A letter in the Sussex Express last week demanded why the group behind the ‘flaky Lewes Pound’ weren’t doing anything to stop local shops like Seymours closing down. The writer spectacularly missed the point: a local currency succeeds if we all spend it where we care. Local currency is a deeply radical means of storing and transferring power. Power that is almost tangible as I hand it to someone whose future I depend upon and vice versa. Where we spend our money is still (for now) an area of great freedom, though few of us (dumbed down as we are) know and act on this information.
This point was graphically illustrated during a rare and deeply unsettling late night visit to Tesco last week in search of lunch box material. Two things in particular upset me: 80% of apple varieties on sale were from New Zealand, none from this isle. Yet England is in the middle of a great apple harvest. I didn’t buy apples that night, partly because they didn’t have a fraction of the life of the picked-that-day apples being sold cheaply by the cheerful Polish guy in the Sunday market. For now, the cost of oil to store and ship them make NZ apples cheaper in terms of the checkout costs, but we are short sighted in patronising supermarkets whose economic model impels us to dismantle our remaining mature local food chains. Second, the checkouts have started to become automated, the slippery slope to less local employment. I still don’t understand the commonly held belief that chains increase local employment: Bill told me that he employs 60 people in his Lewes store alone. The complex cost of buying in supermarkets is hidden from us as we consumers con ourselves into thinking that the money in our pocket is the main thing.
People like me are often accused of coming from a privileged economic position. Not true! Shocking to say, I discovered, when completing our tax return, that our family lives close to the level of the government’s described relative poverty. On the other hand, it’s good to know we’re living proof that pretty much anyone can, if they want to, have a great, healthy local life without it costing the earth.