by Peter Malaise
I promised we would start with small things to improve the world; well, here is a first one. It is really small; before we ate it, it was only 100 grams.
We were offered a small portion of crab salad at lunch last Sunday. At least, we thought we were. But a closer look to the smallprint ingredient list underneath the label header ‘Crab Salad’ learned us there was no crab in it at all. In reality, it was a surimi salad and according to the label we were also savouring several kinds of additives unwanted by us. In spite of a relatively strict food legislation in Belgium, the humble surimi – a mixture of cooked fish leftovers – was upgraded to crab by the Carrefour supermarket where it was bought. I have nothing against surimi (literally: fish puree), which is an honourable Asian dish. The Norwegians have a similar tasty specialty which is called ‘fiskepudding’, fish pudding. But surimi is not crab and you shouldn’t sell it under that name. In another context this would be called fraud. It says something about the ethics a chain like Carrefour is practising.
It says even more about the lack of attention we have as consumers for the usual commercial malpractices. We should read the labels in detail before buying whatever product. In the IT world, when something is unclear you are advised before anything else to RTFM (Read The F****** Manual); as consumers, we should advise each other before buying anything to RTFL (Read The F****** Label). Often, it will make you none the wiser though, in spite of tight regulations. The Newspeak (as Aldous Huxley called it) or the Greenspeak (as I call it) on the labels is often rather a masquerade to veil the inconvenient truth underneath. Perhaps we need to re-read Vance Packard’s 1957 book ‘Hidden Persuaders’ to remind us some of the techniques used to trick us into buying. Producers don’t like you to put your nose into their business.
However, when we want to build up the much needed Sustainable Consumption in human society, the missing counterpart to Sustainable Production, everybody and their dog have to take their responsibility. Ours is to speak out clearly about the quality we want; everybody knows that when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. Avoiding monkeys starts with a clear communication on the products, their ingredients and their overall quality and it ends with us agreeing with a right price. The best way to enforce that is to not buy products anymore which are not responding to such specifications. As consumers, we totally underestimate the power of our own buying behaviour.
There will surely be people who want to buy crap salad. Making them believe they buy crab salad is an insult and we should pillory the culprit by word of mouth.