Warning – this is a pretty trivial article – I’m just practising!
I’ve also always been interested in the organisation of society and from a fairly early age I read, if not fully understood, economics and political science texts. I’d describe myself as an anarchist, but believe it a cerebral model in that it is difficult to realise an anarchist society bearing in mind man’s predispositions (to violence for example). This makes me lean towards socialism of some sort – perhaps a parecon style economy. And this leads me directly to how and why I arrived here in the first place – food! I love food – in particular chocolate and ice cream, and grew up believing that HB (a local Irish Ice Cream manufacturer) and Cadburys (An English company pretending to be Irish in Ireland – like Guinness) made the finest ice cream and chocolate in the world respectively.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Cadburys hardly make chocolate at all – they make confectionery, and pretty lousy confectionery at that. Ditto with HB and their ‘ice cream’. I discovered this because my father contracted type 2 diabetes and I believed that his was 1, hereditary and 2, caused by excessive sugar consumption. My doctor disabused me of these beliefs and pointed the finger at obesity. My father however had never been obese – a tad overweight, but he never drank (alcohol) and got plenty of exercise playing golf and walking to work. So what caused this disease to appear late in his life (around age 66). I began looking into it and discovered some interesting facts about the food we all eat, the machinations of the companies which make it, the people behind the companies, and of course it all unravelled from there…. Most people here are probably aware of the aspartame scam – it’s almost certainly a poisonous chemical which is present in a huge range of processed foods, and almost every diet soft drink. If you don’t know the story of aspartame, there’s a good overview here: http://www.ppnf.org/catalog/ppnf/Articles/Aspartame.htm
The whole story of aspartame is a rip-roaring roller coaster of a novel full of steaming gypsies, Donald Rumsfeld, Ronald Reagan and Monsanto (ok, there aren’t any gypsies but everyone else is there). Back to my father – he’d had high blood pressure for some time and had been advised to lay off sugar – he took sugar replacement instead – an aspartame product. I was suspicious so I also looked into the composition of his butter replacement – namely margarine. In Ireland this was Flora (it’s made by Kraft so you can be fairly sure it’s total Krap). It turns out that margarine is a chemical stew, and about as natural as silicon implants. Worse, most of it contains hydrogenated vegetable oil – or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Both of which are almost completely incapable of being digested by the human digestive system. Possibly not by any digestive system – stick a lump of margarine and a lump of butter on the ground outside and see which one the insects eat if you don’t believe me. I don’t know any ants, but I’m pretty sure they leave it because they can’t eat it.
To cut a long story short, in an attempt to get people to eat more and drink more, the food industry has produced ‘low fat’ or ‘low sugar’ products which can be consumed in greater volumes by the health conscious. For the less health conscious, there’s always traditional products – try finding a processed food in the US which does not contain high fructose corn syrup. Consuming large quantities of this is akin to sticking lumps of lard on your arse – the ultimate effect is the same. Drinking a litre of coke a day is not a natural act – it contains enough sugar for a month. Drinking a litre of diet coke is probably worse. If you’d like a nice cocktail of high fructose glucose syrup and vegetable fat (invariably hydrogenated vegetable oil) grab a nice Mars Bar and really work those stomach muscles!
Back to my father again. I wondered how he’d got any way overweight and contracted diabetes, and I soon read that type 2 diabetes in a brand new disease – appeared soon after the introduction of margarine in the north american diet. So I don’t know if aspartame is actually responsible for my father’s illness but I’m pretty sure that margarine is. Soon after discovering all this I began to realise the effect of grain subsidies on the the production of high fructose corn syrup (subsidies effectively make it attractive to produce this rubbish, and make a litre of coke cheaper than say, a litre of milk*). Finally this all confirmed my long standing hypothesis which is that large companies make total crap – there are some notable exceptions but in general this is true, and nowhere is it more true than in the food industry.
Coming from Ireland, one would assume that the food supply and ecological environment would be reasonably good. That’s certainly the impression I as a citizen had growing up here. I remember meeting a Romanian Engineer many years ago who had left Ceaucescu’s Romania with a suitcase and nothing else. He liked Ireland but longed for some fresh vegetables like he had at home – I was pretty shocked at this as I assumed that Ireland produced marvellous vegetables. Of course most of the food produced here had been mass produced, chemically treated etc, and so the taste of a freshly grown carrot or apple or pear was markedly different from what my Romanian friend was used to. Of course it’s common knowledge now as organic foods are popular and people begin to understand the impact of pesticides and product’s like Monsanto’s Roundup on foodstuffs. Back then it was a bit of a revelation to me.
Of course I remembered all this when I read about vegetable oil and aspartame, and I started looking into it and began to learn about pesticides and herbicides and how Monsanto for example caused untold suffering in countries as diverse as India and North America. This all made me fairly mad that not only had I been misled and that I was slowly being poisoned but that around the world a huge number of people were suffering in a variety of ways through the production of this muck.
Small companies produce quality goods in many cases – particularly in craftsmanship, food, consumer products and such goods which can be produced on a small scale (that is without requiring any great capital investment). The most effective way to ensure responsibility is by removing the legal entity of the limited company. In other words reverting to the partnership model where each partner is equally liable for the actions of the partnership. It may be that an artificial limit on the size of a company may be necessary also, however a workable audit system may negate the need for this, where the activities of companies are under close scrutiny – not just the financial audit but environmental and workplace audits also. For those areas where major investment is required to produce, such as car manufacture etc, I’m afraid I don’t know the answer. Deciding that we can do without them isn’t going to happen, as desirable as it would be to return to a time when travelling to the East or the West meant a long voyage and the promise of exotic presents for those left behind. There must be a way though.
My next boring post will summarise what I’ve read about the rise of the current financial crisis and how its an accident waiting to happen. If you like Chocolate try Domori – an Italian manufacturer. I don’t know how they get their beans, or whether its all fair trade – if anyone knows let me know. But its seriously nice chocolate. If you aren’t familiar with the cult of chocolate, its a bit like wine believe it or not. Oh – and Cadburys now own Green & Blacks. Try Domori after Green and Blacks – no comparison. If you like Ice Cream then you have to go to Italy. And take lots of exercise! * I’m not entirely convinced by the merits of drinking another mammal’s breast milk, but I like Ice Cream too much to avoid it completely!