18 January 2012
With the election about to be called, I thought I would take one last opportunity to right off-topic, as it were.
Watching an interesting little doco series on The People's Supermarket, I was struck by a thought - how did we, as in mankind, get to this point?
For those that haven't heard of it, The People's Supermarket is a one-store project by chef Arthur Potts Dawson in London, who is trying to run a store with mainly locally sourced produce, and avoid wasting hundreds of kilograms of waste by using food towards the end of its ‘life'.
TPS is struggling - not enough customers are coming in, and those that do are put off by not having available to them every spice, vegetable, meat and legume known to mankind. Simply put, it's struggling to compete with the big chains in the UK.
So in 2012, the idea of a supermarket using local food and trying to avoid mass waste, is simply too radical to survive. What a sad state of affairs. How did we become like this with our food?
The world has shrunk, in terms of accessibility, and there is no better example than food. I remember living in London, and the cheapest two brands of butter in the supermarket were from New Zealand and Denmark. This from a country with a once burgeoning dairy industry. I'm not going to try to unravel the complicated tariffs, shipping costs and fluctuating currencies, but suffice to say there was once a time when any imported brand was more expensive than the local one. And, at least in most cases, shouldn't it be that way?
Globalisation has brought a lot of benefit, but it seems economic rationale now overrides all else. We grow wool here, send it to China, and then buy back the finished product.
Of course most produce has to travel a certain distance, but as shipping methods have become cheaper, that distance has been increasing exponentially
Take a look in one of the big two supermarket chains, and see just how much fruit and veg is sourced from out of this country. In a country in which we grow so much of it, it really does beggar belief. And you'll also note that the labelling of overseas fresh produce is not exactly overt.
As alluded to, many countries have free trade agreements, different levels of tariffs, and a whole raft of measures that affect the price of food.
But in all cases, the effects of shipping food thousands of kilometers around the globe seems to be an afterthought. Be in carbon in the atmosphere, or bays and harbours dredged to allow bigger ships passage, it seems most of us are happy as long as we have strawberries all year round and affordable French cheese.
I suppose that if The People's Supermarket does fail, it's proof that things are just as consumers like them. So let's hope the tiller starts ringing more often.
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