Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Evolution of Choice

At approximately the same time every day I am faced with the same dilemma. Do I whore myself out to a faceless conglomerate goliath or 'support' a local independent business? Its a question that I could, and probably should, ask myself more often, listing the pros and cons of each before realising that I am standing in the middle of the road, stroking my chin and holding up traffic. Bike or car? Margarine or butter? Oxfam or Selfridges? All simple questions with simple answers, but I am vaguely sure that each has different repercussions. However, I only ask myself once a day, and suffice to say it is a matter of much importance. Where should I get lunch?

It may seem fairly trifling, compared to wondering whether to buy an organic mango or a nuclear missile on the black market say, but to me it is an equally important issue. My main problem is that every day I am given two diametrically opposed options. If I walk left I get to a small independent deli that has had a few different owners recently and is obviously surviving on the breadline. It is personal, homely, if just a little backwater. If I walk right, I am confronted by Tesco. Solid, dependable, faceless, but nonetheless morally questionable. So there I stand. How do I make my decision? In truth, I don't. I just do, without thinking, without the pressure of making a choice. Am I avoiding the issue? Almost definitely.

Let's review the options. The deli gives me the opportunity to compile my own sandwich from the array of breads and imaginative fillings on offer, whereas Tesco has generic, soggy, plastic packaged tasteless sarnies, often advertised as being 'Finest' if it has any trace of green in it. At the deli the staff are friendly and efficient, often raising a smile of recognition, perhaps making brief chit-chat while they craft my hot pork bap with stuffing, apple sauce AND crackling fresh from the oven, compared to Tesco where the staff are barely capable of basic facial expressions let alone a smile as they shuffle down the aisles like lobotomised-sloths in ill-fitting blue-checked shirts to put a box on top of a same-shaped box with varying degrees of success.

So far, so easy choice you say. But I often fall foul of two heavy-hitting decision makers. One. Tescos is cheaper. This is a terrible excuse. Each time I have to stop myself from thinking 'How far have these cubed pineapple chunks flown to be here?' or 'How many children under the age of ten worked slavishly to construct this cheese and ham panini?' I admit, the latter doesn't come up that often as I don't think Tesco sell paninis, but nonetheless I wouldn't be surprised. People like paninis. The other is even less credible. I find Tescos funny. Not in the Ha-Ha-I-am-selling-my-soul-for-a-sandwich sort of way, but because in my head I created a little ecosystem within the city of stacked shelves. This is not common to all supermarkets of its sort, but in my one it is plain to see. Let me explain.

In the deli, everyone is created equal. The owner will make your cranberry and turkey sandwich as often as the young work-experience girl who seems to have been there for months. In Tescos there is a hierarchy. On the shop floor there are the raft of ill-formed pig-like creatures that roam the aisles snaffling away fallen loo roles and dribbling into the magazine rack hoping to decipher the strange array of symbols we know as words. Then there are the till operators. Superior beings in many ways, but still a sort of toothless food chain has emerged. Once I went in on my morally-repprehensible quest for a non-organic apple-juice and went to pay. The till boy, as he appeared, was a tall, dead-eyed stoner with long curling ginger locks. To my displeasure he made a mistake and tried to charge me £2.80 for a 50p processed juice. However, I was not displeased for long as before my eyes, a magical thing happened. Incapable of solving his simple error he punched a button and within seconds another being in his class, yet with superior intellect emerged. He got further nearly solving the problem, bashing away at the monitor like it was the enigma machine. But he too was defeated. Then, out of the dark and sacred office came the manager. Most mystical of all Tesco inhabitants. She came like a reptile out of the primordial ooze and with one prod had cracked the unbreakable code. It was like watching evolution before my very eyes.

It was at this point that I realised. I go to Tesco occasionally, not because I am unconcerned by climate change or slave-labour, but because I sometimes enjoy it. Nowhere else could I have witnessed such simple beauty. Certainly not in the Deli, where Jeremy Kyle is king, and eccentric sandwiches hide the poor loft insulation or crack-den in the back. How am I to know how they spend their money? So all in all, I have decided. It doesn't matter what I choose, as long as it's funny.

Ian Ravenscroft, Dice Productions

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