Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Modern Guide to existing

I must mention the 'bus transport for dummies' system that seems to be in full force in this part of the world. Once upon a time it used to be a very complex affair of getting on, finding the least insane person you can to sit next to, and getting off at your stop. However, the helpful people at the transport service thought they could simplify things a bit by providing lots of aggreeively informative Situation? Solution! PSA notices everywhere you care to look.

Now while I am all for these crazy modern innovations that tell me such useful stuff as where I am and where I'm going, notices such as 'get on at the front, get off at the back, its logical!' seem too painfully obvious to bear mentioning, 'a backpack? better in the hand!'(what, and deprive myself of the joy of whacking fellow commuters in the face with my dangling straps?) 'a pregnant/old/childladen person needs a seat? be nice!' and what has to be my all time favourite 'bulky packages? avoid them!' (aka 'you don't have a car and you need to move something bulky? Don't use public transport!')
(as a side note, buses in London by contrast lack any information whatsoever, from the useful to the downright imperative - such as where you are and where you need to get off. In an effort to avoid more public intreatction than is necessary, bus drivers seem to respond to most questions with no, which as a number of high court judges would be thrilled to hear, often means yes.

This dumbing down of almost every facet of life that people in the western world undertake is something I'm noticing more and more often. Supermarkets have been transformed into a 'guide to living' in Australia with such useful ideas as 'don't leave your children unattended' on the supermarket trollies, and 'eat 7 portions of fruit and vegetables a day' in the fresh produce department (as an amateur global roamer, I'll just mention here that recommended fruit and veg per day portions is not actually standard across the western world).

Once upon a time, this guide to getting along used to be the domain of parables, myths and epic tales (for what was Beowulf if not a warning against the perils of excessive drinking?) however these have since been divided and relegated to their separate quarters of 'myths', 'fairy tales' and 'religion'. The Martha Stewart bible of the future could have a helpful hints section: 'unexpected guests? Turn water into wine!' 'scrumptious festive fare, loaves and fishes for the christmas masses!'

Anyway, provided you know how to read, you'll find that the modern guide to living is written down all around you. No excuse for being confused.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Politics of Coffee

Now that my life has a vague semblance of routine again, this is how it starts off;

Alarm radio goes off at 7.15

Absorb early morning news through haze of semi-consciousness

Something or other catches my attention and (more often than not) annoys me into a state of awakeness*, from where I stagger blearily into the kitchen to make myself a cup of ethical trade organic coffee.

Being a bit of a 'where is your coffee coming from?' freak and not the worlds biggest fan of multinational corporations, it was with some dismay that I was awoken into a state of annoyance this morning with the news that Kraft and Nestle are attempting to make their corporate inroads into the realm of Fairtrade coffee, except not quite as fair as they're only proposing around half of the compensation to local growers as the currently established Fairtrade price.

Now the very interesting logic behind this, is that on the one hand, the success of this niche market is attractive enough to make them want to join the party - while simultaneously claiming that consumers will not be willing to accept the price hike that would come with paying local farmers their due.


"We believe the majority of consumers are not willing to take the premium we would have to charge if we were to convert to the fair trade system."


"We believe in a sustainable approach to coffee production and... aim to reflect our beliefs in our product development. Nestle is always looking at ways to innovate and re-energize products."

(Sourced from The Guardian)

I find this quite an extraordinary logic bubble as, if the organic:sustainable coffee market is proving to be successful enough to attract the eye of the multinationals, then its proof positive that customers who are concerned about this sort of thing are, on the contrary, willing to pay the increased prices (which, by the by, is not very much more). Possibly they're talking about the combined effects of the price rise necessary to keep THEIR profits at the status quo, AND pay the farmers their due.

Its an interesting coincidence in concepts as I'm currently reading Naomi Kleins' No Logo, and the section I'm currently engrossed in deals with the phenomenon of multinationals 'buying in' to diversity - minority becomes cool (yes, we can market black feminist lesbian punk, its cool, its edgy, but its so yesterday, what next?) So is the next big multinational foray into the world of sustainable development? (albeit continuing with the ventures that have caused many of the problems in the first place). Turning sustainability and fair trade back into the exploitation machine? Does the non-GMO, organic, locally produced and sold, naturally fertilised hand harvested grass look greener now??

Though there could be another consequence to this. Conscientious consumers who drink coffee are hardly the sort of people you want to provoke.

*as an aside, if people everywhere decided to take a break from annoying the hell out of me, it's highly possible I'd never wake up again