Blog: Footsore and feeling green

Catherine Sleep | 16 June 2004

Reporting from the CIES World Food Business Summit, Rome

Just back from a hectic morning visiting Rome’s brightest and best supermarkets. Well, maybe not, but our official tour did take in some pretty impressive Pam and Auchan hypermarkets and a Coop Italia, my favourite by far.

I feel absolutely green with envy at the range of fresh food on offer. It’s the tomatoes that kill me most. Not only are they properly red, except the ones specifically sold as green, but they smell like tomatoes used to. I was also bowled over by the most incredible range of seafood, both fresh and frozen. Considering the UK is a coastal nation, we see pitifully little fish and seafood in our shops. There are all sorts of reasons for that, but it’s regrettable.

The horse meat I could have done without (why is it that we Brits are squeamish when it comes to equine edibles?). As for the wine sections, well, one could have been forgiven for thinking that nobody outside Italy actually makes the stuff. When it comes to vino, the Italians are certainly thinking local.

Planning regulations being what they are, few of us shop for food at hypermarkets in the UK, so I was curious. The atmosphere in the two hypermarkets was a little sterile, but how much merchandising excitement can you expect to generate at 8.30 in the morning? All in all, the range and quality of produce on offer has left me feeling rather short-changed in the UK. But then, perhaps the most revealing statistic I’ve learned so far is that the top 17 food retailers in Italy together command just 55% of the market. The picture is rather different at home.

In other matters, I’m sorry to report that my feet are already killing me so I might have to resort to the far less flattering flat shoes tomorrow. Mind you, that might assist me in my ongoing battle to achieve the usually quite easy task known as “crossing a road”. Things are different here. Roman drivers seem to view pedestrians not so much as an inconvenience as a challenge. Even the green man at the traffic signal looks uncertain. When he gives you the go-ahead, in no way is he telling you it’s safe to cross the road, like in the UK (well, mostly). It’s more of a gentle pointer, an indication that, according to rumour, somebody once made it across at this point, and maybe, with a fair wind behind you and a bit of good fortune, so might you.

Ooh, minor excitement has just erupted as a crowd from Greenpeace have rocked up with mammoth speakers demonstrating about GM food and animal rights. I guess we all really know we’re at a summit now.


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