The real headline of Piggly Wiggly leaving the Charleston market should read: “Not enough people in Charleston care about local food….it is time to admit it and get help.” Some of you might argue that you do care but a review of your credit card statement and the items in your shopping carts and pantries would tell another tale. You might be a member of a CSA every once in a while or walk through the farmers market in Marion Square and buy some frozen pasta and a crepe on a nice Saturday, but to really support local food and be able to sustain a business like Piggly Wiggly you have to do more. Your credit card statement is sure to reveal all of your trips to Wal-Mart or Target where you no doubt purchased lots, if not all, of your food products for the week. Those receipts will show where you indiscriminately bought: honey in a cute plastic squeeze bottle in the shape of a bear that was produced in Argentina or China rather than a glass jar of honey produced by Bee City in Cottageville, SC, or bleached eggs shipped in from Minnesota or Missouri rather than the ones laid by nearby chickens from Lamar, SC, or even your Lipton tea bags from Brazil rather than American Classic grown on Wadmalaw Island, SC.
As Charleston increasingly gets bombarded by mega chain companies selling groceries manufactured around the globe it is up to you to demand more local choices and then back that up with your wallet. You can’t just support it casually on a nice Saturday afternoon in Marion Square. In order to sustain and grow the local food community you have to support it every day on your drive home from work. Piggly Wiggly carried 1,000s of products grown, produced, or locally owned compared to the maybe dozen or so carried by Wal-Mart or Target. Yet everyday Piggly Wiggly sales struggled and the big chains got a little bigger. If a Wal-Mart Supercenter opened in South Carolina you could expect almost every local business within driving distance to see an immediate up to 40% decline in sales. A few customers might spilt their food purchases between Wal-Mart and a store like Piggly Wiggly but swinging by The Pig to buy $5 worth of green peanuts and an orange Nehi compared to the $200 you just dropped at Wal-Mart doesn’t count. It’s not enough. Your money just dispersed by way of Bentonville, Arkansas to companies around the globe instead of that money staying here in Charleston. So in the tradition of the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous I have devised a 12 step program to help those of you out there that want to support local and want local farmers and businesses to thrive.
#1) Admit that you have become powerless to fight your urges for convenience, lower quality products, and low every day prices no matter where in the world those products come from.
#2) Believe that in a true capitalistic economy like ours that you have the power to shape our community’s future every day based on how you spend your money.
#3) Decide to take control of your addiction to convenience and low quality products by actively shaping your community’s future using the power of your money and how you spend it.
#4) Evaluate the food in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezers. Where is each item produced? What is local? What could be? (“Distributed By” typically means they don’t want you to know that it came from China or somewhere else far away so they are listing a company in the US that will “Distribute” the product for them)
#5) Admit to ourselves and to others that the results of our inventory was shocking. Almost nothing was local.
#6) Remove from our shopping list those items where there are local equivalents.
#7) Forgive a few shortcomings of the local producers. The labels aren’t as shiny and the produce not washed perfectly clean with bleaching agents.
#8) Make a list of all the local items that are available that makes sense for you to start buying right away. Share that list with all those in your household so that everyone is on board.
#9) Make amends for your poorly made past decisions by donating to some local startups through organizations like Funding Charleston.
#10) Continue to take inventory of your pantry over time and look for new local products to add to your shopping lists.
#11) Pray that through supporting local products that Charleston and South Carolina will continue to have a rich and unique food culture that will be passed down to the next generations rather than being dissolved into a community of Applebee’s and Wal-Marts.
#12) Carry this message to your friends, families, and neighbors. Share your support for local products on your social media and in other public outlets. This needs to be a real lifestyle decision and not just a trendy GrowFoods Carolina bumper sticker you add to your car that currently sits in front of Trader Joe’s where you are buying your prepackage chicken breast marinated with cilantro and lime juice that was recently flown in frozen from Thailand.
-Scott of CharlestonFoodBloggers.com