A Better Way? What can food co-operatives offer in the Age of the Supermarket?


“A Better Way?” wants to examine the case for food co-ops in conversation with people knowledgeable in the field.

Originally broadcasted on Londnon Resonance FM 104.4 Saturday 7th July 2012 12.00 – 13.00

Listen here:  Audio Archive:  Food Co-ops: A better Way?

Producers Comments:

This new piece for Resonance FM, London 104.4  is really a “re-cut,” using material from a documentary produced for a German audience and aired on  Querfunk. (listen here)  It was totally re-edited from the original material elaborated on and new material was also collected.

My main aim was to examine the case for food co-ops.  This was not going to be a feature about supermarkets and what they are about, although some of that was included, because it forms the basis of why many start up food co-ops.  Armin Valet of the Hamburg Consumer Council and Majorie Stein of Eden Farms make their  cases on this quite well.  Those who want to know more, may want to watch the 2011 BBC Panorama feature ‘Supermarkets: What Price Cheap Food ?’ which is available on you tube.

In the German original one of the key persons talking the listener through was Santa Meyer-Nandi of Finding Sustaina an UNESCO (Germany) award wining blog.  She was an interesting person both in terms of what she said to me over the mic,  as she walked me through the The People’s Supermarket (TPS).

But also because she  later left TPS  to join the work-force of a local fine foods store situated in the  same street as TPS called Kennard’s.  Meyer-Nandi felt that TPS had damaged this local store by selling some of the same goods and offering cooked meals.  Meyer-Nandi believed that a supermarket ought to also relate to other local stores and have” gentleman agreements” on what they sell and do not sell.  Kennard’s weren’t  willing to comment on this, and about five months ago they had closed down.  If it was really down to TPS or due to other reasons I can not say.  Probably a mixture of reasons.

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Other things that were different with the new edition were the fact that I sought to speak with Waitrose and The Co-Operative Supermarket chains.  Both asked me lots of questions beforehand about the  content of my questions and my intentions. So much for corporate damage control.  Waitrose was also very keen to know who I spoke with at the Co-op.

After 14 days wait Waitrose  said they were unable to provide me with “the right person to speak to” as he or she, was now abroad, even though I had offered to call the person regardless of location.  Neither was Waitrose able to get somebody down to their new London  Stratford showcase supermarket and walk me around there.   They said it was because the local store manager could not do this, and the people who could were at their HQ miles away.  On the other hand, I have attended an evening on London Air Quality, where a John Lewis / Waitrose official outlined some quite remarkable policies on how they would reduce emissions in their fleet, including hybrid and electrical vehicles and using gas produced from waste to power some.  But the Local Government Authority felt that Waitrose was not yet one of their best performers.  In the end Waitrose provided me with a written statement which I used in the documentary.

The Co-operative Group was able to offer me with one of their busiest regional secretaries, he was very informative and gave me over 30 minutes of his time.  In the programme a tension came up between Kate Bull and Graham Hammond on the issue of getting a loan as a co-op.  Bull argued the Co-operative Bank was not forthcoming for loans, whilst Hammond argued they help new forming co-ops.  Originally I had another musical interlude in the feature.  I had  edited in the Co-Op’s 2011 Join the Revolution TV and Film advertisement and music,  openly available on youtube, to introduce Graham Hammond, but my contact from the  Co-Op Group media department argued, to my great surprise,  that the department could not approve the use, because of the artistic copyrights involved.  It sounded rather strange to me, and perhaps they were worried that their ad was going to be misused.

The Fair Shares Food- Co-op was quite a remarkable little place.  I quite liked it but it does have restricted opening hours.  I have never bought oat grains as cheaply as from them.  In the original German version I described Fair Shares as a “remarkable store in the chaos of an urban city centre.”  I noted, that ‘where elsewhere stores install CCTV circuit cameras and hire security guards and detectives, here is an example of a store that has none of these features, and even believes the customer’s own calculations of how much the product is she is buying.’  Kevin said they were only once ripped off and on that occasion the customers handed the goods back.  Still it was disappointing that they had opted for a blank boycott of Israeli goods, especially given the fact that with the co-operative Kibbutz Movement, and the associated co-operative Moshav Movement.  I know at least one Kibbutz, that has been known to be particularly outspoken on Palestinian – Israeli issues, Kibbutz  Givat Haviva (but it was only in 2008 that a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship became Israel’s first Kibbutz member).  A blank boycott may be also detrimental to all positive forces within Israel.  Gush Shalom,  the peace campaign founded by Uri Avneri’s  has for example said, that those who wish to boycott due to positions against the occupation of the West Bank, should be more specific and had issued a list to boycott specific produce from the settlements, which is now going through legal challenges in Israel.   Whether or not boycotts themselves are a productive force is a matter of much discussion. My personal opinion is that the situation is a far more complex one, and that if Israel is singled out for a boycott, those who support it must ask themselves why only Israel is chosen from a plate that is full of other countries that may be held to be politically unjust.  I had personally chosen to commit myself for many years to a Jewish Israeli – Palestinian peace village, Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom instead, with real people who live and work the future most of us wish for in the Middle East, and whose UK media liaison person I was (via British Friends).

The Battle Hymn of the Co-operations  played in my documentary is probably the first time you hear the track since the 1930s.  I found it mentioned on the web.  It was written by Elizabeth Mead and Carl Ferguson in 1932 and is thought to be a pre-curser of ‘Solidarity for Ever,’ both based on the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  The artist performing it in my documentary is called Tom Smith who is a London based  jazz drummer and music teacher.   The song was was specially performed and recorded for this feature.  You can listen to the full version of the song here:
https://archive.org/details/CorporationSong

Since the recording The People’s Super Market have decided to use extracts of the song as their current jingle tune mixed with statements by some of their members.

There is one piece I have not included in the feature.  It is Nelson Fernandez who is the Green Grocer of The People’s Supermarket
.

I thought his evidence being quite hard touching especially the bit about getting a job and falling in love with another shop assistant.

I had to think of Bruce Springsteen’s Queen of the Supermarket when he told me his story…

Resonance FM London is supported by the Art council and TheWire.co.uk amongst others, and broadcasts some outstanding challenging and experimental radio productions, as well as new and upcoming radio producers and special interest radio shows (such as Talking Africa)!  If you can make a small donation on their web-site to support this unique medium!
http://resonancefm.com/


“A Better Way?” was produced and presented by Daniel Zylbersztajn / dzx2.net

Voice Overs: Sophie Talbot

Radio-feature, 55 min.,  Production Date May 2012.

Thanks to James Gordon, and the Cooperative Singers of Ontario, and also to Tom Smith, for musical contributions!

Also listen here to full versions of  Supermarket and Farmers Blues

for distribution rights contact Daniel

Comments:

  1. Dan – very much enjoyed your piece on Resonance – congratulations.  Jamie
  2. Really enjoyed listening to the recording.  Although I am not a big fan of Co-operatives as they tend to serve a few – reminds me of gated communities in Zimbabwe or India (even there any one can join).  The arguments of co-operatives are valid and promoting this to others (particularly to the young ) is very worthy.  In this you are playing the most active part. I am sure most co-operative would aim to get their message to all kids at schools (not just their children who would usually tend to be from middle class families).  It would have been interesting to hear how they are going about doing this.  Change happens when the majority disapprove having made an informed choice.  I believe that it is possible to get the big supermarkets to change –  this would serve the majority ( not forgetting the jobs  they provide and sometimes housing to the local community).  The woman towards the end spoke about people’s choice and yet the need to be profitable is how I see it operate – yet holding on to ones principles.  On the other hand many farmers are provided subsidies and don’t even need to produce anything! The basis of these subsidies should be based on providing produce for school dinners and our hospitals at the least. Well done and keep up the good work.     Jerome
 

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