Saturday, 4 April 2009

Hunting & Consumerism: Inorganic Rabbits?

I'm grumpy today and the weather is blustery so I don't think I'm going to go out hunting. Well, that's perhaps a lie, the weather's not so bad really - I'm mainly feeling out of sorts and lazy (this is connected, no doubt, with my having - after several months of clean living - returned to smoking a pipe: I'm stoned on strong tobacco and I can't be bothered to stir my lazy, narcotised bottom and get out into the fields. Besides, I'd probably reek too much of Irish Flake to stand a chance getting near any rabbit with a functioning sense of smell).

Overcome with nicotine-induced lassitude then, and, moping around Tesco's with a mind to get something to eat tonight, I bought - from the Past its Sell By Date reduced shelf - a pack of 'Finest' Organic Stewing Steak which, combined with some Tesco Value (which is to say Grade 2) vegetables and a splash of highly economical (again, Grade 2) red wine, will go to make my dinner. Unless it's on the reduced shelves I never normally buy organic stuff for myself and looking at the packet - replete with all its wholesome credentials - as I chopped up the vegetables brought me to thinking a little about the idea of 'Organic Food'.

In itself, it seems to be a good idea: who'd willingly want to scoff a lot of - so we are encouraged to think - pesticide-ridden food if they could easily buy and eat provisions that didn't come with a sprinkling of noxious chemical as an added extra? If it's put like that, then the answer is a straightforward one: well, no, not me, count me out - I'll take the good stuff, thanks!

But I fear that it isn't quite such a simple choice because, at the risk of stating the obvious, organic foods are also expensive foods - are in fact, a form of luxury goods. It's slightly difficult to see a bunch of muddy carrots - in a wicker basket at our local wholefood co-op or stacked alongside less exalted fare at Tesco's - as 'luxury goods'; this tends bring to mind a Patek Phillipe watch or a Bentley convertible more than it does, say, a cabbage or a cauliflower - but, given that an organic lamb chop stands in the same relation to an 'ordinary' lamb chop as a Patek Phillipe does to a Timex, the comparison is a fair one: they are goods of a notionally higher quality and of a definitely higher price.

How does it justify its higher price? In effect, I'd say, it does so by saying - saying rather quietly, perhaps, but saying none the less - the products of Big Farma (which is a phrase I suspect I've just made up to designate large-scale agricultural production in the era of globalised capitalism) are not fit for human consumption; organic foods, on the other hand, are - they come from fields that are treated in much the same way as they might have been in pre-capitalist feudal times: soil, sun, rain and honest human toil are the sole, wholesome ingredients: eat and be well. Or rather: Eat and be well - if you are well off.

But who is 'well off'? At the moment, almost no-one: In the U.K the cost of the food that's available in supermarkets to the majority of the citizens of the land - i.e., those who live in the towns and cities and whose economic means put them at or around the so-called 'poverty threshold' - is reaching a crisis point (highlighted by this recent BBC news article here). Many people in the UK struggle to afford even the most basic forms of produce - the high price organic foods are as far beyond their means as a Bentley or a Patek Phillipe. This makes 'organic foods' not merely an irrelevance, but something closer to an insult: this is the food for the real people, the wealthy people, not for the likes of you, you slum-dwelling non-entity.

So is a rabbit that I shoot in a field (I'm talking hypothetically here of course, mostly I miss them) an Organic Rabbit? I'd say no, no it's not. Because if I were to say that, I'd be tacitly supporting the - in effect - class division of food produce; which is to say I'd be supporting the idea that good quality food is - by divine right, almost - the preserve of the rich and bad quality food is the rightful fodder of the poor - it's all that they deserve.

To my mind to perpetuate this sort of class division is to perpetuate a falsehood since no one deserves better food than anyone else: swallowing falsehoods will poison us more surely than will pesticides.
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