Thursday, 17 February 2011

Value For Money
The People's Supermarket in Lamb's Conduit Street, my new Sunday night documentary treat. Food and shopping, these two words collide causing the average person dread. This concept, a little different – the objective to rejuvenate trade of our perishable goods. Manned by volunteers who pledge their time, a supermarket “owned by the people for the people” - a new communitarian form of the grocery shop. “Good food at affordable prices”, the people's chant. Chef, Arthur Potts Dawson, the co-founder of this scheme. Leading from the front to prevent food waste, unfair play, and the likes of Tesco blocking his path. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, Mahatma Gandhi said. Dawson clearly demonstrating this attribute - The People's Supermarket a tide for change?

Ripples on the surface, but absent of waves. The Big Four so far undaunted by its presence. Dawson inspired by a food cooperative in Brooklyn, New York. Here, consumers must be members – you have to join to work and shop. The same principles applied to the British version with one subtle difference. Joe Bloggs off the street can elect to buy. Only members guaranteed a further 10% discount off their weekly stock. This, I feel an error, preferring the American model. Made to join, everybody contributes the same effort – their time, in order to reap the benefits. To shop, you have to work. Pride and community at stake, the project a more secured success. This opt-out clause failing to bring society together.

Reaping what you sow should be the big society's quest. Voluntary work demanded if unemployed or on benefits. A sharing of skills and labour. The People's Supermarket, trusting members to commit. Their challenge: one compulsory shift a month. Four hours all it takes, but it seems this is a lot to ask. Sacrificing previous time a problem, expecting others to do the work. A nation of complainers with little sense of responsibility. Will this scheme flourish or flounder?

Herein my dilemma lies: Is The People's Supermarket any different or better? I hesitate to reply. Surely all supermarkets started out this way, before the acorn grew into a tree. I don't believe the Big Four can be beaten, for it is the industry that needs to change. Its ethos of cheap food for the everyday, forcing suppliers out of business in meeting their quality demands. Judging produce by its size, shape and appearance, much like an anorexic judges herself. The public complying with this shared scrutiny. Arthur Potts Dawson is highlighting these areas, but I desire a more novel approach. Shelves stocked with perfectly edible food waste. Reducing food waste and lessening the burden on the consumer's purse. The industry prevailed upon to act in our interests and stop the food cull.

A future resting on a dream... Recognizing the value of food, allowing our senses to decide. Our judgment discarded of misshapen fruit and veg. A fair wage provided to growers, reflective of their worth. Voluntary work the norm – giving back to the community an essential way of life. A vision emerging: true value for money with a helpful spirit.