Anyone who has met me knows my opinion of supermarkets. It’s probably the first thing I told them: Wal-Mart, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and yes, even Waitrose – they’re all abhorrent. This week, three major supermarkets announced that they are amongst 300 businesses in the UK looking to halve their food waste by 2030. Am I now backtracking on these longstanding views? Not a chance.
This is a positive initiative from the Government in working towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but to me, praising Tesco for cutting down food waste is like applauding a surgeon for fixing a bone, whilst ignoring a tumour. The bone needs fixing, but the tumour is even more harmful. Food waste reduction doesn’t even get near to the heart of what is wrong with supermarkets, who are quite literally poisoning our populations with sugar and fat-filled, additive-enhanced, innutritious junk.
I believe all people have an absolute right to food. This means every individual should have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, healthy and culturally acceptable food. And, by sufficient, I do not just mean sufficient volume enough to feel full, I mean sufficient nutrition. Sufficient food helps children to grow, strengthens the body, fortifies against disease, boosts the mind and sustains life. Quality food products should have limited ingredients, and each should be easy to understand. Yet a loaf of Tesco own-brand plain white bread contains 13 ingredients, including one emulsifier called ‘Mono- and Di-Acetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids’.
An example I often give is 0-0 flour; in an attempt to create this product that never goes off, all the goodness of natural flour has been removed, leaving a false flour that is in turn used to create bread products with zero nutritional value.
As with so many products, health comes second to convenience and costs.
Citizens, not corporations should be at the heart of our food systems. But the ever-increasing dominance and influence of supermarkets has created a false binary choice: it’s here or nowhere. By doing this they are denying citizens access to sufficient food, and to a full choice of what and how they eat. But there is an alternative.
I own and run Mercato Metropolitano (MM), a movement of people passionate about artisanal, seasonable and natural food, people passionate about community, inclusion and sharing, and about the environment.
At our food market in Southwark, we bring together natural, traceable and unadulterated food, presented on recycled, simple and natural serving-ware. The focus is on the products, artisan producers and customers; not profit margins, processed food and plastic packaging.It is a world free from virtue signalling corporations who can shout “sustainability’ until the cows come home, but who will never truly be sustainable without changing their practices.
Sustainability was once full of meaning, but the term is now a platitude. There may be executives who sleep better at night believing that a paper straw in a glass of Coca Cola is sustainable, but that’s simply not reality. Coca Cola produces over three million tonnes of plastic packaging each year. Having no straw would be better than having a paper straw. Even better would be having no Coca Cola at all.
There’s a sense that times are changing, and that slowly, very slowly, people are changing their ways. David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and scores of under-the-radar individuals are helping us to think about the future of our planet.
But perhaps were moving so slowly because, no matter how many times we’re told about the need to save our planet, it either doesn’t feel urgent or doesn’t feel possible depending on who you ask . It is intangible. It is incomprehensible. Everything we try is just a drop in the plastic-ridden ocean.
To foster real change, we should focus on what people care about: themselves and their communities. Objectives must centre on what businesses and individuals can do for each other and for their local areas – development with humanity at its heart.
I call this ‘Supportive Development’, which we live by at MM, through a number of food-based initiatives, including cookery classes for refugees to provide them with the skills to enter the workforce; urban farming projects to encourage ecologically-sound produce creation all year round; and holiday activities to support food-poor local families.
Reducing food waste is necessary, but it’s the tip of the iceberg as far as I’m concerned. The whole supermarket model is in-conducive to creating the kind of world, city or community I want to be a part of. The sustainability initiatives from them to date are nothing more than virtue-signalling.
MM is inviting people, companies and policymakers across London, the UK and the world to join the movement to change food culture in the country. This is an open invitation for people who believe in:
Healthy, sustainable, living food made with rural, artisanal practices
Supply chains that prioritise quality over price and make good, healthy food available
The importance of community in cities across the world, starting with London