In our wealthy nations quality food is treated as a speciality, for those occasions where we have something to celebrate – maybe…because those chicken wings on offer this week cannot be left on the supermarket shelve….
In the words of a radio advert of an animal welfare Ngo; “this week chicken wings, again cheaper than cat feed. Ever asked yourself how this is possible?” Cheap food comes at a price, the price we do not pay directly, we pay indirectly, by becoming resistant to antibiotics we heard last week. Its heavy use in amongst others the chicken industry poses serious human health consequences.
The Dutch supermarkets are notorious for their narrow low price/best deal strategies. In his excellent analysis “Het boodschappenbolwerk” of the insular Dutch supermarket branch Frits Kremer shows how this sector has been able defend, divert, ignore and ridicule quests for more responsiblity on their part for a sustainable food supply chain. Contrary to many of their European colleagues, they hide behind ‘this is what the consumer wants’ instead of taking the kind of leadership which their market power obliges.
So true! The quote about the cat feed is striking…It makes me wonder: the chicken I buy and eat costs me about €4 – 6,- per kilo. My cats’ food (chicken flavour…) costs about €10,- per kilo. Am I feeding my cat the same chicken as I consume, or is it that of a much higher quality? Or should I pay €10,- per kilo for my chicken as well? And will I get a higher quality product for that price?
What is it that I, as a consumer, want?
Well, obviously: I want healthy, high quality food (maybe I should try my cats food…its supposedly of a ‘premium’ quality).
But, how to accomplish that? What can I as a consumer do? Or what should we as consumers do? Or: what should producers and retailers do? Who’s responsibility is it, who’s in charge?
i’m enjoying your food blogs. I notice in Dutch supermarkets ther are always signs for best value / cheapest price – but unlike in (say) French supermarkets – very few signs for top quality. We are very fortunate in Wageningen to have half a dozen (or more) top quality food shops and market stalls ( although unfortunately no game shop – I haven’t eaten duck or rabbit for months!). But I sometime save up for a trip over the border to Kleve to stock up on ‘quality foods.’
And to answer Simone – I just work on the assumption that a 2.50 Euro Camembert is going to be better than a 1.25 one, that expensive margarine really is better than the cheap stuff and that organic and hand produced food is better for me and the environment than food produced under factory conditions.
See you at the next food market Petra!
Pet food is a fascinating market. When i was a truck driver back in the 70s i used to haul raw materials into pet food factories. They were always rather dodgy — cleanliness in particular was an issue — there were always ‘fillets’ between the walls and floor where the facilities were not particularly well cleaned. I used to haul, in particular, 50 kg bags of frozen fish offal into these plants.
Then in the 80s, i worked for a courier company on Vancouver Island. We started delivering ‘Science Diet’ pet food to veterinarians. We used to laugh about who would pay so much for pet food! Little did we know.
But of course the inflation of pet food costs reflects the inflation of veterinary care costs — not only in terms of price per unit, but also in terms of the goods and services being consumed. I think it must be a prime Case Study into the manufacture of desire — harnessing the affective component of the human-animal relationship in a way which promotes guilt (“i didn’t feed him right” or “he needs that hip replacement operation”) and thus consumer behaviour. It’s yet another fascinating aspect of the growing field of human/non-human animal relations.