Vancouver: Human history from the first agrarian settlements has been defined by a vital link between food and community. They’re inseparable. But this connection has weakened: the earliest Mother Gaia mythologies were marginalized as pagan; then the ’60’s “flower power” & “communal living” were considered “New Age”; and today, if it’s local or artisanal, it’s for hipsters.
What were once staples of daily living in our communities – butchers, bakers, fishmongers, and greengrocers – are now seen as inefficient when large chain grocery stores deliver all-in-one convenience.
But “fast and convenient” has weakened our communities. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Big food corporations want to grow fast so they go alone. But for our local communities to go far, we must go together. And homegrown businesses are a critical link for a strong, vibrant, healthy community; nowhere is this more prevalent than our local food economy.
The scale of efficiencies in the modern food economy are driven by lean manufacturing practices, low-cost packaging, targeted marketing, and supply chain management to the big boxes that sell it. By shopping at Big Box chains, we try to figuratively stretch our dollars further but end up literally stretching ourselves (obesity) and our communities (food deserts) to unhealthy breaking points.
These stretched dollars actually leave our local communities – destined for a public company balance sheet.Conversely, a dollar spent at a local business circulates 2.5 times within the community in the form of profits, jobs, and charities.
I experienced this effect first-hand playing little league at Little Mountain – our sports teams were sponsored by neighbourhood businesses like Windsor Meats and Listo and organizations like Eagles and Lions. No big boxes supported us (or do today) even though some are clearly making more profits on sporting equipment than Abbie’s, our neighbourhood sports store and the league’s biggest sponsor. Community reciprocity matters. If we want neighborhood businesses to be supportive of our activities we need to support them with our buying decisions.