Essay – This Little Piggy Went to Markets (By Mankh)
“I can’t stand a naked light bulb, any more than I can a rude remark or a vulgar action.”
in A Streetcar Named Desire
Rarely if ever, anymore, do I hear people say they have some “marketing” to do, rather it is “food shopping” or going to the “supermarket.” Marketing nowadays refers predominantly to the promotion OF products rather than the products themselves. Then there’s Wall Street, aka the Stock Market, where it is wagering ON products – rather than the products themselves – that is the main enterprise.
This disconnect may sound modern but according to Alain Joxe in his book Empire of Disorder (in the original French, L’Empire du Chaos):
“Aristotle distinguished carefully between the two but not the Americans. “Chrematistics” is the speculative bubble, speculation, when money produces money, which as Aristotle states, is not “natural”. Whereas the economy is when work produces resources that allow a house to be well regulated… So if chrematistics and the economy are mixed together, the formation cannot happen.”
What does happen is stuff like the 2008 speculation bubble-burst. Since the word “economy” originally meant “household management” with an emphasis on thriftiness, one could say that most references to “the economy” nowadays are erroneous, for households are basically at the mercy of the corporate-state-banking system.
But wait, there’s more: wheeling-and-dealing is not limited to speculation and razzle-dazzle marketing techniques; the actual products may be tampered with – appearance, flavorings, and fillers being the primary hooks. “America runs on Dunkin’” (their slogan) recently agreed to forgo some makeup:
“Dunkin’ Donuts is dropping titanium dioxide from its powdered sugar donuts after pressure from a public interest group who argued it is not safe for human consumption. Titanium dioxide is used to make the powdered sugar appear brighter. It is also used in sunscreen and paints.”
“As reported by USA Today, Dunkin’ Donuts’ Brands chief communications officer, Karen Raskopf, said that the titanium dioxide is not a “nanoparticle” under the Food and Drug Administration’s definition, but that Dunkin’ had still agreed to stop using it. This makes it clear that the decision was made to appease the public and improve public image.”
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:
“Titanium dioxide dust has been linked by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a possible carcinogen.”
But the jury is out and the study leans toward “high concentrations” and “occupational exposure.”
There are signs the Blanche Dubois style of big business is changing.
“Mega-food corporation Nestle has recently announced that it would phase out artificial flavors and colors from some of its candy bars by 2015, while Hershey also announced that it will soon remove genetically modified ingredients from its milk chocolate and Kisses by the end of 2015.
At a local supermarket I noticed “titanium dioxide (for color)” on a coconut milk/beverage product. The store told me it was a naturally occurring mineral, that only a trace is used, and it’s safe. My personal decision to avoid the stuff is based on the principle that it is only used for appearance and seemingly has no nutritional value.
“This little piggy had none”
In 2014, the Subway sandwich franchise was kind enough to remove azodicarbonamide (aka ADA) from their bread. That ingredient has also been used in yoga mats. As with cake, seems you can’t have your stretch and eat it too.
“The ingredient, azodicarbonamide, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in food as a bleaching agent and dough conditioner. The Environmental Working Group published a list of nearly 500 food products containing the chemical, including Little Debbie Honey Buns, Pillsbury Toaster Strudel, and many items served at McDonald’s, Burger King and Starbucks.”
“Vani Hari of FoodBabe.com gained attention after [she] pointed out the chemical is also used to increase elasticity in products including yoga mats, shoe rubber, and synthetic leather… Hari has said she targeted Subway because of its image of serving healthy food. Hari has also called on other companies including Chick-fil-A and Kraft to remove ingredients she finds objectionable.
“The sentiment is one that has been gaining traction, with more people looking to eat foods they feel are natural and examining labels more carefully. The trend has prompted numerous food makers to adjust their recipes, even as they stand by the safety of their products. Among the companies that have made changes are PepsiCo Inc., which removed a chemical from Gatorade, and ConAgra, which recently simplified the ingredients in its Healthy Choice frozen meals.”
For those wishing to do further product-specific research:
“According to the new EWG Food Database of ingredients in 80,000 foods, now under development, ADA turns up in nearly 500 items and in more than 130 brands of bread, bread stuffing and snacks, including many advertised as ‘healthy.’”
In another article, Yvette d’Entremont claims that Vani Hari is “utterly full of shit.”  The above cited EWG article also states: “One thing is clear: ADA is not food, as food has been defined for most of human history. It is an industrial chemical added to bread for the convenience of industrial bakers.
“In centuries past, flour fresh from the mill had to age several months before it could be kneaded into dough and popped into the oven. But in 1956, a New Jersey chemical, pharmaceuticals and engineering firm called Wallace & Tiernan, best known for inventing a mass water chlorination process, discovered that ADA caused flour to “achiev[e] maturing action without long storage.” The result, the firm’s patent application stated, was commercial bread that was “light, soft and suitably moist, yet suitably firm or resilient, and that [had] crusts and internal properties of a pleasing and palatable nature.” The FDA approved ADA as a food additive in 1962. It is not approved for use in either Australia or the European Union.”
So do your own research, but seems to me that the additive is nutritionally unnecessary and such “convenience” helps explain why for years I have found that mass-produced supermarket breads have, in marketing jargon, the “mouth feel” of tasteless fluff.
So what is it that gets businesses to mess with the merchandise, to, in effect, botox their products? Sales and profits, of course. So what’s up with the consumers? Would they not buy such products if they didn’t look good? Or are they simply more likely to buy them because they look good, without really thinking about it or sometimes even knowing about it?
When it comes to the unseen ingredients IN food, to the modern Zen phrase “It is what it is” must be added, “but what the heck is it?!”
One of the biggest current food issues is the question of the safety of and hence proposed labeling of GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) foods. According to an article’s title there’s a “New Way to Identify Pesticide-Free, Non-GMO Food”:
“’Certified Naturally Grown is like the USDA’s National Organic Program in that our certified producers must follow similar standards, farm without the use of synthetic chemical inputs or GMOs, and farm to support biological diversity and ecological balance,’ Alice Varon, CNG executive director, told Mother Earth News. Some benefits of the CNG certification include the facts that it costs less and takes less time to get compared to the USDA’s certified organic program. The CNG’s certification and inspection documentation is also available online, thus simplifying the paperwork process for participating farms.”
According to the CNG website: “Certified Naturally Grown is a non-profit organization offering certification tailored for small-scale, direct-market farmers and beekeepers using natural methods.”
This progress is significant because it helps provide alternatives to the big-ag-industrial style of business which is typically not small-guy-and-gal friendly.
“And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home”
Here’s where the light bulb gets mighty bright and the vulgar actions take center stage. A recent article, “What Have They Done to Our Food?” by Craig Etchison, PhD, covers a lot of rude territory, including:
“…a bill is expected to be introduced in Congress any day that would prevent the federal government from requiring that food containing GMOs be labeled. It would also deny individual states the right to enact legislation requiring labeling—even though 93% of the American public favors GMO labeling, according to the Environmental Working Group. And 64 countries, including Russia, China, and the EU, all require labeling. Oh, and just recently, genetically engineered apples have been introduced, the quintessential healthy food, but without labeling, how will anyone know whether they are getting a real apple or a GMO? Why are Americans being turned into lab rats?”
Now here’s where it gets literally piggy:
“The chemical ractopamine is a drug used to increase livestock growth, especially in pigs. Yet ractopamine has triggered more adverse reports in pigs than any other animal drug on the market, according to the FDA. … ractopamine is considered so dangerous that 160 countries have banned it. A number of organizations, including the Center for Food Safety and the Humane Society, have filed suit to get the FDA to ban this toxic chemical. Yet the FDA continues to approve its use, and approximately 80% of the hogs in the U.S. receive ractopamine.
“Now get this! Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, has stopped using ractopamine for the pork it sells to China because China will not accept such meat. But ractopamine is still used in hogs for U.S. Consumption.”
In the next bit, HFCS-90 sounds like a piece of legislation, but…
“Take, for one example, General Mills’ Vanilla, Chocolate, and Cinnamon Chex cereals, all displaying a label stating, “no high fructose corn syrup.” The problem? It’s a bold-faced lie. These products contain HFCS-90, the term Big Ag uses for high fructose corn syrup-90. But since the Corn Refiners Association changed the name of HFCS-90 to simply “fructose,” General Mills can use this alias to appear to be doing something healthful…”
As powerful as some people think they are, with their labeling shell game and playing God by genetically manipulating food stuffs, in reality we rely on food energy-sources – from humble lettuce, simple string beans, joyous juices, to fill in the blank – for our very existence. Or as Standing Rock Lakota author Vine Deloria, Jr. eloquently put it: “Recognition that the human beings holds an important place in such a creation is tempered by the thought that they are dependent on everything in creation for their existence.”
When those food energy-sources go awry, so can life itself.
“Almost 48 million Americans get food poisoning each year, leading to roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and almost 3,000 deaths. Think what 3,000 deaths on 9/11 resulted in—the amount of money spent to prevent another such highly unlikely attack, and yet 3,000 deaths each year due to food poisoning don’t even get a nod from major media outlets, much less Congress.”
Pulling the wool away
Much of the US Empire is divided into mini-mart on-the-go convenience, stocked-to-the-brim Caligula-esque supermarket shelves, low-income neighborhood stores that may not carry any fresh fruits and vegetables, and Native reservations where, for example, on the Cheyenne River Lakota Reservation, from various locations, it’s a one-way drive of 53 to 97 miles just to get to a supermarket!
When I looked up the definition and origin of “mart,” along with “market” was the following definition attributed to “Scot. and North England”: “a cow or ox fattened for slaughter.” While that is part of the normal process of producing edible meats (though modern antibiotic fattening of livestock is not normal), that the word is used to describe places people go for expensive convenience (mini-marts) or en masse cheapness (e.g. Wal-Mart) raises the questions: Are human beings regarded, by corporations, as cattle-consumers? With current obesity rates, often attributed to fast food, are customers being fattened for profit?
When going to a market you can make a positive effect with your purchases, especially by being aware of how the product connects with the treatment of people who helped produce it and whether that process was detrimental or sustainable to the Earth. Fossil fuel divestment is gaining in popularity – so whatever the product, people can sway the market.
In a 2011 talk called “Thinking Beyond Empire,” Winona LaDuke makes an insightful point about the need to connect with the cyclical processes of nature’s laws and seasons rather than be driven by quarterly profits.
As consumers and compassionate human beings these are challenging times deciding and even being able to easily find what to eat.
There’s a lot to learn. Who among us can say about food production what Stanley Kowalski says to Blanche Dubois:
“Take a look at yourself here in a worn-out Mardi Gras outfit, rented for 50 cents from some rag-picker. And with a crazy crown on. Now what kind of a queen do you think you are? Do you know that I’ve been on to you from the start, and not once did you pull the wool over this boy’s eyes? You come in here and you sprinkle the place with powder and you spray perfume and you stick a paper lantern over the light bulb – and, lo and behold, the place has turned to Egypt and you are the Queen of the Nile, sitting on your throne, swilling down my liquor. And do you know what I say? Ha ha! Do you hear me? Ha ha ha!”
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is an essayist and resident poet on Axis of Logic. In addition to his work as a writer, he is a small press publisher and Turtle Islander. His newest haiku chapbook is “so many people go hungry.” He also hosts an audio show “Between the Lines: listening to literature online.” You can contact him via his literary website.