Ethical shoppers

He wears a woollen hat that was made in Peru; it has strings on the side. Alongside him in the aisle his girlfriend holds a shopping list tightly - she seems tense and annoyed. He has a serious look on his face, the sort of look that is required if you are going to pull off a Peruvian hat. She reads aloud from the list and he responds to her tartly: "Jam." "Yes." "Bread." "Yes." "British lamb chops."

But the woman is too late - I am already closing in on the last remaining packet of farm-assured British lamb chops and snatch it first. She scowls at me and takes New Zealand lamb chops instead. Triumphant, I set off in search of aubergines. The supermarket's fruit and veg section is got up like a marketplace from days of yore, littered with handcarts under striped tarpaulins and life-size MDF models of grinning greengrocers in hats. It is a kind of Victorian hell stocked with contemporary fruit: kumquats, mangoes and kiwis.

Beside these interlopers are stacked more conventional fare - apples and pears newly emerged from a winter's hibernation in preservative gases. Here I find the couple again. He plays with his hat strings and broods as his girlfriend ticks off the list: "tomatoes, basil, oranges, grapefruit, avocado . . ." She stops. Something is wrong. "Tim?"

“Yes?" She lifts an avocado out of the basket and asks with suspicion: "Is this Israeli?" “At this time of year?" he responds, with just a touch of defensiveness. "I doubt it. It'll be from Chile."

“You think so, really?" She is unconvinced. He takes the green knobbly fruit from her hand and examines it closely. "Well, it doesn't seem to say." "It should say," his girlfriend responds, taking the avocado back. "It's the law. Somewhere on the product it has to say where it is from." She holds the avocado up to the glare of the strip lighting and revolves it slowly. There is no mark of provenance on it. "Hmm," he says, "never mind."

The woman turns on Tim: "Don't you care about the Palestinians?" She is suddenly furious, though I sense trouble between them does not originate in Jenin or Gaza, but closer to home. "Look," he hisses, aware that I am listening. "If we are going to boycott goods from countries that have shafted the Palestinians, sold them into servitude, denied them a state, killed their leaders, planted another nation on their land
and then armed that nation, we wouldn't buy anything British, would we?"

His hat strings quiver as he gestures at their trolley: the bread, the beetroot and the organic jam. "All this would have to go back for a bloody start." She blanches and stands silently with the avocado in her hand. Quietly, I go back to the meat section, return the British lamb and pick up some New Zealand chops.

Michael Hodges writes the Class Monitor column for the New Statesman. He was named columnist of the year at the 2008 Magazine Design and Journalism Awards for his contributions to Time Out.