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The aisles

Every now and then, out of morbid curiosity, I take a wander down the two aisles I otherwise avoid in the supermarket: you guessed it, household cleaning and personal care. In both, I am overwhelmed by a couple of impressions.

First, and especially in the cleaning aisle, is the air, laden with artificial fragrances that cloy my sense of smell and stifle my breath. These fragrances permeate the air of the whole shop, but are especially concentrated and intense here, so that I fear for the health of the floor workers and feel air masks should be supplied to shoppers venturing into the section.

Along with smell, my sight is assailed on all sides by a clamouring array of brands all vying for my attention. I can’t help noticing how closely the gaudy, clashing rows resemble the rubbish heaps that all this shiny plastic and coloured cardboard packaging will soon help form. Only the ordered layout separates them, really.

Beyond these impressions, if I can bear to stay long enough to look closer, I am struck by the dizzying parade of artificial chemicals including carcinogens, sensitisers, hormone disruptors, and other poisons that adorn the ingredients lists or hide coyly in the fine print. These wonderous substances are all proudly promising to perform a multitude of miracles for shoppers’ homes or bodies.

It all seems such an elaborate, insulting, hollow ruse. Each product trying harder than the next to insinuate its hazardous contents and useless wrappings into some impressionable trolley, and from there to pollute our homes, our environment, and our bodies.

I’m aware that this is just a personal impression. Other shoppers seem unaffected. They breathe normally, pausing here and there to compare a price, glance at a new product, or, more often, reach for a familiar necessity, before hurrying along in search of the next one. Just shopping.