When we were living in Shanghai in the mid-nineties, we watched as wet markets and the neighborhoods around them fell one after another to wrecking balls and bulldozers. As the city's traditional markets disappeared flourescent-lit Tops supermarkets sprouted on seemingly every other block. A Tops opened in our historical neighborhood of rowhouses about six months before we left the city. It was rarely busy; our neighbors (like us) preferred the fresher meat and produce proffered just a few blocks away at the small shichang (market), which was slated for demolition later in the year.
I rue the day that cities in southeast Asia follow Shanghai's suit and eliminate all but a few wet markets in the name of 'modernization' and 'progress'. I shop at grocery stores in Kuala Lumpur, out of convenience. Every time I do I wish I'd found the time to go to a wet market instead. Supermarkets put me to sleep with their sterility, their predictability, their utter boring-ness.
But they do good, at least in some places.
In India, I was surprised to read, the opportunity to sell direct to supermarkets has helped some farmers escape from a hand-to-mouth existence. Elimination of middlemen, who took advantage of farmers' almost-constant debt to purchase their crops before harvest at below-market prices, has increased farm income and enabled farmers to make investments that will, in the future, bring them more money for better quality (or more desired) crops. Read snippets of the story and see the slideshow here.
Food for thought, for Asian traditional market boosters (and supermarket naysayers) like myself.