Lockdown Shopping Snobs Should Check Their Privileges And Join The Real World
I was in Iceland (the supermarket, unfortunately not in the country) the other day when I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in ages.
Be honest, you’ve already judged me, haven’t you? I should have said Waitrose or maybe skipped a horrible farmer’s market and bought some overpriced mushrooms while pretending to be in the south of France.
I was actually in Kent in a small seaside town and in my basket were frozen cubes of butternut squash, whole leaf spinach and peeled king prawns. Does it help?
Lockdown has made people even more snobbish about shopping – rights and wrongs – while pontificating about lives they don’t lead. At first, it seemed our priorities were right and local groups were afraid to send food packages to those protecting. In a country where there are more and more food banks, there have always been those who fought for this food to include fresh fruits and vegetables and other things beyond the basics, because the meals mattered more than ever with the kids at home all day.
But then things started to get weird. On the other end of the social scale were some incredibly elaborate haute cuisine kits and deliveries. Mystifying. Either you cook or you don’t – and the take-out point is you don’t, I think – but we all made our own things and bought things we didn’t need. I don’t cook but in the April 2020 yeast panic, even I bought some just because I could.
For some absurd reason, I also bought a pressure cooker that remains unused because I’m afraid of it. “They don’t explode,” people tell me, but for someone who has managed to burn down an entire kitchen, a pressure cooker is always a challenge.
This came, of course, from Amazon. To buy from them is apparently to give money to Satan. To use Deliveroo is to abuse the poor engines of the odd-job economy. If I were a statue, I should probably be shot for my contribution to modern slavery. But that’s a lot of us, isn’t it?
The pandemic has involved, as someone recently said, poor people delivering things to the rich (just in case you don’t feel traumatized enough by a year of sickness, loneliness, death and sickness, you should feel even worse).
Primark doesn’t sell hair shirts, but it should and I’m tired of these daily talk about buying habits from people who grow their own micro-herbs. There is a creeping insane consumerism and then there is the shopping that most people do. There is the daily purchase of diapers and boxes when you don’t have a car and you have to put everything in the back of a buggy, there are wheelchair races, there are races when you cannot lift much after the operation or walk far. Being able to get things delivered for most people is a godsend.
So online shopping is here to stay and while we’re supposed to be loyal to some of the big chains that shut down during the lockdown, I’m afraid we won’t. Of course, I am thinking of those who have been laid off, but small businesses that have been able to adapt to changing circumstances have succeeded.
The small seaside town I found myself in has been mostly a parade of closed stores this year, but on the weekends it felt like life started to come back; another gift shop, a small gallery, a chi-chi furniture store, bubble tea places that children love. It cheered me up. We can buy our basics from huge online warehouses that should pay taxes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love small independent stores, either.
The puritanical zeal of parts of the left and the Greens reads essentially alien to many. For some, the conversation someone has at the Tesco checkout is the only one they will have that day. For the women who make the basic purchase, is it any wonder they don’t have time to hang out and prefer to shop online instead?
But that doesn’t mean that after all the austerity talk about food deserts and the grim grimace of so many small shopping streets in small towns, we don’t have a chance to make a difference either. Repair shops, charity shops, butchers, second-hand bookstores and craft shops could all come back. And the ads, of course. Places where people congregate.
Buying more stuff will never fill the holes in our souls, but if you want people to physically come back to Main Street, why not start by making them more joyful, social and sustainable places? Centralized planning, high rents and commercial rates killed them.
We are after all a nation of traders. Small independent traders, quirky and brilliant. I never want to go to another “same old, same old” mall as long as I live and luckily I don’t have to because of the internet.
But shopping in real life has to give me something that I can’t buy online. For the first time in a year, I think it’s possible.