Saturday, 13 March 2010
the convenient truth
The proposed Tesco expansion fascinates me. I keep wondering why so many people seem so unconcerned about giving their power and money to a global corporation that doesn’t have our welfare at heart. Far from being true to its strapline – Every Little Helps – Tesco cares mainly for profit. That’s what corporations do. Recent research from the Guardian revealed that in the week before Christmas last year, Tesco raised prices on a large number of items by over 10p average, when people really could have done with a little help but didn’t have time to shop around, while hyping price cuts, the majority of which were under 1p and 10p.
Many of us have a gut feeling that shopping at supermarkets isn’t great for anyone. But, the perceived benefits are price and convenience. Supermarkets are supposedly more convenient for two main reasons.
1. Because you can buy everything under one roof. I remember that smug feeling of loading a week’s shopping in the car after half an hour in the convenience store. But I believe that with a little creativity and willpower, it’s even possible to shop locally mainly from the sofa - ordering deliveries from Infinity Food/Just Trade, a veg box and the milkman, with the odd delivery from Bills to top it up, as I described here, here and here (ooo-er! I have got a bee in my bonnet!)
2. Because food from supermarkets is easier to prepare. I also believe it’s possible to cook, fairly quickly from scratch using the palette of amazing pulses, vegetables, cheeses and other goodies available from local shops. Just take for example the humble baked potato, which can be the basis at least once a week for a sumptuous feast.
And what’s the fuss about convenience anyway? How have we managed to turn the values in our lives upside down so that we’ve relegated what’s essentially a deeply pleasurable and nourishing experience to a drudgery to be rushed through? During my encounter with cancer last year I had time to question our notions of how we spend our time. I realised that once you reconnect time with pleasure, absolutely everything can be a deeply pleasing adventure, whether it’s shopping in local shops or cooking fresh food for family. And the more I honour time, by living simply, locally, slowly, the more juice I get out of life.
Lastly, convenience is the opposite of resilience. The more we vest ourselves in Tesco and the likes the less resilient we are in food, individually, as a community, and nationally. In 2000 during the fuel protests, the chair of Sainsbury had to ask Tony Blair to concede to the truckers because the supermarkets were running out of food. We’re not resilient to sudden food shocks, nor the ‘perfect storm’ predicted of food shortages caused by climate change, energy price hikes and the likes. Basically, we need to move away from convenience and towards local resilience. Transition Town Lewes has invited Patrick Holden, chair of the Soil Association to talk about Food Security in the 21st Century next Wednesday (7.30, £4, Pelham House). It should be fascinating. Meanwhile, let’s fall in love with real food, like chef Dan Barber did in this powerful, humorous short video.