It is too much a generalisation to say that for my generation, politicisation came on the back of understanding ourselves as a global market. In my early twenties, I still thought ethical shopping was the way to change things, buy the things from the bit of capitalism which comes with feel good, shop capitalism down. Just the process of doing this, or attempting to, opened my eyes and to be honest it didn’t last more than a few years.
What started as a pledge not to buy Nestle or Coca Cola, became a journey into the murky depths of the financial pages that couldn’t end.
I walk into a supermarket and if I am honest I don’t see choice, I see a few major companies, a lot of brands owned by those companies and money being poured into a drain that does not help me or mine in anyway. I see endless uniform shelves, with uniform products and a lot of variety in packaging.
I don’t know when it happened, but I know those early unsuccessful years of trying to ethical shop changed the way I view the supermarkets. I know the woman making the £3 dress is trapped by the same poverty that means it will be bought. I know farmers who have been destroyed by Tescos, and you only have to wander round Burnley to see what those giant leech supermarkets leave in their wake. The food sold in most supermarkets is of an appalling quality and I would challenge anyone who said Tescos was a place to make savings, even if the ease with which they accommodate mothers and babies made them a regular destination when R was small. I know that every sensation I have in there is designed to make me forget to count the pennies.
This piece in the FT suggests that consumers are eschewing British products, because they aren’t buying the products supermarkets have put flags on, and asks if these means they are putting pennies over jobs. While the rest of the products supermarkets sell contribute little to Britain, and their wage bills are subsidised by the tax credits which ensure our political parties have to demonise the mothers providing that cheap labour. The protests which are most likely to snowball within a community, outside the traditional toxic left, are the ones against supermarkets. British consumers ARE trying to buy British, but we live in a country where supermarkets create deserts where only what they have on offer is available.
Locally, market traders are sighing with relief as Sainsbury’s finally permanently pulled out of their plans for a new supermarket. Sainsbury’s have already been beaten at the various planning and consultation dances they thought were a formality, but the strength of their resources ensured it was not a problem. Now they say they are ‘choosing’ not to come to a town who did not want them. We still face threats from Asda and riots about Tesco in Ireland came down to the fact that no one had had the ability to say no.
I don’t ‘ethical shop’ any more. From where I sit I can see at least 3 nestles products and a bit of procter and gamble. I am not beating myself up every time I buy something. But I do buy local, and when a choice is open to me I choose to give my money to companies who benefit me and mine. There are no opportunities to do that in a supermarket.