Sunday, 26 September 2010

Supermarketing power to the people

There are 2 very memorable things I recall from my A-level economics class. One is that The Wizard of Oz was an allegory based on the American economic and monetary policy of the late 19th century. It sparked a rarely seen level of excitement in the classroom. Unfortunately it was short lived.

The other thing I remember talking about, in more painstaking detail was the phenomenon of Tescopoly. As a teenager in a two-trolley town I was seduced by the exotic goods on offer when the new supermercado cowboy rolled into the high street. Let me explain: this was a real novelty for Northern Ireland in the 1990s. It suddenly became more convenient to shop at midnight, buy unnecessary 2 for 1 offers and have a loyalty card.

It's still something of a thrill to have the choice of filling a trolley with anything from baked beans to surfboards. But last week I had an invite to The People's Supermarket, a lovely little shop near Holburn which just sells what you need.

This place is amazing. It's a supermarket for the community. A supermarket which sources its produce from local farmers, and volunteers contribute 4 hours a week to working in the store. Result: quality food, lower costs, and the feel-good factor for helping put something back into the community.

But more than this, it's providing honest business for local farms, where in the past the larger supermarkets have agreed to buy produce, then rejected it at the last minute. The lovely chef, Arther Potts who pioneered this ethical enterprise, cooks up a treat with food from the store. It helps reduce the amount of food thrown away. And since we in the UK bin 8.3 million tonnes of food year, (according to we could probably do with a bit of help to curb our habit.

So, ok, not everyone can trek into central London to help out at the community supermarket, I hear you. But, if you can, it's good to buy local produce to cut down on food miles. And it's also good to cut out as much waste as possible. Can you compost it? Or freeze it? You might even be able to make a little cake out of your leftovers.

Finally, a word of advice on baking with leftovers. As much as I love innovation and creative cooking, there are certain ingredients which should never be put into a cake/loaf/sponge. This includes fish, meat and vegetables. With the obvious exception of carrots. Jimeoin is the authority on this subject (3min 10s on this clip). Enjoy.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

lessons from the angry lady in the shower queue

This week marks the official end of summer. An end to lazy breakfasts and glorious traffic free roads, and a welcome back to wet brollies and soggy feet. September is here.

But just before the last embers of the campfire die, I want to say what an amAZing summer I've had. Now, traditionally, I enjoy my home comforts. And when all those excited conversations about summer festivals start a-brewing, I like look for a tactiful way to escape the dreaded question. Camping? Nooo. No-No-No. NOOOO.

I think need to work on my diplomacy skills.

So, I got roped into this summer festival, me and several thousand youth & students in a collection of large fields, some dribbly showers and a few puddles. So if, like me, you're not a camper, you might not be up to speed with shower queuing ettiquette. Indeed, you may not be aware that people start lining up from ridiculous hours of the early morning. On one particular morning, there was a queue. I was not in said queue, but I heard the story repeated. I find myself sharing this story because I think it is one that is worth retelling.

This queue was a mixed gender queue. But the day before, there had been a queue of ladies for their showers, and a separate queue for the gents. But on this day, the queue had merged. Although, there were not many chaps queuing, it was mostly girls. And that's another thing you learn at camp. Boys wash less than girls. But this queue was growing in size, and along came a boy, who, upon seeing someone come out of the 'male' showers, decided he could nip in, by-passing the queue (which by this point, had grown at least 10 strong). He'd been encouraged to do this unfortunate act by a lady who was quite far down the existing queue. Now, at this point, lady number 6 in the queue, had decided this was an act of sheer rudeness. Knocking on the shower door, she ordered the the young boy to come out. There then followed an exchange of some words, and the boy rejoined the queue. This lady swiftly became known as 'the angry shower lady'. As you can probably tell, she is a teacher.

Now, when you're at camp, with tens of thousands of people, this sort of activity might raise a few eyebrows. However, when you're at camp, with tens of thousands of christians, everyone offers to pray for the angry shower lady.

The story spread far and wide across Shepton Mallet this summer. But I think people learned a lesson about queuing. But more importantly that that, the angry shower lady did something quite powerful. She spoke up. She raised her voice for what she believed in, and ok it was just a shower and it would have made 5 minutes difference to her. As Edmund Burke put it,

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

The angry shower lady is someone I respect. She made a difference. And she did what was difficult and counter cultural. And although others might have stood by and let it happen, she made everyone play by the same rules. I saw in her a heart to see justice and fairness. God's heart, I believe is for the have nots. Those brushed to one side by people in power, shortchanged by the rules. Don't they need to have life in abundance? Don't we need to help them to thrive, to really experience life? And doesn't it all start when someone speaks up?

One of the guys from the youth group I was with at Soul Survivor was so moved by a talk one night, where he heard about child labour in west Africa on cocoa plantations, 12 million children trafficked into slavery, that he decided to draw up a petition. It started that very night. Every signature represented a brave, going-for-justice person who wanted their voice heard - for an end to the injustices of children sold into slavery. And each young person who signed, promised not to eat chocolate until our favourite chocolate brands in the UK agreed to play fair.

So, I'm a convert to summer festivals. Although I'm told I was glamping, not camping. That's thanks to Karin & Pete's Michelin star restaurant 2 steps from the door of my tent. But for once I'm glad that I met with people who really have a heart to serve, and a heart to speak up for injustice, who do it in the queues for the showers and want to take it out to beyond the doors of their churches, who make a difference for children sold into slavery in west Africa, which is just one of the injustices of our days. There's lots more that you can stand in the queue with the angry lady with. Do something today to end injustice. Go to and sign the declaration to stop the traffik.