Philobiblon: The (Women's) Long March

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The (Women's) Long March

A book to look out for, The Long March by Sun Shuyun:

The day her period came, a few weeks later, "I felt as if a millstone had been lifted from my neck. I promptly climbed up a mulberry tree and got a wad of leaves. Standing there, I wanted to shout to the world, 'I'm not pregnant! I'm not pregnant!'" The women, she said, "dreaded pregnancy more than the plague".
Recalling those times, Wang, now 91, still had a look of pain on her gentle face, when I tracked her down at the start of my journey retracing the Long March. ...
Wang saw one woman go into labour while marching, with the baby's head dangling out. Another had a difficult birth with Chiang's troops in hot pursuit, and bombs dropping like rain. As if afraid of the violent world, the baby refused to come out. A whole regiment of the rearguard was ordered to put up a fierce fight for more than two hours and lost a dozen men. After all their pain, however, the women were not allowed to keep their babies. It was the rule with the First Army: a crying baby could endanger the troops. The tiny boy whose arrival cost a dozen soldiers's lives was left on a bed of straw in the abandoned house where he was born.

And if you're not going to find time to read the book, at least check out the article; it is a wonderful example of oral history.
Who'd have thought it, Anatole Kaletsky, very well-informed, but right-wing economist, is effectively: advocating a boycott of the supermarkets.

As one of the prosperous burghers of Central London, I sorely miss the freshly baked bread, high-quality charcuterie and organic smoked salmon that used to be available in my local grocer’s and do not appreciate Tesco’s alternative "offer" of a dozen varieties of cheap washing powder, tinned tuna and sliced bread. I therefore yield to no one in my dislike of Tesco’s bullying tactics and its philistinism towards food.


Blogger clanger said...

Let them eat "high-quality charcuterie" eh?

Supermarkets, if properly controlled and manipulated, can be a force for good as well as evil, although they probably default to evil in a free market.

Once you get products into them, everyone gets access to them. The trick is to maintain food standards and fair supplier revenue.

A supermarket can as easily offer organic vegetables to everyone, as it can processed crap.

3/16/2006 04:30:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Not so easily, really, because good quality organic vegetables need to be locally grown and really fresh, picked ripe, which means little, localised supply chains. And if you get the manager of every store sorting out his supplies, then you might as well have a corner store...

3/17/2006 01:16:00 am  
Blogger clanger said...

I'd rather nudge the supertanker that is Tesco in a better direction than try to stop it in its tracks, get it to deconstruct every aspect of its business, and then rebuild itself.

The big supermarkets have the supply-chains to get almost anything from A to B in bulk, which reduces costs and offers the potential for a cheaper, healthier diet for every UK citizen.

Forcing supermarkets to become the new Arkwrights, opening small stores in towns with out-of-town prices, is an example of working the system. Rather than destroy existing businesses, the next step may be to offer extant, financially challenged high-street retailers the chance to become supermarket franchisees. If you can't beat them, join them.

If supermarket supply chains didn't exist, you might not have much organic veg. in your diet (or perhaps you would in London, but the rest of us in the nether regions of the land, wouldn't).

Tesco and their capitalist chums are catalysts for democratic gastronomy, and all that that entails: no doubt something the right-wing Anatole Kaletsky dislikes. You can get pretty much the same organic veggies (and the same over-processed salty, fatty, sugary crap) from most of their stores.

You can only rely on local supply chains delivering to local markets if your local farmers are producing the stuff.

The power balance has shifted too much to the supermarkets at the expense of the farmers, air-miles are a problem, and boosting local supply is a good thing, but returning to the 18thC, or turning Britain into rural Tuscany, with sun-ripened tomatoes plucked from the local vines by hoary-handed sons (and daughters) of toil ain't gonna happen.

Incidentally, how many acres of arable land can you see from a central London window? I can just about see the fields around my town on the horizon, probably sown with pesticide-rich oil seed rape.

Its a long time since London got its produce from the Neat House Gardens ('The Neat House Gardens: Early Market Gardening around London' by Malcolm Thick, highly recommended).

Treasure your local farmers where you can find them, and support your local farmer's market. In many towns, schools could forge links with local farms: farms can supply food to the school and the kids can learn where food really comes from. This would extend the good work done by Jamie Oliver to promote healthy food in schools.

But remember that the supermarkets' supply chains have more *potential* for delivering organic vegetables and the basics of a good quality diet at an affordable price to every corner of the land.

Supermarkets are not inherently evil just because they are large corporates. They just have a tendency to default to bad practices if we let them-its the nature of an amoral free market.

Individual supermarket managers do have discretion on lines stocked, and many supermarkets are now trying to access locally grown food. But farmers have to grow it, and people have to buy it.

That said, here's a local supply system that Clanger would love to see replicated the length and breadth of the land, wherever it was feasible. Take a bow, Martin, Hampshire:

3/18/2006 12:20:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

Just got around to looking at the Future Farms site, clanger, and it looks brilliant. (I try hard only to buy free-range organic bacon, since I worked once for an unforgettable week on an intensive piggery in Australia. And while I've only visited intensive poultry farms, not worked on them, that was enough to lead me to the same conclusion.)

I agree that you can't ban Tesco tomorrow, much as you might like to. I think the Kaletsky article is a good sign; the big supermarkets may become as unfashionable as Burberry, given time.

3/19/2006 11:00:00 am  

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