The Hidden Persuaders‘ by Vance Packard was first published in 1957, which means it is nearly 60yrs old.
I was just flicking through it and came across this passage.
It made me think how TV ads for new toys and gadgets will be on children’s TV channels and junk mail will be coming through our doors encouraging housewives (and househusbands) to fill kitchen cupboards with biscuits and bottles of wine.

“What is the morality of the practice of encouraging housewives to be non-rational and impulsive in buying family food?
What is the morality of playing upon hidden weaknesses and frailties – such as our anxieties, aggressive feelings, dread of non-conformity, and infantile hang-overs – to sell products? Specifically, what are the ethics of businesses that shape campaigns designed to thrive on these weaknesses they have diagnosed?
What is the morality of manipulating small children even before they reach the age where they are legally responsible for their actions?
What is the morality of treating voters like customers, and child customers seeking father images at that?
What is the morality of exploiting our deepest sensitivities and yearnings for commercial purposes?
What is the morality of appealing for our charity by playing upon our secret desires for self-enhancement?
What is the morality of developing in the public an attitude of wastefulness toward national resources by encouraging the ‘psychological obsolescence’ of products already in use?
What is the morality of subordinating truth to cheerfulness in keeping the citizen posted on the state of his nation?”

packaged who knows where

Yesterday I was wondering why the own brand supermarket coffee from two different supermarkets had both been packaged in Belgium and wondered if they had even come from the same factory and vowed that I wouldn’t rest until I had tracked down the factory.

This was a stupid thing to vow to do as I haven’t been able to track the factory down even though I’ve been typing things into Google like a mad man. Which sort of illustrates the point. It’s just so hard to track the journey of our food from where it came from until we eat it.

One thing I discovered today was that the Belgian port of Antwerp is ‘where half the European stock of raw coffee is stored. The coffee is made available to roasting houses, traders and futures markets.

So I suppose that it would make sense to have a factory/factories that roast and package coffee for supermarkets near to Antwerp.

(Now imagine a huge gap of time when I route around the internet trying to find out a link between Tesco and the Co-Op coffee….ages and ages….a bit longer…finally…)

Eventually I put in some lucky words and found that it might be United Coffee who supply coffee to Tesco and Co-Op (and Lidl and the coffee you get in Subway and McDonalds).
Well not that it might have supplied the coffee I bought (an Italian blend) but they might have supplied an own label coffee for a Tesco at some time. This article in a local paper mentions that United Coffee roastery in Dartford supplies McD___ and Lyons but doesn’t mention any supermarkets.

I still can’t find any clues about where it might have been packed (and presumably roasted) in Belgium.
The United Coffee website says it operates in 6 European countries but Belgium isn’t one of those listed.
So unless they get some other company in Belgium to bag up the coffee which they then supply to the supermarkets, some type of secret factory that actually roasts all the coffee in the world. Or else I could have got things really wrong and someone else completely roasts the own brand coffee.Maybe these guys? Who knows?

made in ____?

This horse meat scandal has shown how hard it is to trace where your food actually came from and where in the world it was actually processed. It is also a classic case of it being not our fault, oh its not our fault it’s their fault, it’s not our fault, we bought it from them, its not our fault, we got it over there, its their fault, we clearly followed the rules, its their fault, etc etc.

When I was a student I spent one summer working night shift at a large pig factory. My job was to power hose the plant after production in preparation for production the next day.
I used to see the Cookstown products clearly labelled and beside those pallets of identical sausages labelled as well known supermarket own label brands. They would lbe labelled as ‘Made in the UK’, somewhere in the UK. I didn’t care too much about these sorts of things in my younger days but I’m not sure if the ‘Made in UK’ label said anything about where the pigs came from. The sausages might have been made in the UK but it said nothing about the pig or the other ingredients.

I’ve a bag of Tesco own label coffee that says ‘Packaged in Belgium’ on it. I’ve tried to track down where this factory might be in Belgium and who actually processes it, but I can’t find that information out. I bought a bag of Co-Op coffee beans last night and they say ‘Packaged in Belgium’ on it. Is this the same factory processing own label coffee beans for Tesco and the Co-Op?

Another smaller example is of Coleraine cheddar which isn’t made in Coleraine, it’s made in another factory.

DSCN9795

Do these things matter?

It could all considered a 1st world problem, a case of we should  just be grateful that we can go into a shop and afford to buy food freely without having to worry about where our next meal comes from and not be so fussy that what is sold as beef might actually horse.

Or you could take it the other way and say that being in such a privileged position should actually make us think about where our food comes from . In our church each week we pray the lines ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ .
Do  we wonder  enough about how God is actually supplying our daily bread or are we happy enough to think that God is using corporations and supermarkets (who are chiefly concerned with profit) to supply our daily bread without bothering to see what is going on behind the scenes?

Should we be thankful that we can buy a chicken for £3.99 in the supermarket and ask no questions or should we start poking behind the scenes a bit to see how the chicken is so cheap?

I know a man who previously worked with the poultry industry here in Ireland and used to visit various farms with the job. During Christmas he told us that he used to tell farmers that if they found the conditions in a chicken shed unbearable and unpleasant then it was unfair to keep chickens in the same conditions. I was surprised at this as I imagined that back 30 or 40yrs ago nobody cared so much about these issue and where more concerned about selling chicken feed.

But enough of that, I won’t rest easy until I find out where this coffee packaging factory in Belgium might be.

 

Jesus and beef shin

The butcher looked genuinely happy to see me and kept on calling me ‘Sir‘.
Is that all sir?’ he said.
I started laughing and said ‘I’m not used to people calling me sir‘ and the butcher said that old habits are hard to break and that you would have got a slap on the head if you didn’t call people sir years ago.

I told him that I hadn’t noticed the butcher before and he said that there actually used to be another one in the village and then I thought I’d say the word ‘Tesco’ just to see what would happen and he said ‘Tesco? They just do whatever they want..’

I had a similar experience from my nearest butcher who said ‘Tesco? If they were running the country I’d vote for them tomorrow…but they’re hoods‘ ….or words to that effect.

The butcher I was talking to today was only too eager to help but this  made me sad because you got a sense that he was eager to make the most of every new customer that comes through the door and make sure it counts purely to make sure the business survives.
I’m glad he was nice but I hate to think that he’s having to be extra, extra nice and helpful because supermarkets have come in and taken his custom.
Maybe that is the law of business, the law of competition and fighting for customer share etc etc but it seems more like the powerful against the weak and it doesn’t seem to be particularly helpful for community as the people who can’t compete get left behind and forgotten about, and what is Christian about that?
Suddenly the street is boarded up and all the economic life has shifted to the other side of town, freedom and choice have disappeared from your town or village and another big box appears near a roundabout a few miles away.
G.K. Chesterton had this to say about big shops

The truth is that the monopolists’ shops are really very convenient–to the monopolist. They have all the advantage of concentrating business as they concentrate wealth, in fewer and fewer of the citizens. Their wealth sometimes permits them to pay tolerable wages; their wealth also permits them to buy up better businesses and advertise worse goods. But that their own goods are better nobody has ever even begun to show; and most of us
know any number of concrete cases where they are definitely worse.

All I’m saying is that although I only popped into this particular butcher for the first time today I care for him or worry about what will happen if the local supermarkets continue to drain business.
I would hate to think that because I chose to buy my meat in a supermarket (that already makes billions of pounds in profit per year) he would be struggling to make a living or make it work.

(rant coming…
Which makes me wonder why our local politicians think it’s a particularly good idea to charge extra for parking in towns. If you’re having a revenue shortfall don’t charge people for parking in their town centre while allowing planning permission for huge stores on the outskirts of town which don’t charge parking. Tax the huge stores per parking space per year if you are going to charge people for parking in a town centre or else don’t charge people for people for parking in town centres. Fair is fair.
There are few butchers in Lisburn city centre and it is no surprise because why would you circle around looking for a car parking space,
put in 30 or 40p,
walk 5mins to get to the butcher,
and then carry your meat back before the traffic warden snares you for being a few minutes late?
Why would someone be bothered when they could  just pop up to Tesco, park for free and run in and run out? )

Jesus and the supermarket – community

When I get my meat at the butcher we have a bit of banter. He is a nice guy.
When I get my vegetables at the market the guy at the counter knocks a bit off because I’m a regular customer. No need for Tesco Club card points.
When I get my spices at the stall the French lady asks me what I’m cooking and puts some extra in.
When I get my fish from the fishmonger he calls me ‘big lad’ and also recognises that I am a regular customer.

There is joy and even excitement in the weekly shop because there is an element of human relationship. It feels like a fair exchange has taken place in community which strikes me as a very important and even Christian way of doing things. We’re in the relationship business are we not?

However when I go to the supermarket the whole process is anonymous and alienating. It is almost impossible to build up human relationships as the store is too big, the staff wear the same uniforms and have been processed like the fruit they sell so that one staff member look identical to another, in much the same way as one soldier looks the same as another soldier.
It’s not their fault either, they have to do it so that they all uphold brand values and allow the pile of Mammon on the end to keeps on growing. They don’t have time to talk because they are treated like the  commodities they sell by the system. Time is money.

It doesn’t make for a joyful experience as the human relationship is deemed unimportant. Ideally supermarkets and big stores would like you to scan in your groceries which would eliminate the one opportunity you have to talk to another person.  Even then the person on the tills often doesn’t have time for banter as there is a queue building behind and the general manager is watching from a top window. That is why self scanning tills are the pits.

That’s not to say that small store owners are destined to be nice or particularly friendly, but at least it’s on a human scale you get a handle on. They’re maybe rude but perhaps it more like your neighbour being rude. In a large store it seems more like a stranger being rude.

Supermarkets want to create some type of brain washed super human who only can be nice to customers. I know this because I worked as the door greeter in B&Q for months being the friendly smiling face that greeted the customer at the door. It didn’t matter if you are having a shite day, you had to smile and be nice. And it was the same on the tills or in the flooring section. You had to be nice because the ‘Mystery Shopper’ was always on the prowl, waiting to give the store a poor mark based on your lack of people skills.

You never knew who the mystery shopper would be as the store was too big and too many customers passed through in a day. People are largely anonymous. In a small store or shop a stranger might be noticed.

Not sure what I’m saying. Maybe just that despite their bluster supermarkets and large stores aren’t helpful for community, or not as helpful for community as small independent stores.

Jesus and supermarkets (or something like that)

My mind is swirling about corporations and supermarkets after reading ‘Shopped‘ by Joanna Blythman over the weekend so be prepared for a series of supermarket based rantings. They might be a pile of rubbish but I’m just trying to work out why supermarkets and corporations wind me up so much while at the same time being impotent to escape their clutches and also often enjoying their products and services, or even earning some money from them.

However I find there is something particularly creepy about the way supermarkets conduct their business, something which gets me worked up in ways I don’t really understand.

I realised tonight that it may have something to do with supermarkets dealing and trading with one of the essentials of life, food.  Supermarkets have a huge say in the distribution of ‘our daily bread’, they provide for us and would like to be seen in that way by their grateful subjects. They want to be seen and worshipped as our benefactors, as the ones who provided manna at dirt cheap price, or an artisan olive manna at affordable prices. Which I find a bit creepy, especially from a Christian point of view. Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer literally want us to look to them to provide our daily bread. They want to be seen as our providers, our benefactors. Ultimately they want to take the place of God.  If that sounds a bit melodramatic then you should listen to what a supermarket like Tesco freely admits is it’s core purpose.

‘Our Core Purpose is to create value for customers
to earn their lifetime loyalty.

They want my lifetime loyalty and they want your lifetime loyalty. That is their core purpose in life, to do whatever it takes to make little Tesco disciples.

Is it going to be any different with any supermarket or any corporation? And we probably have to remember that the core values, mission statements, visions of companies are made for a reason, which is basically to make the company as profitable as possible, which more than likely means ‘make as much money as possible for whoever owns the company’. As the introduction to ‘Shopped’ mentions

‘Let’s be clear that large supermarket chains are companies whose aim is not, first and foremost, to meet society’s interests…The bottom line is that they are stock market-driven corporations whose overarching goal is to keep their shareholders happy’

Surely the god at the top is Mammon, or money which drives the whole thing from top to bottom, bottom to top?
At the top you have the supermarket trying to get more and more profit/money each year, growing and growing.
At the bottom you have someone like me who might be impressed that I can save money and get more and more profit by shopping in a big chain. Money is driving the whole thing.  I think Coolio said it best

‘power and the money
money and the power
minute after minute
hour after hour’

Or maybe not. More some other day when I’ve chilled out a bit. Maybe not:)

we have to farm Eden

‘Today’s global food economy, with its lengthy distribution networks traversing continents and oceans, makes it difficult for eaters to know the places and communities that produce and prepare food. Having so little direct contact with food’s context’s – the fields and waters, livestock crates and pens, the factories and distribution centers, worker communities and restaurants – it is next to impossible for us to act in ways that would promote the good of any place or community’
Norman Wirzba, Food & Faith, A Theology of Eating

It can tie your head in knots to think that each time you eat something there is some specific place somewhere on planet earth that had to grow that food,
(or the things that make up that food)
with very specific fellow human beings doing the farming and either treating creation with respect and love or else treating it badly.
It can tie your head in knots and so why would we even bother thinking about stuff like that? Why not just be thankful you have enough to eat and get on with living life as best you can.

I often do and my default setting is just to consume uncritically, to munch my way through a Mars Bar as I rush from one thing to the next. Yet at other times a sense of unease comes upon me. Because I eat I ‘m involved with agriculture and farming, and so are you. You are responsible for farming.

This can of tinned rice had to be farmed in different nameless places throughout the planet

It’s an incredibly complex journey from farm to my mouth (without even considering the packaging) so I won’t even try or else I might drive myself crazy.
Yet surely few things (if anything) are as fundamental to humanity to eating, which also means that few things are as fundamental as farming to human beings.
This is something which we have completely forgotten in our culture. We know that we have to eat but we don’t seem to realise or have lost sight of the fact that we are dependent on the farmer to grow our food. Right now you are completely dependent on the fact that someone, somewhere is growing your next meal. Farming and agriculture matter, they matter  more than the Man Utd game or ipad 3 or Google or nearly anything else.
And because we eat and depend on the farmer (who depends on grace and things he ultimately can’t control) we also depend on taking care of the earth like we were designed to do in Eden.
If we’re serious about looking after creation we need to support good farmers and those gardeners who use sustainable practices, even if that means much more work on our part in doing research and paying more for our food. We also need to stop supporting those who use destructive practices.

With most of our mass produced food  it’s nearly impossible to know if you have acted in a way that has promoted the good of the communities and places it has come from. So we need to go looking for good farmers who we trust, (or grow as much as we can ourselves) which means more work for us but is the sort of thing we probably should do more off if we’re trying to reflect that idea in Genesis of tending the garden of Eden.

 

give us this day our daily (Fairtrade) salad?

I’ve been challenged the last few days by soya beans, NT Wright, The Lord’s Prayer and few Facebook friends.

Sitting by myself  in St George’s Market like a Billy-no-Mates  (Mrs Canal Ways is being cultured in Paris until Wednesday) I scribbled all over my notepad(and when I say notepad I mean paper and pen like in the old days, not fancy pants electronic tablet device with WiFi blah-de-blah), and drew thought bubbles here and there, and tried to work out what was going on…

Anyway, after a bit of mind judo and looking ‘intellectual’ I think my thoughts revolve around  words Christian’s pray regularly and what those words actually mean

‘..Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven…Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses…’

Firstly, what does the phrase ‘give us this day our daily bread‘ mean?

Is is it just the essentials like basic food, basic clothes, basic shelter, water etc?
Like should we be praying every day for chocolate cake?
Does that count as daily bread?

It would be a messy discussion for church to have but my feeling is we loose sight of the essentials all too easily and confuse ‘wants’ with ‘needs’. For example a family may say we need a large people carry to bring the kids from A to B and comply with EU laws. Maybe that is a need in our culture and society.But is a people carrier for our family daily bread? What are we going to do when families in China and India for examply want to eat the same people carrier daily bread? Are we going to say ‘Er no, because the earths resources won’t take the strain..?”

And secondly would the God who Christians proclaim is loving and just, the Jesus who is Lord and we make a big fuss about on Sunday mornings provide our ‘daily bread’ by exploiting our neighbours around the world?

Obviously once again these matters are complicated and the world is messy (for want of a better word) but do we just leave it at that and say something like ‘I’ve got to live my life, I can’t worry about everything going on in the world sad though it is…oh well,what can you do.?’

Do you ever notice that sometimes when people are slagging off the church  some evangelical book writers or speaker will say ‘Ah, yes, but what about William Wilberforce?He helped abolish slavery you know..
Now abolishing slavery is obviously good except for the inconvient fact that slavery still  goes on and  needs abolished. As this video shows they’re not just working the sugar plantations anymore, they’re working in the salad farms in Southern Spain to supply us here in Lisburn and Dublin with our out of season salads and tomatoes.

If a tomato is  essential daily bread(and we do need to eat) has God somehow given us that tomato using slave labour?
Because hard though it is for us to get our heads and disembodied bodies around that tomato wasn’t just plucked out of a pallet from thin air at the LIDL/ASDA/Tesco distribution cente.

It’s interesting the gentleman at the end of the film says

‘People just don’t want to hear.Everyone knows this system exists. It’s slavery in Europe.At the door to Europe there’s slavery as if we were in the 16th century.Let’s speak out together. No! Everybody can say it. No! You can say that if you continue like that, I’m not going to buy your products. Why do we not say this?’

He’s right. We often don’t want to hear.
Yet (and this is the point where I go into a self-righteous, hypocritical rant writing my blog) we hip, cutting edge Christians seem very adept at hearing that Rob Bell’s latest book is theologically unsound and then having endless theological discussions/fights/tweets/blogs around the reaction to that, or _______.
All the while there are areas of life that we don’t even begin to peak into because they’re too complicated or you need to be an expert  they say you need to be an expert to understand and we’ve more important things to be getting on with.
Eurovision is on!
Man Utd are playing Barca!
iPad2 is out and Steve Jobs is doing a launch!

But how can  we (and especially a Christian ‘we’) have become so used to not looking  into where our daily bread comes from or how it actually got there on our plates?
How can we pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’ and not wonder how God supplied it?
Is it unreasonable?Have I just got a bee in my bonnet about something and ‘oh well, what can you do,life goes on?’

All those ingredients in your stock cube that we don’t even know how to pronounce come from somewhere on planet earth. They where not supplied out of thin air in some magic portal out the back of Tesco. Perhaps it was grown in Brazil by slave labour. But who cares eh?

Meanwhile our daily salad or tomatoes most likely has been supplied by slave labour in Southern Spain. Forgive us our trespasses?