Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Are Supermarkets Making Us Stupid?

A couple of weeks ago, the Metro published a worrying article. This is not news in itself; they do this everyday, but the article in question was particularly worrying to the food-minded amongst us.

One in three of 16 - 23 year olds, the article suggested, don't have the foggiest that bacon comes from a pig. Based on a survey of 2000 adults, other concerning results included that one third also don't know  that an egg comes from a chicken or that milk comes from a cow.

What the Metro didn't answer, however, was who is to blame for this farce-of-a-gap in general knowledge. How is it possible to reach adulthood without knowing the origins of milk?

I suppose the easiest direction in which to point the finger is education. As ever, if in doubt, blame the curriculum. I, however, say blame it on the parents. And the supermarkets.

You see, whilst the curriculum may seem like a good place to start, the truth is that when you actually imagine it, it doesn't really matter what stage of compulsory education you're at, being sat in a lesson and having a teacher tell you that butter comes from milk seems downright patronising and ridiculous. You can just imagine the homework: "join the the pretty pictures of the animals and plants on the left to the foodstuff on the right with a gaudy pink line."

No. The fact is it should be learned before one even reaches the education stage (but preferably after birth - which seems to be an ever-lessening epoch). I'm quite sure that these kinds of facts are learned at the same time as one learns the meaning of the words 'cow' and 'milk' in the picture books.

As soon as a toddler has mastered the ken that a pink, rotund animal with a cute, flat snout and adorable, floppy ears is known as 'pig', it stands to follow that it should soon learn that that is where a bacon sarnie comes from (not that you're likely to ever see those two side by side in a picture book). That way he/she can from an early age have some appreciation of the value of meat, that it comes from a living animal, and not be potentially shocked and horrified when he/she discovers years later. If the bacon and pig illustration doesn't work for you, then at least the cow and milk equivalent should.

So the parents, then, should be largely responsible as they are the chief teachers at this early stage of life. On the other hand, I can't help but wonder about the responsibility of the supermarkets.  When interviewing Rose Prince for my video news feature, she spoke of how the supermarkets have removed the vital educational process from food shopping (you can read more of her thoughts on the subject in Kitchenella).

Instead of standing next to our mothers and gleaning, whether consciously or not, scraps of knowledge as she converses with the butcher, baker or greengrocer, we, as children, simply sit in a trolley and are whisked around air conditioned aisles, surrounded by a steadily increasing mountain of plastic, glass and card packages.

There is very little in the way of interaction and nothing in the way of learning. We don't value the fact that the packet of mince beef has come from a living animal with a beating heart. In fact, it wouldn't really surprise me if children nowadays, when asked about the origins of beef, chicken, pork etc would answer that it came from the 'supermarket' or 'plastic, cellophane wrapped tray' rather than 'cow', er, 'chicken' and 'pig'.

It's no wonder that supermarket aisles are always filled with moaning children - it's because they're not learning anything. In fact, they don't even know why they are there. The reality is that they think they're at the dentist.

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