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Sunday, May 29, 2011

24th May - Village Green Preservation Society

In travelling from Bude, through Boscastle, Tintagel, St Isaacs down to Rock and across to Padstow on the ferry, it struck me that in all those small towns I only saw one boarded up shop.

There were no McDonalds, KFC, Subways, and Greggs in those places, but a variety of other food outlets owned or run by a local. For lunch one day, we had a tasty Cornish Pasty from Presto. It had real chunks of beef skirt in it, and peppery vegetables. Cornish Pasties have been granted PGI status by the EU. (PGI = Product of Geographical Importance, meaning that to eat a true Cornish Pasty, they can only be made in Cornwall.) The ones we had were a million times better than the soggy potato filled pasties that were served to us prior to this, claiming to be Cornish.

Many of our brands that would be awarded a PGI status were industrialised and commercialised before this could happen. Burton Bitter, Red Leicester, and Chaddar Cheese should only be made in these places, but they are made in factories all round the world. Maybe if PGI had existed 50 years ago, Burton would still have a decent brewing industry rather than the bland Euro-fizz that mascarades as beer now.

Cornwall is not devoid of supermarkets, each town had at least one, but the Co-op, a significant player in the supply of British Food to British consumers, was also a major player here. Supermarkets aren't shops they are distribution units to supply to the end consumer. This makes the 'far flung' places like Cornwall and Scotland of uneconomic value, when the supermarkets constantly have to exceed previous performances to generate more profit for shareholders, whilst still providing cheap food for the consumer. It is therefore, no wonder that food as lost value in our society, when the value of food has been eroded. The Co-op of course, is a different model, as it shares its dividends amongst its members, and therefore has more freedom to serve its communities and make less profit.

Cornwall is a rural economy, with farming and tourism being key industries. By the same token, Cornwall falls into what Europe clssifies as Objective One area. This means that the average salary salary is less than half the  European average. In other words, despite perceptions that rural and land ownership equals wealth, this is certainly not the case in Cornwall.

The reason why independent shops are closing in the rest of the UK is put down to the supermarkets, clone high streets, high rents etc. Areas that are wealthier than Cornwall. Visiting in the early tourist season, with all the shops open, I wondered how they could survive everything else that is killing the high street. Maybe its because the tourists don't mind spending a little bit more on holiday, maybe its because the landlords aren't so greedy about rents and it allows smaller businesses to survive. The clone shops are not really present. No Zara, Next, Primark etc. Supermarkets do have an intermittent presence though, albeit smaller models. People still need to buy Baked Beans, washing powder etc, but these towns had butchers, bakers, fishmongers, green grocers, ironmongers - I even visited a Grocer in Boscastle. Maybe it is because in a county close to its farmers and food, they appreciate the value of food much more and want to support each other by patronage of smaller locally owned shops.

A few years ago, The New Economic Foundation released a study which claimed that for every pound spent locally, 80p is subsequently spent locally. If you shop in a national chain, the money flows out of the area. This seems to provide a more supportive profitable economy, where food is valued for its quality raher than cheapness, where people look to their neighbours to provide for their needs. Small helps you with being more innovative, use better materials, and respond quicker to customer demands.

I also wonder if the people running these businesses understand that lifestyle, rather than merely profit is all important, and are prepared to play a long game, and that a supportive community means that all their businesses can make profit. In other areas, once a profit margin falls below a certain threshold, the shop closes.

Everything I ate was fresh, and had real ingredients in it. It was hot and properly cooked, unless it was some of the excellent Cornish Ice Cream I had. In the rest of England flavour is slowly being eroded from food, to the point where we have to consume huge quantities to get nutrients out of it. We now drink a yellow chemical solution which is called Lager, but had little to do with the excellent Pilsners found, eating wallpaper paste and call it a Greggs sausage roll, or now taking a variety of supplements that if we ate properly we probably wouldn't need. The joy of taste is being lost from eating.

Closer to home, try Ludlow, or even your local deli or farm shop. Shop local, buy local, eat local, - you know it makes sense.
'Village Green Preservation Society' - The Kinks, because if we really want good food, quality products, interesting shops and quirky fashions, we can be proud of our localities again.

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