Friday, 2 December 2016

Food Wars.

There is a cultural war over our stomachs. To a great deal it is a matter of left and right.
What shall London eat?

A photo posted by Richard Ford ( on

Fairtade coffee (gentleman baristas) and Borough Market.

On the left we have Fairtrade. This is basically a centralised quality assurance scheme for consumers who wish to shop ethically.

It is retailers and producers who pay the running expenses of this scheme (passing the costs to the consumer in the form of higher prices) and Fairtrade has become something of a designer brand for liberal left types.

There are a number of problems with this model. Firstly, it tends to favour large producers while singing the praises of small coffee farmers. This is because the small farmer cannot afford the costs of certification himself.

In fact there are remarkably few benefits to the actual farmer from the scheme. Fairtrade producers must pay the farmer the national minimum wage and this is all. The Fairtrade premium goes to his employer and probably stays there. Fairtrade has also been drawn into social engineering that may not help farmers at all. This may include supporting female only cooperatives. How does it benefit women to insist they do manual laboring on the farm while their much stronger husbands remain home with the children? I suspect men and women revert to their old roles the moment the Fairtrade official departs. In any case it seems clear that Fairtrade has moved beyond supporting the worlds poor and now seeks to impose political correctness upon them.

On the right we have Slow Food. This is a slightly different animal as it aims to preserve traditional cooking in the face of McDonalds. There are an increasing number of slow food markets in London- one of which I photograph here that sells rare mushrooms.

Slow Food is often motivated by nationalism and a nostalgia for a time when families ate together. Slow Food is about quality. Free range pork tastes better than intensively farmed pork and so on buit is probably no more healthy.

The reason I think of Slow Food as being on the right is that it springs from grass roots efforts to meet consumer demand. It needs neither a bureaucracy not a set of rules in order to survive- which is not to say that one will not be imposed upon it as we shall see.

Slow Food has  been largely co opted by its own bureaucracy with a terminology borrowed from the Anarco-Syndicalists but with an ideology borrowed from Italian nationalism.  A London group exists,  Slow Food London. Membership cost £36 a year which is quite steep for the average Joe. One third goes to the local group. The remainder is split between national and international initiatives.

The strangest aspect of Slow Food is the way it describes itself- 'a grassroots global movement'. In fact it is centralised and focused upon Italy before all else. The movement has international projects such as a food university in Italy and African poverty alleviation but they are organised from the centre. Both initiatives are worthwhile but neither are local.

I think Slow Food will win this skirmish in the culture war because the hipsters will promote it for its authenticity but I am less optimistic for the group that manages it.

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