Supermarket proliferation is unbounded, tethered only by conscientious objectors. Once majestic on their awesome out of town sites, they have marched relentlessly deeper and deeper into our cities, towns, villages and now, with Tesco's recent convenience store move, even onto the borough high street ­ surely the last preserve of the local shop. They are simply everywhere: garage forecourts, stations, boutique sites in the City, in your drive.
In a world of increasing freedom of choice, the British shopper is entitled to vote with his feet and travel to the local supermarket if he wishes. Competition is a wonderful thing and nowhere does it show itself more clearly than in supermarket retail figures. This is not my point. I simply question the social wisdom, the engineering and the societal consequences of allowing these modern monopolies even greater bites of the cherry.
Food shopping is an intensely personal matter; one is what one eats. Our nation is getting fatter and less healthy. Fewer and fewer people cook. Microwaves are installed ­ not ovens. Eating out is preferred to making something at home. People are taking the easy option and are being strongly encouraged to do this by the supermarket regime. Through the way supermarkets work, our connection with real food is gently being sucked away.
Supermarkets are designed for speed and efficiency. They are not designed for human interface (though the love-bird element might disagree). They are certainly not designed for exactly the sort of personal exchange that the local shopkeeper indulged in. They are de-humanised. In a supermarket, there is no one knowledgeable to turn to; no one is on hand to advise which bit is best to cook; no one provides a handy tip on seasonality. There is no one to have a good natter with. And the direct result of this is a loss of knowledge, a loss of understanding about food, a loss of connectivity with the very stuff we went in to buy.
It may all be there, written in mini letters in six different languages or covered in blood on the inside of the label. But it's not the same; it's not convincing; it's not a human being who means it. Instead we probably won't be cooking the casserole at all; we'll go for the easier microwave option because we're not sure how long to grill a mackerel; we'll forego making the fresh tomato salad because we're not sure of the quantities. We certainly won't be making marmalade this winter, because there's so much choice at the supermarket.
This is a dangerous tactic. It is another notch cut in the stick that measures our individual responsibility. We can become too reliant on the commercial orders of large corporates.
In his Saturday Essay (The Grocer, October 12) Lord Haskins argued for more supermarkets. I argue the exact opposite. We need a better balance on the high street between supermarket and local shop; bring back the people element to food shopping, incentivise the knowledgeable shopkeeper to spread his advice; bring back local expertise; bring back interest in food. Restrict supermarket planning to where existing shops can still survive. They are a vital piece of the jigsaw ­ and we will all be the poorer for their continued demise.