Supermarket-free Me: Talking politics

During Lent, I’ve been avoiding supermarkets, writing about them, reading about them, thinking about them, and now I’m starting to wonder why they aren’t more of a political issue.

What do I mean by a ‘political issue’?

Let me try and explain my new, and therefore, immature thinking, on the topic.

Supermarkets are a huge part of everyday life in the UK for many of us. We visit them regularly and spend a significant amount of money in them. Their success has allowed some of the larger chains to expand beyond grocery provision and sell most household items, as well as boast banking services, petrol stations, phone shops and even tv and music stations. They have money and power within the UK.

Supermarkets shape communities in a number of different ways – positive and negative. Here are some examples of the ways in which they do this:

As an employer – both locally in branches, plus nationally and internationally, if you include suppliers abroad.

Physical environment – a store will affect how an area looks, how much traffic is generated and even sometimes where roundabouts, pedestrian crossings etc are placed to allow access to the supermarket by both customers and delivery lorries.

Affordability – supermarkets set prices plus it seems to be the case that the same item can cost different amounts separate branches of the same store, depending on the neighbourhood.

Local business – large supermarkets are infamous for threatening the livelihoods of small businesses who operate nearby.

Foodbanks – some of the large supermarkets chains have initiatives where food is collected and donated to help those in food poverty within the area.

I am sure there are more examples but what I’m beginning to wonder is how much does the average person care about supermarkets and the way they operate? Further still, how much do they interest our elected members of local and national government?

I don’t have answers to these questions but I’m interested to make some progress to find out.

I know that there are people out there who do care about supermarkets and how they affect communities (see my post on Recommended Reading) but I also know that until a year ago I was someone who – almost without thinking about it – used supermarkets. I supported them with my spending (and still do, with the exclusion of Lent). Yet I am someone who says I care about the world and the people around me – do I just not care enough to consider what businesses and practices I’m supporting?

Do our political representatives have an interest in supermarkets and the power they have throughout the UK to attract income and shape communities? Some questions I have are:

• Do local councils negotiate with supermarkets who want to move into an area, for example, by asking them to finance the roads that will serve them or requesting they source any produce locally?

• Are there supermarket chains with links to political parties or that donate to them?

• Is the government initiative workfare operating in any supermarkets in the UK?

I hope it’s obvious from this post that I’m ‘writing as I’m thinking’ to some extent and am looking for answers, as opposed to speaking with authority. I want to see how supermarkets sit in our political landscape – who supports them, who doesn’t, and why.

Or is it just not that simple…

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