Belfast Telegraph

Vote with your cash and cock a snook at store wars

What merry chortles greeted new research showing that those who shop regularly often tend to live healthier, longer lives than those who stock up once a week or less.

There were comical headlines about retail therapy. Old jokes were dusted off: the person who said money cannot buy happiness didn't know where to shop. Ho-ho.

In fact, the survey was confirming a truth so obvious that it is in danger of being forgotten: buying is part of our nature.

A relationship, however fleeting, with those who earn a living by supplying us with goods and produce is a normal and satisfying part of life. The quality of a community's shops are what make it a happy, interesting, diverse place.

The effect is not just personal, but has a clear - and, again, often ignored - economic and environmental spin-off.

Shopping is a political act. A domestic decision made every day can influence the way we live.

There is no point in turning to politicians for help. Governments are institutionally in thrall to big business, whatever other noises they make. Cash-strapped councils are unable to hold out against the relentless campaigns of the vastly wealthy supermarkets.

So the march of giantism goes unchecked. The four largest supermarket chains currently have planning permission for nearly 500 new stores across Britain and are amassing vast land-banks for future assaults.

The arguments made by the multi-nationals are brutally cynical. They suggest - ludicrously - that the arrival of a massive supermarket will have no effect on local shops; a lie comprehensively nailed this week by an academic study into the connection between local shops and produce.

Then there is the claim that supermarkets offer convenience. It is true as far as it goes, but reveals a miserably reduced view of daily life. Convenience food is like convenience eating: it may save time, but for what and at what price to the quality of life?

There is, indeed, something odd about the idea that a big business that puts local retailers across a wide region out of business, forcing shoppers to go to one giant store for all their needs, necessarily makes life easier.

The champions of large retailers accuse anyone arguing against their dreary retail monoculture of being elitist, of showing no understanding of the way busy people live in the real world. Perhaps, in the case of those for whom every penny counts, they have a case.

Those who have the luxury of choice, though, can act for healthier and happier lives, for more civilised communities, for a less wasteful environment, for local jobs and, in the case of food, a closer connection with the land that produced it.

Above all, we can show in our daily lives a preference for the individual over the corporate. Governments and councils may be bullied by supermarkets, but, in places where it is not too late, we can vote with our wallets.

The towns and parts of cities that are showing signs of regeneration and vibrancy are those where people have discovered that local shops make for a happier environment.

Here is one area where each of us can make a difference.

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