This is my fifth trip to Spain and the first trip that I notice the total takeover of the supermarket: Mercadona, Dia, and Hipercor (the “hyper” in this one-stop-shopping megastore suggests a new lifestyle for Spaniards) which is a subsidiary of El Corte Ingles, a department store founded in 1940 by Ramon Areces. This corporation also operates two grocery stores, Supercor and Opencor, as well as home improvement center, Bricor, and fashion chain, Sfera.
Why am I writing about the grocery store? Because a way of life, food shopping, is disappearing in Spain. As late as 2007 women visited as many as ten stores per day (in high heels, of course) to buy the fresh ingredients for that day’s big meal. Small merchants specialized in foods as the names of these old fashioned stores denote: la lecheria, la queseria, la panaderia, la pescaderia, la pasteleria, la carniceria, and la salchicheria, to name just a few. Fruits and vegetables were purchased at “la fruteria” or the weekly market.
I went to Segovia’s Thursday market in the plaza to buy pastries for my students. I could not resist the olive stand which offered at least twenty different kinds. Two senoras were ahead of me. Not thinking that I could understand their language they complained to each other that I had not taken a number. A third senora arrived, a neighbor friend, and she was quickly dispatched to get a number before me. Their cackling made me more obstinate than ever. Why should I take a number? Surely the olive seller is bright enough to know that I am third in line. Then I saw my chance. Observing that the neighbor friend had left the scene I took a number as the first two senoras were finishing their purchases. Right away her number was called but the third senora was nowhere in sight. I stepped up with the next number in line and smiled victoriously to the senoras. Next week I hope to repeat this competition.
Humor aside, the shift to supermarket shopping has changed the way Spaniards procure, store and prepare food. Refrigerators are full-sized and the practice of chilling foods like milk, eggs or meats on a shelf outside the kitchen window is out of date. Freezers, previously tiny or unavailable, are now essential. Women food shop once or twice a week because they work. Some have families. Once more I am conflicted about this change in Spanish society. I do not wish daily food shopping on today’s women (I despise grocery shopping myself). Nor do I wish on the older generation the toil and trouble of walking blocks and blocks every morning to food shop. Today their bulbous ankles tell the story of this lifestyle from the past.
However I am sorry for the local grocers and their families who lost their livelihood. It is not that I am not for progress. It is that I have my doubts about the progress of a few megachain grocery stores feeding Spanish homes.