Friday, June 2, 2017

How capitalism realized a communist dream

The increase in eating out or buying ready-made food can be seen as an urban household’s mirror reflection of the commercialization of farms. More and more time is allocated to paid work, time is seen as scarce – even though data would say the oppo­site – and reproducing resources in the household, or reducing expenses are not seen as priorities. At first it might be hard to under­stand how this can coincide with a record in cook book sales and a plethora of kitchen appliances. I recently read in a newspaper that it is increas­ingly common for people in Sweden to hire chefs to help them to cook (by some perverse politics this is even tax-deductable) and I hear that in the United States there is a service that offers to shape your hamburg­ers so ’you can lean back and enjoy’ your own perfect home-made burgers.[i] This mirrors the fate of hunting, fishing and garden­ing. They have moved from being necessities for survival to expensive hobbies where the food harvested is no longer the most important thing. The gadgets, the experience, the nerdy knowledge of details are all expressions of this. Some may see this development as liberty and freedom from drudgery, other see more the loss of a feeling of belong­ing, the loss of one of the main rituals for bonding, social cohesion and a driver of unhealthy food and eating habits.

Modern consumer demand is to a very large extent created, not only (or even mainly) by advertising, but also by industrial and commercial processes that shape our whole world, of which advertis­ing is just a small component. As I have discussed earlier, govern­ments, the food industry, the fertilizer and seed industry giants and the supermarkets and even speculators, influence the food chain and the choices within it. When it is our turn to choose, most choices have already been made, by governments, by the various actors in the supply chain from the farmers to the supermarkets and by our predeces­sors. And with the enormous concentration of power in the food chain in the hands of very few actors those making these deci­sions have enormous powers over our daily food. But the lack of real choice is masked by the enormous supply of very similar products. The conditions under which we chose our food are a lot more impor­tant than the choices we have. In Reconnecting Consumers Producers and Food, six British researchers who studied alternative food schemes found that people whose food schemes offered the least choice (e.g. subscription schemes with fixed in-season contents) often ate the widest variety of food, more fresh food and cooked more meals from scratch. Through a lack of choice they were encouraged (and forced) to learn new recipes and acquire new cooking skills, and they were “in closer contact with the natural environment through their ability to appreciate the changing seasons and by seeing food as it comes out of the ground – misshapen or with mud on.”[ii]
The individualization and commodification of food has been a bonanza for, and perhaps the result of, the food industry. Commercial actors can now earn money from activities that were previously out of reach of the market (as they were done within the household), includ­ing cooking, food preparation and processing, feeding infants and brewing. Socialist utopians, such as Edward Bellamy,[iii] and the Soviet Union and the Israeli kibbutzim had a vision that we would not cook at home. We would either get ready-made foods from factories or eat in collective kitchens. In some Israeli kibbutzes people were not even allowed their own kettles to make tea.[iv] This vision, or part of it, has ironically enough now been materialized through the capitalist food industry taking over our food supply. 
(Extract from Global Eating Disorder - Order Global Eating Disorder  for a 10% discount at: using the code: GWDZZD8D)

[i]            Hochschild, A. R. 2012 The Outsourced Self. Intimate life in market times Metropolitan Books.
[ii]           Kneafsey, M. et al. 2008 Reconnecting Consumers and Producers and Food Berg.
[iii]           Fernández-Armesto, F. 2001 Food, a History Macmillan.
[iv]          Ibid.

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