The term ‘local’ went on the typical trajectory of ideas the media gets hold of: from exciting concept to buzzword to, finally, being consigned to the graveyard of words that have, paradoxically, been used so much they are devoid of meaning.
I work in an environment (finance) that embodies cynical acceptance, so I would never dare to talk about the local versus corporate argument, to question the indomitable market forces that result in Sainsbury’s Locals sprouting like leg hair. But then a change in circumstances forced my hand.
I moved last year from Belsize Park to Camberwell. ‘Bit of a change,’ remarked my stepdad euphemistically as we drove down the Walworth Road. Most people’s reactions were either ‘Why?’ or ‘Where’s Camberwell?’.
While Camberwell Green may be no Hampstead Heath, I find I prefer my new locale because it’s, well… more local. Gone are the Pizza Express, three Starbucks, M&S, Costa, Chez Gérard, GBK and Giraffe that were all within a five-minute walk of my old flat.
I’m generalising of course: there are chains in Camberwell. But I have found myself shopping more in local shops because they offer a good alternative. The Italian restaurant Caravaggio sells any takeaway pizza for £6 (equivalent at Domino’s = £16 and gross), while at my local grocer you can just buy what you need, avoiding any waste or packaging. For a proper meal out, Angels & Gypsies is divine.
I’m not against corporations or chains, but living in an area that is relatively free of them for a London borough has made me feel more connected to my surroundings and saved me money. What I object to is the lazy assumption that they’re cheaper and more convenient, and, as we live by this, the slow, blind march towards uniformity, disconnection and inequality. (I’ve included inequality because corporate spending on advertising and marketing creates barriers to market entry for other would-be business owners, thus giving power to the dominant, established players.)
The point, really, is that we live in a consumerist society. So while we sign petitions against a new Sainsbury’s Local and protest about inequality, the most powerful thing we will ever do is spend money… or not. Like all social systems, capitalism is a system of control, but, unlike other systems, the wonderful thing about it is that it gives room for non-violent revolution. We don’t have to overthrow dictators, we just have to decide which businesses we want to support. The important thing is to make it a conscious decision. With consumerism, the problem really isn’t with power; it’s with the realisation of it.
Image by secretlondon123