Category Archives: supermarkets

Are city start-ups a help or hindrance to local food?

I am pleased to share with you my latest article, re-published with kind permission from Sustainable Food Trust, the global voice for sustainable food and health. I added images. 

Are city start-ups a help or hindrance to local food?

In the last few decades, there has been a quiet revolution in food as more farmers have increasingly sold their produce direct to the public. By circumventing the supermarket system, farmers are strengthening local food systems, rebuilding connections between people and the source of their food.

This direct sales home delivery model has long been the domain of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement. However, thanks mainly to online technology, this revolution is ratcheting up a notch with the arrival of a raft of new companies backed by city finance.

HelloFresh, founded in 2011 and now active in seven countries, was valued at around £2 billion in 2015; Gousto, founded in 2012 and backed by Unilever, recently drew an additional £28.5 million from backers; and Farmdrop, founded in 2012, attracted £7 million from investors in 2017 including Skype co-founder, Niklas Zennström.

The question that arises, is whether these new models enhance or weaken sustainable local food systems? On one hand, the idea of encouraging people to cook – from ‘scratch’ using recipe boxes for a fantastic array of meals, with exact ingredients and directions provided – is to be celebrated. On the other hand, could this very choice seduce the public away from supporting their local farmer?

Small-scale farmers are the foundation of a sustainable food system. Organic, biodynamic and other sustainable agriculture systems regenerate soil, support wildlife and produce a variety of fresh local food which increases local and national food security. Selling direct enables farmers to keep their small-scale values – and their profits. By buying directly from a farmer, a food citizen is supporting economic and environmental sustainability.

Entwined organic carrots with a label saying: I carrot leave without you!

Pioneered by small-scale organic farmers in the 1980s, the CSA model of direct sales and home delivery by-passes the supermarket system and its pulverising demand for industrial uniformity. The humble veg box has been crucial in establishing a direct connection between shopper and farmer – as well as reducing plastic waste and fuel miles.

The CSA reinforces this bond. Members support the farmer come rain or shine (literally) by paying up front for their share of the harvest. It is not a one-way relationship. A CSA member gets fresh local produce, knows exactly where their food comes from, and has opportunities to volunteer or socialise at the farm.

Adapt to survive

Wheelbarrow in foreground, members of the Community Farm working on the land, background

The idea that well-endowed home delivery companies could threaten CSAs is nothing new, according to Maresa Bossano of CSA UK Network.

“Small organic veg box schemes in the UK went through the same thing quite a few years ago when [box schemes] from Abel and Cole and Riverford first came on the scene, mainly because they offered customers more choice and better customer service; in many cases, smaller box schemes couldn’t compete and closed down. Others expanded and changed the way they operated by also providing imported fruit and giving customers the option to choose which produce, not just a set box, like some community-run schemes such as the Community Farm (pictured above).

Biodynamic farmer, Marina O’Connell, of Huxhams Cross Farm. Image: Biodynamic Land Trust

Marina O’Connell (pictured above) who grows and sells produce at 34-acre Huxhams Cross Farm, two miles down the road from big box company Riverford Organic Farmers, has also adapted their CSA offering.

“We offer a regular veg bag home delivery to customers in a 30-mile radius. We do top-up the fruit bag with produce, particularly citrus in the winter. We find that people choose to come to Huxhams Cross Farm because it is small, local, and our produce is really fresh. People come, look around the farm and meet the farmers. And, as a biodynamic farm, this makes a difference to those who want it.”

Marina O’Connell sees the so-called competition as positive: “I think all organic farms – big or small – are good. They all build the market for organic produce, and the more offers there are, the more people will take them up. I think that, as a whole, the large organisations have done a great service for the organic movement.”

National organic box schemes

It could, certainly, be argued that big national schemes encourage sustainable food production. Abel & Cole, founded in 1987 and now owned by William Jackson Food Group, may be a middleman but it sources 95% of its fruit and veg direct from organic growers.

Riverford Organic Farmers, also founded in 1987, has similarly created outlets for organic produce. A family business growing 30% of its produce in Devon, it works with a farmer-owned cooperative of 16 small-to-medium organic farms. From June 2018, Riverford will operate as an employee-owned business, with its founder, Guy Watson retaining only 26% of it.

Organic farmer and campaigner, Guy is aware of the risk posed by Riverford’s wide offerings such as organic Spanish broad beans in spring. “We offer 70% of UK produce round the year but perhaps we should put more pressure on ourselves to offer a more edited content. I would love to sell only UK organic produce. But the mood is towards specifying what is in the box with a bespoke order.”

Millennial-driven

Technology is the driver in this current phase of online food offerings. It is, for instance, creating new ways of selling local food with initiatives such as the not-for-profit Open Food Network, an open source online food distribution system, and The Food Assembly, a cross between a buyer’s group and a farmers’ market.

At the driving wheel are tech-savvy millennials: “We’ve certainly seen all our fresh organic produce grow,” Adam Wakeley of Organic Farm Foods told the Smallholder. “One reason is down to an evolving consumer profile – millennials are now our biggest customer group, and they show a huge interest in food provenance and health. They understand that having food grown in an environmentally friendly way is a good thing. We believe their attitude is here to stay and will continue to drive growth in the future.”

Transparency and fair pay for farmers

Let’s hope the start-ups are listening to the millennials because HelloFresh has a disturbing lack of information on its website. “Our veggie box is bursting with tasty new ingredients and adventurous recipes that will make your taste buds sing.” This slogan makes no reference to provenance or seasonality and tells you nothing about where the produce comes from or how it is produced. Perhaps the real risk to sustainable food is the lack of transparency with marketing messages which may not live up to their promise?

In the online advert bidding wars, HelloFresh and Gousto are positioning themselves as alternatives to the established organic box schemes, Abel & Cole and Riverford. However, apart from featuring Yeo Valley Organic yogurt, I could see no other reference to organic produce on Gousto’s website.

I contacted Gousto, Hello Fresh and Farmdrop about their sourcing policies but only Farmdrop replied. Billed as the ‘ethical grocer’, with hubs in London, Bristol and Bath, there is a lot to like about Farmdrop: its search boxes for organic and pesticide-free; its mobile app (instead of a weekly subscription) which links farmers and customers; and its stated mission to “fix the broken food system”.

Farmdrop van and van driver with lettering: The food we are delivering came from a local farm this morning. Fresher food for you, a better deal for them."

Farmdrop also believes in a fair price to farmers. Its policy is to pay local suppliers “at least 70% of the final retail price. The exact amount will vary depending on the producer. Milk suppliers for example usually take a higher margin of around 75%,” says a spokesperson for Farmdrop. According to its website, farmers would be lucky to receive 50% from supermarkets.

A fair price could be the ballast for these city-financed companies, ensuring their financial growth is not at the expense of small-scale organic growers. “There is definitely interest in different ways of buying food, and we expect this trend to grow – online shopping, for example, could make up a quarter of all UK sales of organic products in the next five years,” says Soil Association, head of horticulture, Ben Raskin. “We welcome new models of delivery services – if they do things properly. There is potential for this to bolster the market, but the key is farmers and producers being paid a fair price.”

According to the Soil Association Organic Market Report 2018, alternative models of shopping for organic food are expanding: online shopping sales grew by 9.7% and home delivery (i.e. box schemes and recipe boxes) grew by 9.5%.

CSAs do not need to lose out, if cooperation can be encouraged: ”It would be good to see some of the platforms develop a section for CSAs, perhaps working with the CSA Network UK to help develop this,” says Ben.

CSAs build relationships

Community-supported Bennison Farm. Image: CSA Network UK

Although CSAs may not be able to compete on choice, they continue to flourish, with over 100 CSA farms listed on CSA Network UK and over 15 new ones in 2015-17.

“The new online marketplaces may take business away from some box schemes but,” says Maresa Bossano, “they generally appeal to busy working people who aren’t so confident with cooking. Whereas generally CSA members love cooking and experimenting with vegetables, and to be a member of a CSA, they have enough time to participate in some way.”

As well as appealing to these different kinds of shoppers, the CSA subscription model also protects the farmer, as Danny Steele of Bennison Farm (pictured above. Image: Bennison Farm) in Thorrington near Colchester explains:

“We pack around 115 veg shares per week with produce harvested the same day. The difference for me, is that our members can only get a regular share of our harvest by subscribing; I think I feel less threatened by the big box schemes precisely because we are a CSA.”

Honour the pumpkin

Pumpkin photo-shoot

18,000 tonnes of edible pumpkin are thrown away every Halloween in the UK; that’s the equivalent of 1,500 double decker buses, according to the Independent.

Time to join the tweetathon using #pumpkinrescue hashtag.

The Ecologist reports on the #pumpkinrescue manifesto.

 

Here are a few points from the manifesto.

  1. All supermarkets to make publicly available the amount of food waste they create and detail what happens to it.
  2. All supermarkets to ensure safe and healthy surplus food is redistributed to those on low incomes.
  3. Government to increase their investment in the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

I am pleased with my organic pumpkin’s potential as a lantern. It has a flat bottom so won’t roll around and it is fresh with a long stem making it easier to lift off the lid.

I am even more pleased with my pumpkin’s nutritional qualities: gentle, soluble fibre, immune-boosting vitamins and minerals, as well as carbohydrates, providing sustainable, slow-release (yet low-fat) energy.

(Above para from a book I co-wrote, Make More of Squashes).

I want to honour the pumpkin as food.

The easiest way to prepare a pumpkin is to bake it. That way you only need to slice it in two, and scoop out the innards (put the inner ligaments in the compost bin and and bake the seeds for 5 minutes in a hot oven with soya sauce, or fry them).

Here’s a great blog on how to bake a pumpkin in ten steps, including cutting tips.

If you are making a lantern, then there is no escape: you have to make the effort of scooping out the flesh. So  you might as well make the most of your hard work and not discard the goodness.

Use the pumpkin flesh in a soup with coconut milk/stock/water, and spices, or cubed in a stew.

What is your favourite pumpkin recipe?

Pan-fried pumpkin flesh atop a bed of curried coconut lentils

Pan-fried pumpkin flesh atop a bed of curried coconut lentils

 

Carved pumpkin lantern's photo shoot

 

No Tesco in Stokes Croft fundraising party – Chance to win a Banksy!

Here (above left) is breakfast, a sourdough loaf from the Stokes Croft pop-up bakery (above right), just across the road from the famously-unwanted Tesco.

“A year ago these streets were the scene of riots following the bitterly opposed opening of a Tesco store. Twelve months on, Stokes Croft, Bristol’s most bohemian neighbourhood, is booming,” wrote Stephen Morris in the Guardian earlier this week.

In a debate in parliament on 17 January 2012, Stephen Williams MP said:

“I am probably the only Member in the Chamber who has experienced a riot in his constituency caused by the opening of a branch of Tesco. It took place over the Easter and royal wedding bank holidays in April last year. I certainly do not condone the antics of those constituents, but I very much share their frustration. Large businesses do not work with the grain of local opinion.”

Here’s some background, briefly: Our No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign, began February 2010 after Tesco arrived in Stokes Croft by stealth.

Against all odds, we took our legal battle as far we could – to judicial review.

We lost – our court costs are £2,126.50.

We are having a fundraising party on Friday 13 April at 7.30 pm with music, poetry and street theatre at 35 Jamaica Street, Bristol BS2 8JP. Join the group on Facebook.


Buy a limited-edition bone china “I Paid The Fine” mug produced by The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, and be part of social history.

Twelve of the 250 mugs will be accompanied by one of the original Banksy posters donated by the graffiti artist as a “commemorative souvenir poster.”

Every campaign, whether you win or lose, is worth its weight in gold for it raises awareness of the issues.

I will be part of a round-table discussion – The High Street Fights Back – at the Natural Product Show this Sunday with campaigning journalist and author, Joanna Blythman.

This month, Tesco withdrew its planning application from Herne in Kent after huge local protest.

Thus, I, like my fellow campaigners, remain

relentlessly optimistic.

STOP PRESS 23 April 2012: Last Mug Sold!

What is Tesco Real Food?

Tesco Real Food is the name of of Tesco’s recipe magazine and website, Tesco.com/realfood.

Launched by Tesco PLC in 2011,  the magazine is given away free by Tesco six times a year as a marketing promotion (see pic above).

Tesco sells real food in the sense it is tangible, not imaginary. But Tesco food is not what this Real Food Lover calls real food.

I have had this definition on my Real Food Lover blog since 2008.

“What do I mean by real food? As close to nature as it can get. I want mine grown organically – without chemicals and with respect, as close to my home as possible. And wholefoody and unprocessed too, please.”

Others have a similar definition.

The Real Food Festival says: “Real Food is all about great tasting, sustainably and ethically produced food.”

Real Foods, based in Edinburgh, has, for the last 30 years, sold: “healthy, natural, organic (real) food to the nation at affordable prices.”

In a blog post responding to Tesco’s recent use of the term “real food”, Real Foods writes: “… ‘real food’ is food from which the body can extract the maximum amount of nutrition with the minimum amount of waste; food in its most natural state with the best bits still left in rather than foods that have been processed so that the goodness has been removed and replaced by chemicals which, if not actually harmful, are nutritionally ’empty’.”

Like the efficient retailer it is, Tesco has done its consumer market research and understands the nation’s need for nourishment. The result is its Real Food marketing initiative. Will it help people eat real food?

The magazine promises 32 “seasonal” recipes on the front cover.

Out of Tesco’s three “Season’s Best” recipes, one features mangoes from Peru. Mangoes are not grown in this country. They can never be seasonal for the UK.

Ten out of the 32 “seasonal” recipes were puddings with no fresh produce at all. Some were for Valentine’s day, Pancake day and Mother’s day. Are these annual celebrations what Tesco means by “seasonal”?

If so, Tesco has misunderstood the importance of seasonal for real food lovers.

Eating seasonally is about enjoying freshly-harvested produce. The fresher and more seasonal the produce is, the more nutrients it has and the better it tastes. That is one of the (many) reasons why local is important because it means the food is fresher when you eat it.

Tesco Real Food magazine’s current issue invites readers to Love Local and check out online its “wide variety of food from local producers around the UK”.

I checked out Tesco.com/local with my Bristol postcode and was directed to the Gloucestershire region. I was offered only eight products, four of which were beer. Yes, all good local produce, including Pieminister pies and cold-pressed rape seed oil.

But eight products do not a local-food-supply-chain make.

Like most supermarkets, Tesco sources globally not locally.

This article on apples gives us a clue.

According to the Telegraph, at the height of the UK apple-growing season in 2010, Tesco sourced only ten per cent of apples from Britain. The rest were imported. However its billboard ads promised ten different British varieties (subject to availability).

I get the feeling Tesco likes using words such as real and seasonal and local and organic because they sound good. But does Tesco subscribe to the principles and practices that underpin these words?

Tesco Real Food magazine’s current issue has an advertising feature for Tesco Organic. It says organic produce is grown “with reduced reliance on fertilisers”.

This is incorrect. Let me explain. Natural fertilisers – such as composted green and animal manures, and nitrogen-rich crops – are crucial to organic farming. This is how the soil is nourished.

On the other hand, chemical fertilisers are banned in organic farming because they strip the soil of life and cause environmental damage including water pollution.

Tesco’s Organic range is truly organic, and I am not questioning that [added after publication for clarification]. But does Tesco understand organic farming methods? Or is it using organic to make Tesco’s other products – such as intensively-farmed chickens – seem more wholesome?

Here is another example of the mismatch between Tesco Real Food and the reality of Tesco food.

As far as I know (please tell me I am wrong) Tesco still sells foods with trans fats despite a promise to ban them by 2011. Trans fats may make food last longer, but they are essentially candle-wax with huge health risks.

Trans fats are not real food. In fact, they are not even food.

Tesco’s Real Food magazine is glossy, handbag-size and beautifully-presented. In thick bold type, it emphasises words such as “nutritious” and “soul-warming”.

Is Tesco Real Food  the marketing version of trans fats, a cheap filler that tricks us into thinking we’ve been nourished?

Real food producers can tell you exactly what is in their food: how and when and where it was grown, reared, produced and processed – how the land was fertilised, and the farm animals cared for.

Why is Tesco spending its marketing millions pretending to be real?

               

Peaceful No Tesco Tea Party


Well, the No Tesco Tea Party has to be one of the most fun, friendly, heart-filled

musical protests I have ever been on.

Here’s a delightful news item from ITV: over a minute of dancing protest.

But it was also possibly the most stressful because – post-riot – it wasn’t just a matter of ringing up our local bobby.

Instead, we were invited to respectful, professional meetings with Silver and Bronze commanders, who supported our right for a peaceful protest but were thinking worst-case scenarios, and asking: how would we deal with them?

I realised the police, like the medical profession, are (bless ’em) fear-driven.

So, for a few weeks leading up to the No Tesco Tea Party I felt the weight of responsibility. Dreamed of police on horseback bursting through my front door. Worried about upsetting local charities such as Relate and the Salvation Army who’d been damaged in the riots. Angsted about offending rock throwers, too.

(Rock throwing is not my style but anyone caught-up in those two crazy riot nights might need support so please contact BristolArresteeSupport@Riseup.net, mentioned in June’s edition of The Autonomist.

And anyone with unanswered questions about the Stokes Croft disturbances, please sign the petition asking Bristol City Council for a public inquiry.)

Our protest took place in front of Tesco in Stokes Croft. I was glad to talk with Tesco managers because this campaign is not against supermarket employees.

It’s against supermarkets destroying communities in their single-minded drive for market shares.

The truth is I am a communicator.

I find enemy positions deeply unhelpful. I would rather build bridges.

Listen, we are all victims of the same soulless system that puts profit before people. So let’s find our common humanity and work together for a better world.

When Monday 13 June dawned – bright sunshine after Sunday’s torrential rain – I felt confident. Our protest would be – as all our protests have always been – peaceful.

And it was.

I was moved by the joy and the dancing

and the homemade cakes

and cucumber sandwiches (note Princess Diana tea-tray)


and anti-Tesco knitting protestor.

I was moved by Mark who did not agree with our campaign but became a volunteer peace marshall because he supported our right to a peaceful protest.

For goodness sake, there is disagreement even when you are on “the same side”. So, shaking hands with Richard whom I had met online when our political views clashed made me happy: this is what community is all about.

The No Tesco in Mill Road campaigners had come all the way from Cambridge to join our protest. Thank you!

Our Tea Party protest was to create awareness for our appeal for a judicial review.

Our appeal was heard on Wednesday 15 June in Cardiff.

And we won.

Thanks to People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, Jake and peace marshalls

and People’s Supermarket for donating free food.

O and here’s one of me, thanks to Nadia of GRO-FUN.

Tesco re-opens and elderflower cordial

After being “trashed” in the early hours of Good Friday 22 April, Tesco re-opened on the 24 May following a neighbourhood meeting the night before.

Monday 23 May 6.30pm: St Paul’s Unlimited neighbourhood meeting.

This excellent Guardian feature gives some background to the intensity of emotion present.

People with complaints against the police (“Why was extreme force used? Why was my arm broken by thugs in police uniform and three dogs attacked me?” asked one man).

The police was represented by Chief Superintendent, John Stratford, who listened well. Clearly, he was not a riot-type with batons and adrenaline-pumping, lashing-out fear.

Someone in the audience who’d been a policeman for 30 years – now an artist with a studio in Stokes Croft – said he was holding a riot shield in the St Paul’s 1981 riot. And scared.

A woman describing herself as a “lone voice” showed support for Tesco. Sadly, she mixed-up the riot with the campaign to stop Tesco opening. Not true.


As Ashley ward’s first Green Party councillor, Gus Hoyt, (pictured) has said the media has framed the debate: Against the riot = For Tesco. It’s more bigger-picture than that and why he is calling for independent public inquiry.

At the meeting, I heard about a move to make it harder for squatters to squat legally.

Harder for people with no home – and no hope of a home – to make a temporary home in one lying empty.

Homes lying empty, as I learnt at the meeting, so they can increase in value for their owner. Such as Westmoreland House.  “A death trap” someone called it.

One of the Bristol City Council representatives told us the council had asked the government for retail classification A1 to be changed. Currently the same classification applies to both a supermarket chain and a one-off local shop.

Eric Pickles, the Conservative minister, replied with no. “…Not its role to restrict competition.”

Ha. It’s supermarkets that restrict competition. They buy cheap, sell cheap. They only need to take a small percentage of a local shop’s business to sink it.

The profit a small shop makes is tiny.

But is economic power the only measure of success? Local independent shops create community. They support wholesalers and the local economy.

Money spent locally is worth more locally than when it is spent in a supermarket because it is recycled locally.

However, it does not take long for local shops to wither. Look at Tesco on Golden Hill. A row of small shops closed and Tesco’s promises broken: not to open on a Sunday; not to have a cafe.

Head of Property Communications, Michael Kissman, arrived late at the neighbourhood meeting.

Pity. He did not hear the majority of the Stokes Croft audience eloquently voice  love for their local community – without a Tesco, thank you.

(One said: “We don’t want Tesco. And we don’t want the police protecting Tesco.”)

However Tesco’s Michael Kissman did hear people after the meeting asking him for Tesco’s support for impoverished local groups.

And at least I got an answer to my question: Where did the figure of 3,000 people, that Tesco claimed walked through Tesco, Cheltenham Road in Stokes Croft store in its first weeks of trading, come from?

Answering my question via the chair, Tesco’s Michael Kissman, said these 3,000 customers were, in fact: “3,000 transactions”. O.

No mention was made at the neighbourhood meeting of Tesco reopening the following morning. But open it did at 7 am on the 24 May.

Lot of media interest, I gave three interviews that day, including to Radio Bristol (1:40 mins in, after Michael Kissman, who was given the final word.)

Tesco claimed 400 customers came on its first day of opening but hmmnnnnn.

Looked pretty empty when I took the pic at 3pm.

Tesco can afford to stay half-empty (like the Tesco five minutes away in the Gloucester Road), playing the waiting game while local shops close.

On a more positive note, there may be another chance to review the planning process concerning Tesco’s traffic impact on Cheltenham Road. The  No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign has won the right to appeal against the decision to not grant a Judicial Review (the rejection came coincidentally after Good Friday).

We plan a fluffy good-humoured self-contained lawful protest in front of Tesco’s before we set off on Wednesday 15 June for the 2 pm hearing in Cardiff .

And the Stokes Croft People’s Supermarket readies itself in the wings.

I’ll drink a glass of homemade foraged elderflower cordial to that.

Homemade elderflower cordial

A revelation. I did not realise how easy it is to make.

You soak the elderflower blossom in water with sugar for two days, covered with a lid. Then strain through muslin or a sieve. Then pour into clean bottles.

Second revelation: how the scent fills a room. Light fresh notes, as I snip the blossoms off their stems into a vat of hot sugared water.

Elderflower blossom is plentiful now.

Mike picked a plastic bag-full.

We added two pots of organic pear preserve  – as the Elemental Sanctuary’s Carole Fofana advised. I have some brown muscavado sugar. About 500g.

We estimate six pints of water. Mounds of elderflower blossom take up most of the room in the pan. I reckon our version has more blossom and less sugar than most recipes (hence its deliciousness).

The only technical bit is straining it through a sieve covered with muslin (organic muslin £2 from Born).

For more precision, see the Self-Sufficient-ish elderflower cordial recipe.

Lemon juice will preserve it but requires more sugar to sweeten the taste. We do not use lemons (or citric acid) or lots of sugar, and the cordial is not too sweet and has the heady taste of nature.

Third revelation:  homemade elderflower cordial tastes amazing.

I am drinking some now.

It tastes how elderflower blossom smells. And somehow feels substantial – nourishing.

Elderflowers are nutrient-rich and immune-boosting.

Not nutrients added artificially, or over-processed thus inneffective.

I often dream of going into a bar and ordering a health-giving revitalising drink.

Homemade elderflower cordial is that dream-drink: it has natural vitality.

(To think Coca-Cola had the cheek to call itself: The Real Thing).

I glimpse the satisfaction of foraging. It’s unmediated.

Nothing between me and something growing on a tree.

Tesco disturbed in Stokes Croft

I have been campaigning since February 2010 for No Tesco in Stokes Croft so imagine my mixed feelings when I woke up on Good Friday to hear the newly-opened supermarket had been “trashed”.

Alerted by friends in Stokes Croft, my first response was to gather information, with a Twitter search leading to several eye-witness accounts.

This blog by Neurobonkers.com described the dramatic effect of 160 riot police turning up on the streets – the tone bemused rather than partisan.

While giving a sense of folly on both sides, this blog by Oli Connor also questions the role of riot police in aggravating tension.

Jonathan Taphouse tells the story behind his photographs in the Guardian, and some turning-point moments.

Twitter helped me spot churnalism in action -the newspapers that repeated almost verbatim the police’s (understandly one-sided) press release, while this blog sums up the spin.

I was obsessed with gathering information and analysing its angles – media studies in action.

I wanted to piece it all together: what happened on the 21 April?

A volatile situation from the word go: a warm April night at the start of a bank holiday in a busy social area of the city.

Riot police turn up at 9 pm, some on horseback, some with dogs, and – according to Green councillor candidate, Gus Hoyt, on his way home – at least three with guns, one directing traffic with the gun, its holster strapped to his leg (Gus asked, “Is it real?” and “Of course it is, mate, where have you been living?” said the armed policeman).

The police raided Telepathic Heights, the squat opposite the newly-opened supermarket in Stokes Croft, looking for alleged petrol bombs.

(Surely a house squatted is better than left empty?).

This video includes interviews with squatters and eye-witness onlookers. As one pointed out, if you were conducting a drugs raid, you would send in uniformed police, and explain the situation to the neighbours.

But nothing was explained. The police operation seemed disproportionate and unnecessary military. I feel sorry for local police because this operation counters their good work in the community.

The drama was dramatically-lit by the searchlight from the police helicopter – its noise drew locals on to the streets to see what was happening.

Some reacted with the same fear-fight knee-jerk response that must affect the police; threatened, tribal, flooded with adrenaline.

Some of my fellow No Tesco campaigning friends who lived on a nearby street (which ended up kettled by riot police) tried to stop onlookers from grabbing stones from a skip and building barricades.

How quickly a scene turns raw. A push, a shove, a bottle thrown. The police have methods to deal with affray and are allowed to use force.

This video that shows Stokes Croft locals trying to quell the fight reaction from people feeling threatened.

“Stay calm and film everything. Do not instigate,” repeats a strong voice. Wise words.

The police left an empty police van outside Tesco and departed. That’s when a group of people spontaneously starting dismantling Tesco and smashing its windows. As one blogger reported: “The Tesco store – the very one the police operation had supposedly been set up to protect – had its front trashed.”

I am scared by violence and abhore it. I believe the ends do not justify the means. The means – the way we do things – is vital. We must create a peaceful society by enacting it.

Yet history tells us (the 1831 Bristol riots for vote reform, votes for women, the poll tax) that sometimes it takes violence from the voiceless to be heard. And damn it, violence is news – look at the media coverage that that night got.

Some violence is misplaced fighter-energy. I was in Stokes Croft in the early hours of 29 April, a week after the Tesco riot.

Eye-witnesses present on both nights told me that the police were calmer and less-reactive the second time, despite opportunistic bottle-throwing.

Stokes Croft had become – in a week – a magnet for fight-action. As I walked towards the epicentre, guided by the police helicopter’s beam, several masked and hooded lads passed me.

“Put the bin down, Bin Man!” shouted one of my fellow campaigners. The youth carrying the wheelie recycling bin put it down and we clapped to reinforce good behaviour.

Considering how hard-won the battle was for recycling, I would hate recycled bottles to come into disrepute as potential weapons.

Talking about recycling: Tesco has asked councils to remove their bins from Tesco car parks, depriving local councils of recycling revenue.

Tesco – which recently made profits of £3.8 billion – is taking the bins in-house.

A Tesco may be a convenient, clean shop but it also a powerful multinational that puts profit before everything. It may be staffed by good people but its policies are destroying small farms and the land, small businesses and local communities – while, according to UK Uncut, evading tax.

“If you don’t like Tesco, don’t shop there. Then they will close down,” some say.

But it is not that simple.

Tesco can afford to run its shops at a loss while local businesses start to fail. It’s hard to boycott Tesco if there are only a few food shops left.

In our unofficial role as peacekeepers last Friday we walked round the back of Tesco to see if the security guards were alright. On that surreal night of unexpected scenes at every street corner, we chatted through the steel fence. There was banter and good wishes expressed – this battle was not personal.

We walked round to Cheltenham Road.

Road block: riot van, riot police, police dogs, tension but also a kind of calm because there was no bottle throwing or police charging. The police helicopter whirred overhead. I heard a policeman explain to a girl expressing annoyance at the intrusion that he was normally on the beat and not a riot police.

I reported on Twitter (and had corroborated by another Tweeter): a tearful girl was helped by a policeman after being hurt by another. I wrote: “It’s not all black and white in Stokes Croft.”

Every side has its goodies and baddies.

The grey, nuanced bits are the compelling drama of a riot: the untamed rawness of chaos.

I wish I could channel that elemental energy into good cause and creativity.

Last Wednesday (between the two nights of disturbances), I was interviewed for the Politics Show about whether Tesco should reopen.

My answer: Tesco should never have opened in the first place. A council duped (the original planning permission was achieved anonymously) and so flawed that campaigners mounted a judicial review.

A local woman walking past joined us. She said she liked Tesco and shopped there and resented the rioters for setting a bad example to her son.

We chatted. We were both upset by the smashing of the Salvation Army and other local shops caught in the crossfire.

She said: you should open a shop to rival Tesco’s and sell fruit and veg wholesale.

I said that’s what we want to do: set up a food co-op and sell affordable healthy food with volunteers doing four hours a month.

(Nor is Tesco cheaper than local shops anyway, according to our survey).

She said: I’d volunteer every day for such a shop.