Thursday, 9 September 2010

Incidentally the revolution will be achieved via scones

When I did my first post about Shopping Local, Anna (sorry Anna don’t know your website to link) left me a comment about some books I could read – she mentioned Not On The Label and Tescopoly. Well, our motto here at Useless Beauty Designs is, never do anything without reading a book on it first, so these recommendations were very welcome. So, I have been reading Not On The Label, and also Bad Food Britain and Shopped: the shocking power of Britain’s supermarkets (excuse the Amazon links, they are just to show you. Support your independent bookseller! - I got mine from Oxfam & the library). Well, Shopped, in particular, is quite a page turner. It has everything: suspense, villains, plucky little heroes, it’s great. Now whenever I pick up a book with a title in a big font, Partner looks at me nervously and says, is this one of those books that make you suck your teeth and say, ooooo? Are you going to tell me how I can’t buy wine from Tesco anymore? So, I suspect I may have become something of a bore in my personal life and, I’m sorry readers, but this is one of the benefits of having a blog, now I can bore you all as well. Hooray! Joke! (Kind of!). Basically (although do read Shopped in particular, I thought it was great), this is what I’ve learned:
The Asda Trolleys of Alienation. I knew this photo would come in handy one day and I'm glad it did because I looked daft taking it
- Supermarkets treat their suppliers badly, and pay them such a low price that they cut corners on quality and the way they treat their workers.

- Supermarkets ride roughshod over planning laws, and have various tactics to force councils into granting them permission to build or expand stores, sometimes despite enormous local opposition.

- Supermarkets dictate to suppliers what they should supply, with the result that our farming industry has been changed for the worse and in a way that isn’t now recoverable.

- Supermarkets try to nudge us into buying more value-added (processed) foods and less ingredients, because the profit margin is higher.

- The number of new jobs supermarkets provide doesn’t compensate in number overall for the number of jobs lost in other shops, and the effect of supermarkets on nearby towns is generally pretty rotten.
    When did you last see a mad wooden chicken in a supermarket book section? Shop independent and save the mad wooden chickens!
    Now, I’m sure there’s some bias in the way this is reported in the books I’ve read, and I don’t think all local supermarkets necessarily have a bad effect on the places they’re near – I’m sure some can have a helpful, regenerating effect, and bring some useful competition. Likewise, I’m sure not all suppliers are unhappy with the way they’re treated. However (serious face, finger on lip), I think I’ve read enough to convince me that overall, the way supermarkets operate isn’t beneficial for our health, quality of food, diversity of choice, etc, and I’m no longer comfortable with giving them as much of my money as I was previously. So, this is my Manifesto. These are the things I will do:

    - Replace as much of my supermarket shop as is practicable with things from the market and independent shops. This has been quite a lot of fun so far, and no more trouble than doing a once-a-week shop at the supermarket. It’s just different. (Basically, you have to chat more).

    - Cook as much from scratch as possible. Every time you get your mixing bowl out, Tesco’s share price looks a little bit shakier. Every time you think to yourself ‘I don’t actually believe that the Finest Range is the highest possible peak of gastronomic perfection’, a shiver goes down the spine of Tesco’s chairman. It’s a marvellous revolutionary kind of political act, and it’s even better because you get food at the end of it. Che Guevara might be on a lot of tshirts but he never did anything that produced a cupcake.
      Our northern correspondent, i.e. my mother, has sent me a photo of her fruit and veg that she bought from the market and scones, buns, and bread she baked. So I want you to know that although I have convinced one other person, I don't actually demand photographic proof
      - Educate myself about food. I am not a bad cook by any means but I’m surprised how little I know about cooking seasonal things, basic recipes etc, and ingredients. Indeed I don’t think the fishmonger respected me yesterday when I couldn’t recognise a Sea Bass (or was it a Sea Bream? Who can tell?).

      - Not buy non-food-items or services from supermarkets, because I think they’ve taken over enough of the food part of the retail sector without taking over the rest of it as well. We have our car insurance with Tesco at the moment and I’m going to move it (and yes, I am looking forward to trying to find a really ethical insurer, thanks very much ;-) ). I don’t buy clothes at the moment and the last time I bought something electrical from Tesco it was rubbish (don’t get me started), so I’m not keen to repeat that. So we’re alright until they start selling Malabrigo for 50p a skein in which case I might have a bit of an inner battle.

      - Grow My Own. Well, it’s fair to say I’ve failed this year, but by God it can’t be beyond the wit of woman, can it? So next year is going to see me with a trowel in my hand poking at a sprout top and being marvellously connected to the earth and the food chain.
        How hard can it all be?

        (Aaaaaaand… if you want to know more, there are some good resources at Tescopoly, and some leaflets about the problems with supermarkets at Corporate Watch. I’m just off now to read the one about the problems with supermarket shop local initiatives. Eternal vigilance, people. Eternal vigilance!).


        Marushka C. said...

        Any revolution that involves homemade scones sounds like a good revolution... though i'm having a lot of trouble with the giving up of Amazon. Maybe I need to be evolutionary instead of revolutionary? I do love the farmer's market and we have been eating tomatoes all summer from my husband's micro-garden on the patio. That's progress, I'm sure of it :-)

        Earthenwitch said...

        Helloooo! and thank you for your comment. Completely agree re the scary nature of Tesco's and supermarkets in general, and yes, if Malabrigo goes for that money, it's goodbye ethics and hello knittery!

        Susie said...

        I've got to say, I'm finding giving up Amazon completely difficult too. I will be evolutionary instead of revolutionary along with you, Marushka (although I've been looking at recently and they seem quite good!).

        Hi Earthenwitch, yes ethics could not survive bargain Malabrigo ;-) (if Tesco start selling wool now I'm going to be really scared).

        Spundun said...

        GREAT post and comes just at the time when I cut up my Tesco Clubcard to stop me going there EVER AGAIN, lol!

        I have made a decision to shop locally, buy through a cooperative (Greencity) and to grow some items of my own.

        If only I could control my fibre/books spending habits...

        Anonymous said...

        I'm sure there is a good T shirt logo in there.. "Che Guevara might be on a lot of tshirts but he never did anything that produced a cupcake."..

        up the revolution and pass me a scone!

        JuliaB said...

        Wonderful article, well written! I can recommend Alys Fowler's "Edible garden" book for novice growers. Very inspiring even for the seasoned allotmenteer and veteran anti consumer! It's hard work but worth every penny you save (actually that's an understatment) and every shiver down that chairmans spine! Have fun.

        West/CJ said...

        I can't give up Amazon. They keep me in Kindle books- and Leonidas chocolate, and my Zhena's Gypsy Caramel Apple tea. It's also where I've started buying music since I'm boycotting iTunes.

        But everything else? Brilliant ideas. The problem here is that we literally don't have small local stores. We only have the really big chain stores

        Susie said...

        Thank you everyone! xoxo

        I will try the Alys Fowler book, thanks, I've heard good things about that!

        CJ - have I got to boycott ITunes? I can if I have to, because mine actually doesn't work any more (I am a technological incompetent). I'm not sure boycotting through technological incompetence counts though (but shhhh, they don't know that ;-) ).