Louise Ashcroft

Exotic Vegetable


The artist smuggles an exotic vegetable, purchased from an ethnic food store, into several high street supermarkets and attempts to buy it at the till.

The selected transcripts are based on hidden camera footage taken by the artist on two enactments of this piece.

Marks and Spencer, High Street, Oxford

I smuggle the exotic vegetable into Marks and Spencer inside my sleeve, then carefully slip it out into my hand. I walk around the store for a few minutes and then head towards the tills. I place the vegetable on the counter and the Cashier peers at it. The store is noisy and a promotional announcement can be heard above the beeping of the checkout.

Cashier 1: (a middle aged woman with short grey hair and an abrupt manner): “What is this? It’s interesting.”

Me: “Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

Cashier 1:  “You don’t know what it’s called?”

Me: “Er, no.”

(Cashier 1 turns to Cashier 2 as she passes by.)

Cashier 1: (to Cashier 2) “Any ideas what that is?”

Cashier 2 (cheerful, fat lady, of a similar age to Cashier 1, but with longer hair and a local accent): “Ooh, I say! …a cucumber?” (laughs)

Cashier 1: “I’ll look under marrow, it’s not a courgette is it?”

Me: "I don't know."

(Cashier 3 approaches)

Cashier 3 (a slim, brown haired woman in mid forties, seems to have more responsibility than the other cashiers,

perhaps she is the team leader? She is assertive and upright): "Can you tell me where you got it from?"

Me: "Erm, just over past the oranges. … I don't know if there were other ones there."

Cashier 3 (she wanders off to check the oranges, then returns): "Well, there's definitely none here."

Me (turning back to Cashier 1): "...I think it's a vegetable."

Cashier 1: "Yeah, I’ve gone through the vegetables, there's no vegetables that look like it at all."

(Store Manager appears)

Manager (young Italian man with strong accent, doesn’t look as though he should be in charge, but appears in control. Turns to Cashier 1): "Hello Marie..."

Cashier 1: "Hello, yes…" (shows him the vegetable)

Manager: "Well, this is... I'm sorry,” (turns to me) “where did you find this?"

Me: (pointing) "Over there".

Cashier 1: "Were there lots of them?"

Me: "No, er... I don't know, I assume there were others, but…"

Cashier 1: (to Manager): "Perhaps someone's put it down."

Manager (his accent gets stronger as he gets frustrated): "I am afraid someone shopping at another store has come in and they left it here, because..."

Cashier 1: "We don't sell it!"

Manager: "We haven't got this.

Me: "OK."

Manager: "I mean, I can go check again, but…"

Me: "Well, can I have it anyway then?"

Cashier 1: (to Manager) "Can she have it anyway?"

Manager: "Yeah, yeah, of course."

Me: "OK, thanks."

Cashier 1: "Well then, off you go then".

Me: "Thanks very much.”

(I leave the store, holding the vegetable)



Sainsbury's, The Westgate Shopping Centre, Oxford

I smuggle the exotic vegetable into Sainsbury’s inside my sleeve, then carefully slip it out into my hand. I walk around the store for a few minutes and then head towards the tills. I wait in the queue and place the vegetable on the counter. There are sounds of tills beeping and the man and woman directly behind me in the queue are discussing the football results with the cashier. The cashier begins to serve me.

Cashier (a uniformed man in early twenties sitting behind the cash desk. He has short light brown hair and a nice smile. He looks as though he is new to the job. He pauses to consider the item, looks baffled as he searches through the till categories, then looks at me, confused).

Me: “It’s a novelty vegetable”

Cashier: "A novelty vegetable, right then, ok... I’ll call it… a carrot."

Me:  "A carrot?"

Cashier: "Erm, you see its obviously not, but I've no idea what it is, so..."

Man in queue  (a middle class football supporter with short dark hair wearing a long dark overcoat. He is in his late forties and is tall and thin. Turning to me): "You'll probably get away better with a carrot than with whatever that is."

Cashier: "Well exactly."

Woman in queue (she is the wife of the man in the queue. Late forties with short grey hair, a slight figure and smart clothes):

"A cucumber... erm?" (she laughs)

Cashier (weighs it): "There you go…nine pence!"

(I hand him a ten pence piece, he gives me change and a receipt.)

Woman in queue: "9p, that's value!" (laughs).

Man in queue (as the Cashier begins to serve him): "We've just got lots of different flavoured carrots!" (he chuckles)

Cashier: "Meat flavoured carrots..." (he laughs)

Woman in queue (laughing): “Yes”.

Cashier: "… cauliflower flavoured carrots". (they all laugh)

Me: "Thanks very much."

(I leave the shop with the vegetable in a carrier bag.)