RANGER AGAINST WAR: Something Doesn't Belong Here <

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Something Doesn't Belong Here

--Gargantua, Gustave Doré

There are no seasons in the American supermarket.

Now there are tomatoes all year round,

grown halfway around the world,

picked when it was green, and ripened with ethylene gas.

Although it looks like a tomato,

it's kind of a notional tomato. I mean,

it's the idea of a tomato

--Food, Inc., Michael Pollan

Leadership appears to be the art

of getting others to want to do something

you are convinced should be done

--Vance Packard

In 1972, the FDA conducted approximately
50,000 food safety inspections.
In 2006, the FDA conducted 9,164

--Food, Inc.,

This is a slumgullion post about things that just aren't right. Just a few arbitrary choices to begin with; the follow-on will deal with lodgings that aren't right in the U.S.A. Today we will begin with adverts, and end with food.

Buick Regal now touts its Teutonic pedigree, saying it is German engineered for performance on the Autobahn. If one wanted German engineering, why not buy a Mercedes, BMW or Porsche
? Why a Buick? Unless one is a Saudi Prince with a motorcade of MB's, for whom a K-Car might be a cool diversion, how would owning a Buick would proclaim to your friends that you have gained a fine European-tuned vehicle?

This ad probably caught our eye because of a strange dining experience recently at a German restaurant in North Carolina which had a continual loop of vertiginous camera angles of roads in Germany, roads and roads -- not especially interesting roads -- punctuated by the very occasional mountain or flower interspersed to give the mind a break from the spiraling ribbons of highway. One could imagine Dieter from Sprockets animatedly narrating the thing.

Next is the advert for Kohl's department stores showing rich, well-appointed models in a tony environment. The problem is Kohl's is not selling tony products -- it is a soundly middle-class venue. The store has latched on to some name designers, but the products are decidedly at the low end of the quality spectrum. The ad is not consonant with the product.

Most advertisers pitching to the average housewife understand that using homey models makes the product more appealing and accessible, so how does the average consumer relate to these models living the elite lifestyle, yet hawking J. C. Penny-level appointments?

And now to the food. We have spoken before of the spiraling costs of food (though our government assures us there is no inflation and no needed cost of living adjustment) -- today, we will address the quality.

The recent outbreak of salmonella from infected eggs produced in facilities with outrageous sanitary and humanity offenses brings this issue to the fore. Untold numbers of citizens were made sick or died from these infected eggs from Wright County Farms, Hillandale, Dutch et. al. The producers had been cited numerous times for offenses over the years.
The mass infection could not have come as a surprise to anyone.

It is the same conduct as Massey Energy showed before the collapse of the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia this April. Hundreds of safety violations, mostly ignored until someone puts an eye out, or 29 miners die. Then everyone rushes in for the inquisition and the autopsy. But the losses from lax oversight and cutting corners are predictable, and probably figured into the operational budget.

When Lisa was shopping at Sam's Club recently for her usual veggie-and-fruit tour, she noticed some anomalies in the usually predictable stock.

Strawberries had grown large as bocci balls, a fruit which should be more petite. They are flavorless at that size, ditto the Campari tomatoes, which are supposed to be a premium, smallish on-the-vine variety. They, too, had grown oversized. Same with the blackberries, though the raspberries maintained their normal size (and had "organic" on their label.) Lemons were as large as oranges, and mushrooms had begun sprouting two caps.

While one often feels like being among the Gargantua in that facility normally, now it seems even the food had sprouted to epic proportions. Lest you think I was on a mescaline trip, I assure you not. These looked like Frankenfoods, and it is not surprising considering 70% of our foods have some genetically-modified ingredient. We are now eating GMO salmon -- engineered to eat year-round, hence doubling their size (and behaving like many Americans.)

Profit drives the market, our health be damned. AquAdvantage GMO salmon -- grown to be mini-Hindenbergs -- is likely already on a plate near you. Like the chicken breasts that are now approaching the size of small hens, they will probably be tasteless and chewy flesh which we will go largely unnoticed since we are fond of drowning our foods in salt and sauces.

Also noted was the inferior quality of much of the produce -- most of the pineapples and melons were shriveling or bruised. These should have been counted as loses, and not for public sale.

The same problems are noted among the regular retailers, Like Publix and Winn Dixie. Publix has usually maintained in-date stock, but as a matter of habit now, dairy products are kept on the shelves past due date. At least at Winn Dixie, they will reduce the price of items nearing expiration, thereby acknowledging the fact. At Publix the ruse is stealthier. Most people haven't the time to check labels, and if the milk isn't curdled, they will probably drink it.

Have you noticed any come-down in your food supply lately?

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Anonymous Labrys said...

So sad that the large strawberries are tasteless. I have plants here that were purchased for making large berries...and they are delicious! But yes, food shopping is getting to be as scary as Halloween is for fundies....every day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 7:22:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Underground Carpenter said...

Hi Jim and Lisa,

Tasteless, oversize produce, your post is right on the chile. Mrs. UC and I mostly eat frozen veggies because the "fresh" produce is inedible.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010 at 7:45:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Grant said...

"Profit drives the market, our health be damned."

If Costco is selling huge, tasteless strawberries, then it means people want to buy huge, tasteless strawberries. What that means for society as a whole is a subjective value judgment on your part, and it might just be that people like things that aren't healthy and delicious.

It's important to keep core principles in mind as well as separate what any of us may personally prefer from absolute concepts of right and wrong. Combining the two, even in terms of preferences at the grocery store, is intellectually dangerous.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 7:16:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


With all due respect, in my world, big honking tasteless strawberries are absolutely not a good. And my world is subjective, as I am an individual expressing my views.

Grant says:

"If Costco is selling huge, tasteless strawberries, then it means people want to buy huge, tasteless strawberries"

False logic, sir. It may mean, people will buy what they can, given restricted options. That restriction may transcend the matter of taste and occur as a result of time and money limitations, for instance. Or they may may be imitative, presuming bigger is better.

I recently went to the grocer with a friend from Kiev who was simply horrified at the size of the things. She couldn't even be coerced to in on a buy one-get one free box of strawberries with me. For her, they were an aberration and an abomination, for she too knew strawberries are smaller affairs.

Full confession: I am very much an absolutist, and do see instances of right and wrong. I think situational ethics is the coward's way.

Big honking meaty strawberries grown with Monsanto chemicals are wrong. Absolutely. (But eat away by all means, if you find some solace there.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 8:52:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep see that when I'm in the store but right now it is eat what's in the garden and freeze everything I can. I found grass feed meat just a few miles from the house, it taste like meat should. I've been trying to find food locally but I still go to costco.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 9:46:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


Frozen is often better, as it loses no nutrients en route to the store, and needn't be picked under-ripe and then gassed and colored.

Ditto for seafood: Frozen is usually better, as it is really fresher (flash-frozen on ship.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 11:20:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Grant said...

Here is what happened:

I walk into Costco with 10 dollars in my pocket.

I spend 10 dollars at Costco on big tasteless strawberries.

Therefore: That was the best use of the 10 dollars possible.

Or else I would have spent it on something else.


I wanted to trade 10 dollars for strawberries. Since it was a voluntary exchange, then that's basically the definition. Or I would have done something different.

"That restriction may transcend the matter of taste and occur as a result of time and money limitations, for instance"

My values may include things OTHER than taste. They might include price, color, status, perception, etc, etc, etc. And they are all equally valid when *I* go to the store to spend *my* money. Whatever quality these strawberries have, it's enough to make someone part with ten dollars, more than the next highest want.

If value isn't subjective, then it would be OBjective. If it was OBJECTIVE, then we would be able to determine, objectively, what a car should cost.

But we can't. In fact, if value WASN'T subjective, no trade would happen anywhere.

If I had a car to sell you, and I'm willing to sell it for 3,000, it means I value 3,000 cash more than a car. You, conversely, value the opposite. You'd rather have a car than 3,000 dollars.

If you don't want big strawberries, then don't buy them. But people buy them, so they must want them. Or else they wouldn't buy them.

If you think they should do something different, that's fine. But the best way to advance your agenda would be to grow and sell small, tasty strawberries at a competitive price, thus providing more value than Costco.

I look forward to purchasing some of your delicious, affordable strawberries. I really like strawberries.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 8:24:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


I like good strawberries too, hence my observations on "not good strawberries".

You are speaking to me like the von Mises Institute would, and that is all good and well, but I am not speaking on the level of macro value and exchange. You are speaking abstractly about goods exchange and market value, while I am peering into the possible toxicity of our (grocery) market choices, a factor that, granted, escapes many people for any number of reasons.

For most folks, buying a strawberry is on the list, and they fulfill the need by plopping it in their cart. They are not disappointed; they now have strawberries. I go beyond that to question the nutritive/health value of that choice.

To me, the tragedy is that people who plunk those strawberries in the cart are trying to do good: They are not buying a pack of Marlboros, for instance. But I am concerned with the hidden penalties of trying to do good by purchasing a GMO Hindenburg salmon which might actually work against one's best intentions.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 9:04:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I BUY my Marlboros and GROW my strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples,etc.

I'm old and country bred and prefer better tasting, older varieties of many fruits and vegetables. Younger, city bred folks tend to buy on eye-appeal because they don't know the difference in taste. Commercial growers are primarily concerned with produce that tolerates shipping and has a long shelf-life.

I raised strawberries, lettuce, and onions in window boxes and raspberries in the flower border when living in town. I frequent tailgate and farmer's markets for produce that I cannot or do not raise myself. Obviously, my menu leans toward "in season."

Small time gardening for leafy greens, green beans, tomatoes, and strawberries is easily do-able with a tiny yard or even just a balcony. Just know that you'll stay busy watering stuff that's in pots and boxes. :)

Jay in N.C.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 5:09:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous tw said...


I agree with you. I think the younger generation of city dweller thinks that big and tasteless is how strawberries are supposed to be.

Small wild strawberries are a real treat too.


The open penned salmon farms here on the west coast of Canada are destroying the runs of wild salmon. The cullprit seems to be sea lice. These open penned (screen or net pens)fish farms located at the mouths of rivers seem to increase the concentration of sea lice around them. Also, the debree and feces, antibiotics and chemicals all provide a toxic soup around and under these pens. The wild smolts have to pass these pens on their return to the ocean. Sea lice kill a huge portion of the smolts. Of course the industry denies the science on this. So we get these GMO chemically raised salmon and kill off our wild runs. Typical, eh !

Last yr the sockeye run in the Fraser was a disaster. This yr it has a record run so of course the fish farming industry says it's not the sea lice that's the problem. However, the science tells us that 4 yrs ago, when this yrs run was spawned, the sea lice were at all time lows since being studied. However, what politician anywhere believes in science unless it's a study sponsored by the industry and comes with a big campaign contribution.

I don't eat farmed salmon and ask at resturants if it's farmed or wild salmon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 11:40:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...


I refuse farmed fish as I know of the filthy holding ponds. It is sad, as aquaculture could be done much better.

I, too, ask at restaurants, but I read a study which said 1/3rd of the time they lie, even re. the type of fish being served :( Sometimes I'm sure they just don't know, and to many people, something that lives not in an apartment is therefore "wild".

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 8:37:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@TW.. Wild strawberries are definitely the best! There is no variety of domestic strawberry that even comes close.

It's totally depressing to hear the details about "farmed" salmon but not at all surprising. I buy the salmon that is labeled as "wild" but always wonder with each purchase if I'm contributing to the demise of salmon.

Several years ago I thought "farmed" salmon might take the pressure off the wild fish - foolish, foolish deluded person that I am.

I don't know how it is in Canada, but in the States we could foul up banana cream pie - it seems to be a national talent.

Jay in N.C.

Friday, September 17, 2010 at 12:31:00 PM GMT-5  

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