The recent revelations of horse-meat being used as a substitute for beef in many of our convenience foods/meals may come as a shock to many but it does make one wonder why such a revelation is indeed shocking…
What we have been trained to expect as consumers is akin to the cargo cults.
We have become so detached from the raw product - in this case the meat from the animal - that any tenuous provenance becomes something that is imbued solely via advertising and branding. As the product becomes more and more detached from its source and intention so the production and marketing becomes increasingly disingenuous. Convenience is far more easy on the palate than truth.
“Form follows profit is the aesthetic principle of our times.” ~ Richard Rogers.
From the industrial-scale ‘farm’ to the person stacking the final product on the shelves in the supermarket, do you think any one of them actually gives a damn about the product as food? Exactly.
There we were for many decades, happily fulfilling our need for food by visits to the local produce specialists - the greengrocer, the butcher, the fishmonger, the baker - then, stealth-like, we suddenly became obsessed with visits to these food warehouses: the supermarkets.
The quality of one’s food is no longer defined by the livestock or farming environment but rather by the product brand and the supermarket chain we shop at. Make no mistake about it, to the supermarket chain the food is just a product - nothing more, nothing less. The light-bulb or DVD is as relevant as that ready-made ‘lasagne’ meal. It’s a product-code with a profit-margin.
With vast economies of scale the profitability from what would appear a low-value item (such as a supposed ‘beef’ burger) becomes highly addictive to the number-crunchers at the supermarket HQ - and to the trail of suppliers and processes that leads to the packaged shelf-item. Thus, food has become a branding war.
“More die in the United States of too much food than of too little.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith.
The danger here extends to far more than the (latest) food scandal of recent weeks. It reflects a society that is content to be detached from reality until the uncomfortable truth is exposed. Whether it is banking, politics or corporate behaviour, we seem conditioned to not question, to not wish to put any effort into living our lives in a simpler way. For that is the irony: to live simply one needs to put a bit of effort in - to question and change one’s habits.
We’ve all been culpable of the supermarket way of life. In our own home we have over recent years increasingly focused on procuring our food solely from local producers and suppliers of meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, etc.
We now frequently make our own bread, and our own pizzas and the irony is our food shopping has never been cheaper, far healthier and infinitely more satisfying. Sure, it requires a little more effort in the visiting of several small shops but that’s actually rather rewarding as one also develops relationships with the vendors as one discusses their produce, recipes, etc. For our more exotic supplies we have got to know small specialist Indian and Chinese suppliers/shops - where, for example, huge bags of rice cost a fraction of this jolly fellow’s…
The interesting thing is that when one chooses to shop at source (or as close as possible to), advertising and marketing of food/etc becomes totally irrelevant for one is now buying the raw materials and not some branded and packaged iteration of the once raw produce. Just imagine how disruptive it would be if millions more of us thought, shopped and lived this way - at source. Also, isn’t it a nice feeling to know you’re helping support a local farmer, a local artisan cheese-maker, etc? There’s no corporate HQ behind these people - just family, friends and some local workers.
“I don’t understand the notion that modern farming is anything do to with nature. It’s a pretty gross interference with nature.” ~ Peter Singer.
Disruptive is not a big enough word for the implications if more of us choose to live this way.
When one realises it is possible to eat better (and cheaper) with just a slight change to one’s shopping/cooking habits and the realisation that the supermarkets add so little value to one’s life (on the contrary, in fact), it is pretty easy to change one’s habits. Try it.
And so it is with news and so many things we consume - we want it as conveniently, quickly and cheaply (free, ideally) as possible, regardless of the implications for the quality and the substitutes that may be used to maximise profits. I confess that I have over recent years lapsed from buying a newspaper but a few weeks ago I was waiting for our car to be fixed and in the absence of WiFi I couldn’t follow my typical pattern of killing some time by scanning my iPhone apps for news. So, I popped into the village newsagent’s and bought a copy of The Daily Telegraph. The car took several hours to fix and in that time I devoured the whole newspaper. It was great. I probably got more ideas, news and stimulus from that than I would have in a week of surfing the web.
And it was a silent way to absorb news and views; very different to the digital experience: The texture of the paper, the analogue process of turning the pages. Ironically (or was it serendipity?), this article appeared in that very edition and summed it up perfectly.
“If you ask an economist what’s driven economic growth, it’s been major advances in things that mattered - the mechanization of farming, mass manufacturing, things like that. The problem is, our society is not organized around doing that.” ~ Larry Page.
Similarly, the abstract/chaotic nature of our fiat currencies when contrasted with the relative resilience of gold reflects our innate desire for provenance: which has more gravitas - some QE-printed promissory piece of (increasingly) worthless paper, or a lump of gold?
It’s all about values. So much of our time is wasted feeding some anonymous digital monster. It’s become a Pavlovian positive-reinforcement habit that we have let ourselves become conditioned to ‘Like’ everything our friends post on Facebook. Why, and to the benefit of whom, exactly? Is there a fear that if we don’t endorse a friend’s latest picture or comment that we are secretly saying we don’t like them? Regardless, this NLP game is very useful in feeding our raw data to the algorithms that profile us and deliver the subsequently targeted (sic) adverts. Serendipity it ain’t…
“Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.” ~ Ambrose Bierce.
Break habits; think, and connect with the analogue world more. It’s good for you.
The gods must think we’re crazy.