Why do we map supermarkets and fast food shops?
You may have noticed that our maps contain not only about 100,000 independent businesses, but also show some 50,000 multiples like Tescos, McDonalds, Starbucks and the like.
The next question we get asked a lot is: WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU DO THAT?! Isn’t that the opposite of all you stand for?!
It’s a tough question and one we mulled over for quite some time. There was one compelling phrase, though, which blew all of the other arguments away:
The purpose of a map is to show you not only where you are, but also to show you where might want to go, and the best ways to get there.
If we’re to help create a more resilient food system, champion the value of local produce, and show the impact of networks of independent businesses trading sustainably sourced produce, it becomes a lot easier to do if we have something to compare that to. Whether our comparison is the state of the food system now, so that we can show changes over time; or if it’s about comparing to different business types (eg multiples and supermarkets) doesn’t really matter so much.
In time we’ll go on to add much more information about the relative impact of these two businesses, but for now we can measure the number of local meaningful livelihoods it supports, how much it contributes into the local economy (remembering about the uplift provided by the local economic multiplier), start to analyse the environmental impact of shopping at each, build trust in our local food systems, and explore what’s available around us compared to what we thought was available around us.
So having supermarkets there as a comparison makes it easier for independent, quality enterprises to put them to shame, and more clearly and transparently demonstrate their value.
There are other reasons, too:
- We are an open food web. It is our job to map reality. Deny the current reality means obscuring useful data, which slows down progress towards the alternatives.
- Knowing how the system stands now helps us all know how much work there is to be done, and where that work can be most usefully applied.
- There’s a lot of greenwashing going on. Having open information about this gives the *ahem* half-truths nowhere to hide.
- Ditto localwashing.
- It means application developers using our data can make useful comparisons, too.
- … and one day supermarkets are going to have to do MUCH more local sourcing. When they do, we can help those businesses find each other. (Whether or not those businesses will want to trade with them is an entirely different matter.)
Ed is the founder of Sustaination. He believes that a better world is possibly, desirable, and necessary, and gets rather frustrated by people who aren't prepared to give it a try.