I love stories in general and books in particular, one of the story that had a big impact on me was not from a book even though it is loosely inspired by a novel. I am talking about the movie Soylent Green or Soleil Vert in French (aka Green Sun 🙂 ), ‘’a 1973 American science fiction film by Richard Fleisher and starring Charlton Heston, the film combines the police procedural and science fiction genres, depicting the investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and all year humidity due to the greenhouse effect. Much of the population survives on processed food rations, including “soylent green”.
I think it was probably 1978 on a quiet evening that I got to watch that film on the newly acquired TV. I remember the action takes place in 2022 and the world seemed to be a very different place or was it? The morning after still fueled by the film intrigue’s I tried to decode the label on the jam jar at breakfast time, cereals were still a bit exotic on continental Europe in those days or maybe they had not been imported to my household just yet. The label was a bit of a cryptic read to be honest I did not quite get it.
Fast forward January 2016, last Saturday morning not for the first time I caught my two kids reading the labels of the Organic Weetabix box for one and the not so organic Rice Krispies box for the other, smart kids If I say so myself obviously no doubt they got that from their mum; for some reasons I ended up thinking about Soylent Green and the not so fictional food scandals of the recent years. Has fiction caught up with reality and invited itself on our supermarket shelves?
I am no expert but I am a father and a consumer and frankly I don’t like being bloated with doubts. Is the industry still inclined towards the culture of secrecy? Can the need for transparency become a catalyst for responsible consumption? In the end what is traceability really?
Traceability is the name of the game nowadays in the food industry, what was not even a concept in the 70’s has become an integrated part of the marketing mix and other communications vehicles for many retail brands. In Ireland for example Mc Donald’s claims in numerous TV adds to know the farmer’s name and by default they also imply knowing his nickname including the one of its dog as a proof of how close the bound between a producer and the American chain is.
”The ability to track and trace raw materials, ingredients and products through all stages of production and distribution is vital for consumer’s safety and is required by the various Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized standards and national regulations. In the case of a product recall, rapid identification of all sourced components is highly import in order to limit further damages and loss of reputation”
Culture of secrecy
‘’The 2008 Chinese milk scandal was a food safety incident in China. The scandal involved milk and infant formula along with other food materials and components being adulterated with melamine.
China reported an estimated 300,000 victims in total. Six infants died from kidney damages with an estimated 54,000 babies being hospitalized. The chemical gives the appearance of higher protein content when added to milk, leading to protein deficiency in the formula.
As a result, a number of criminal prosecutions were conducted by the Chinese government. Two people were executed, one given a suspended death penalty, three people receiving life imprisonment, two receiving 15-year jail terms, and seven local government officials, as well as the Director of the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), being fired or forced to resign.
The WHO (World Health Organization) referred to the incident as one of the largest food safety events it has had to deal with in recent years, and that the crisis of confidence among Chinese consumers would be hard to overcome. A spokesman said the scale of the problem proved it was “clearly not an isolated accident, a large-scale intentional activity to deceive consumers for simple, basic, short-term profits.”
Ethical Consumerism (Responsible Consumption)
‘’Individuals contribute to local and global sustainability when they adopt more responsible patterns of buying and consumption, thereby consuming less energy and fewer resources. It is important to note the shift and focus on “green” goods and services, produced by companies with good environmental records, those records must be available, as well information about ways to assess and reduce resource consumption’’. Are far are we from this? Can we scale this up? Would it make the required impact?
Dangerous Balance, Intervention and Supply Chain
Can we control the supply chain to the extent that risk zero is the recurrent target, we don’t have a great track record us humans in that domain, we have great intent with rather disastrous results, when I think about this I cannot help thinking about a story on how food chain and human intervention had disturbed an entire ecosystem in Patagonia. The mass introduction of sheep farming in less than 50 years in the second part of 19th century had a colossal ecological impact with farming accounting 200 000 sheeps by 1901.
’’the sheep farming boom did not only alter the demographic and economic outlook of Southern Patagonia but did also changed the steppe ecosystem. Research suggests that sheep excrement might have caused eutrophication of lagoons like Potrok Aike, and sheep might also had caused considerable erosion’’
We have been playing a dangerous game in the last 150 years in the opaquest fashion, there has never been a sequel (that I know of) for Soylent Green and not sure how it would turn out to be but the title could as well be
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT