The supermarket giant Tesco did a funny thing recently. They invented farms. They began selling food items produced on farms that don’t exist. So now you can buy chickens from Willow Farms, diced beef from Boswell Farms, and a variety of fruit from Rosedene Farms. The amazing thing is, they can get away with it. But the reason they did it actually makes sense, for they realised that people still want to feel that the food they buy is made locally, and not in a factory. The tragic irony is that it is the real farms upon which these imagined ones are modelled, which are suffering at the hands of this type of big capitalism.
One of the contradictions of capitalism, or should I say one of its cons, is the issue of choice. On the ugly face of it, your choice of purchase, whether it be an earring or a car, is endless. You can get a seeming boundless range of designs; for example, when researching chip vans for this feature, I came across the popular shoe brand Vans, and yes, you’ve guessed it (unless you haven’t) was an image of a pair of shoes covered in chips – you can also get a pair with pepperoni pizza design. But the contradiction in all of this, is that as consumers we tend not to go outside our comfort zones. We wear remarkably similar clothes, eat a small range of foods. Hence trends emerge, promoted by social media, the most recent of which sees half the western world running around playing Pokemon Go.
Within this advanced stage of capitalism, a concentration of ownership by large corporations, puts pay to many small businesses which simply can’t compete with such economies of scale and bullying marketing tactics. You have to go ‘niche’ if you want to succeed; to carve yourself a slice of choice no-one has yet had a taste of. But even here, big business will eat it up. Take real ale, for example. For years the likes of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) supported such producers, but now it has been taken up and turned into ‘craft’ ales so as to make you feel that is more artisanal. Similarly, local coffee shops are under attack from the main chains such as Starbucks.
Small family run businesses and trades have been squeezed from such practices for many years. But I think one of the businesses that hasn’t been corporatised in this way, is your fish and chip shop (with the exception of Harry Ramsden’s in the UK, which is now a series of franchises). Lorraine Carey’s nostalgic poem, “The Chip Van,” takes us back to a time when such food outlets were more ubiquitous. (more…)