of fresh and minimally processed ingredients (such as grains, legumes, and fresh meat) to heavily processed foods laden with added fat, salt, and sugar, not to mention an array of chemical colourings, flavourings, and preservatives.

Healthy living requires healthy eating, and often the best place to buy fresh, local healthy foods without the temptation of buying highly-processed junk masquerading as food is in traditional markets. Markets are also a fun place to go. They provide lots of people with jobs. They shift more of the food dollar to farmers than do supermarkets. And they support small, independent businesses and thus a thriving local economy

Governments sometimes decide to ban markets and street vendors, whether to please the owners of supermarkets or because of wrong-minded ideas of “modernity” and “development.” But we need not sit quietly by and accept such bans…as experience in Vietnam has shown. The largely successful efforts of HealthBridge Vietnam to resist such bans are written up in the Oxfam’s Gender & Development journal: “Campaigning to save market women's livelihoods in Hanoi: experience from HealthBridge.” You can access the article in our Library.