Local 4 Lent
“What are you giving up?” I was asked at work last week. Britain is a largely secular country, and yet the idea of Lenten penance prevails. I wonder if we simply realise that self-discipline, be it Dry January, WeightWatchers or the gym, is easier to keep up if we do it together. We know that some of our ways that aren’t good for us or for the planet, and a time to do it in a more focused way makes sense.
A few years ago, I came across #Local4Lent. It’s a social media campaign to encourage people to think more carefully about how and where they buy food and other goods. Rather than giving up, it encourages us to make positive choices about our shopping, preferring independent shops and suppliers in our own area to big supermarkets and online retailers.
I’m not against supermarkets. They’re an accepted part of life and can be very useful, and I shop there regularly. However, their huge economic weight and their need to sell vast quantities of identical produce can be problematic. For instance, I pass fields of asparagus on my way to work during the spring and early summer. I can buy Kenyan asparagus at any time of year in my local supermarket. Think of the pollution involved in shipping tons of un-seasonal veg across the globe. In summer, I can buy English asparagus there. Even if I could buy my local farmer’s, though, it would have been transported to a packing factory in Lincolnshire, thence to a distribution centre in the east midlands, and finally back up here to Yorkshire.
There’s also the question of who’s being paid what. I did some research into milk prices. A popular supermarket sells a litre of semi-skimmed milk at 79p. I looked up what it costs the average farmer to produce milk. The answer varies from 26.7p to 36.6p, but that supermarket only pays its supplier 27.11p. (sources https://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/market-information/farming-data/estimated-gb-milk-production-costs/#.XIa_srjLdhE and https://www.foodmanufacture.co.uk/Article/2018/03/27/Manufacturers-pay-more-for-dairy-giant-s-milk ) While I accept that the supermarket isn’t making a full 52p profit, what profit it makes is syphoned from the rural economy to the finance houses and pension funds that tend to be institutional shareholders in those companies.
When we choose local produce and/or local, independent shops over big companies, we are contributing a much greater percentage of our spending to our own communities, to our neighbours, to the people paying – with us – for our roads, schools, libraries and social care services. We are keeping our own region alive and healthy.
I wrote last week about the obvious love the producers I met in Wales have for their products. I’m sure every producer has such love. In my own area, there are farmers who have diversified into curing and charcuterie, distilleries, tea and coffee importers, chocolatiers, and cheesemakers. We are lucky to have a fantastic fishmonger in the town, but I’ve had to change butchers 3 times since we’ve lived her, as one after the other has had to close. The monthly farmers’ market does well, but our nearest weekly market is struggling.
The point focused times like Dry January, diets and Lent is that the changes you make become habits. You won’t transform your life completely, but you’ll start to notice better opportunities, interesting local products. Even within most supermarkets, you can usually see a section for produce from your own region. We’ve managed to find a local milkman, who not only delivers locally-produced milk, he brings it in reusable glass bottles, too! Our nearest deli serves delicious cakes and fabulous salads. No coffee-shop chain can match them for quality, and there’s little difference in price. I still spend a fortune on Italian wine and French brandy, but I buy from an independent wine merchant, who’s always happy to chew the fat, regale me with news of his last visit to Jerez or ponder with me which of his wines will suit the fish dish I’m serving next week. People who love what they produce love to tell you about it. Shopping becomes a social occasion.
You can find out more about #Local4Lent by filtering the hashtag or following on Twitter, or find it’s page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Local4Lent/
Next time: vermut, a Catalan obsession