When I started the Greenspace project, I wasn’t as clear on this issue as I am now. Most of us feel that we have to use the supermarket, whether or not we enjoy the grim carpark, the harsh lighting and brutalist design aesthetic.
As I gain a deeper understanding of how retail works though, it seems to me that the scaled up model that the supermarket represents will always be ugly, will always tend towards the chemical industrial model, will always generate huge amounts of waste. I have come to realise that the expectation that the supermarkets have serviced for us, that we can have most of the foods most of the time is inherently biased against sustainability. The supermarket system has created deep weaknesses in our food security as we have slowly but surely given away our food autonomy. Humans have always had to take an interest in where the next meal was coming from, and the supermarket system has created a false sense of security for many, while allowing real starvation half a world away.
Because it operates on a high turnover model, ‘economies of scale’ mean that the supermarket is usually in a position to offer the best price to the purchaser, and in this world where money is the defining value, most people choose the cheapest option – it’s our way of getting the most for the least. And it makes sense if we are able to disconnect our lives from the lives of the growers and the land itself.
This ‘buy big, sell cheap’ model is what drives forward the chemical monocultural farming practices that are so damaging to the living ecosystems our planetary health depends upon. And we do have the option to refuse.
Some of us really have to be careful about where our money goes, I totally appreciate that. But every dollar you are able to divert to a smaller business helps create the world we want to grow, supporting smaller farms and hands-on makers, and relaxed and humane trading posts.
Small regenerative/permaculture/biodynamic/indigenous networks seem to me the only way to a more connected food system. If we support local growers and makers we create true local abundance. Because when we are working at human scale, we want to take the time for beauty, for pleasure, for tidying up after ourselves. When we are more closely connected with the systems that support us, we can reach out and touch them and make them better.
If I see you in the supermarket we can smile and roll our eyes and understand that we are all compromised. But we do this holding the knowledge that every dollar we spend there is inherently a vote for the oil companies, the chemical and genetic engineering companies, the strangely embodied corporations who have taken out patents on life, the life that belongs to us all. Let’s vote the other way every chance we get.