Food Labels - What If There Weren't Any ?
Well, maybe we would buy our food from PEOPLE we knew, and trusted ? As opposed to relying on brand reputation, and printed lists of ingredients ?
Why do we have labels in the first place ? Because we buy our food from strangers we have no relationship with, people we do not know, do not care about, and who do not care about us. If there was no packaging of these foods, branding or statutory labelling, how would we know what to buy ?
I am in Viet Nam right now, and while this country is 'developing' fast, going down the same route as the West, there are still some remnants of another way of dealing with these kinds of questions, even in a big city.
Here is a typical scenario. We are in Ha Noi, its breakfast time, I am with my Vietnamese girlfriend. Breakfast means phở, and for a foreigner that presents no problem, there are places selling phở everywhere, four or five within a two minute walk. But how does this actually play out with a Vietnamese ? We hop into a taxi and drive half way across town to this one particular phở restaurant, no other will do. To the outsider it looks no different from any other, the same plastic chairs, metal tables, and the food, its phở.
Why do we end up here ? Because she knows this one, she has been to this restaurant many times before, she trusts the safety and quality of the food, she knows the owners more or less, it is where SHE goes for phở in this city.
In other words, we have a personal dimension going on here to what would otherwise be a purely commercial one. Money still changes hands, the restaurant owners and workers are all busy earning a living, but on both sides there is a personal investment. If she or I end up getting sick, or the phở is not up to its usual standard, then everyone has something to lose, there will be consequences on all sides - reputation, future custom, face - because there is an ongoing relationship here, she is a regular, as are other people she knows. If I get sick, she is the one who is embarrassed.
Food labelling exists because we lack this dimension. We buy our foods in supermarkets, they come from anywhere, often we have no idea who produced them, and apart from our status as consumers, as paying customers, no one on the production or distribution side has any interest in us either. Everything is impersonal, no one cares about anyone else, everyone is in survival mode, looking out for themselves.
In this dog eat dog world, food labels, and brand identity, offer some protection. But in doing so, they prop up the same impersonal set of relationships, they soften it, only in order to perpetuate it.
So do we really want labelling ? I say no, deregulate everything, throw everyone to the wolves, abolish FSANZ, the statutory body that supervises the labelling process, make it so that no one knows what they are getting when they are shopping in the supermarket. Throw people back onto having to rely on their personal relationships, so that then they actually invest in them, devote time to them, build them, enforce them.
Hmmm, a world where people are not actually strangers to one another ? That's a radical vision.
Or you can just go with food labelling instead, your choice. Make it.