Can we trust supermarkets for our food?
The story of Joseph in Genesis 39:6 says that he was such a good servant to his master, Potiphar, that Potiphar had no worries, and need only think about what was for the next meal. Food is a basic concern, and relief of worry about where your next meal is coming from a main contribution to anyone’s sense of security.
These days our food is mainly provided by big companies, including supermarkets, who control and distribute supplies in such a way that anyone who can afford to buy from them has total food security. Which is a far better situation than old-style reliance on small-scale small-holding farming, where families were in direct control of what they grew and ate, but also risked frequent famine.
But one of the risks of our present system of food security is that it puts a good deal of power into the hands of those big companies (as well as excluding a large minority of the world’s population). Can we be sure that those companies always exercise their power in our interests, or often in their own, which may clash with ours?
The day’s newspapers included articles about the amounts of fat and sugar in processed foods, sold to us by supermarkets- that ten years ago the sugar industry heavily lobbied the US government to cut funding to the World Health Organisation when the WHO adopted 10% as its recommendation for the amount of sugar that should be allowed in processed foods.
It’s well known than cheap, processed foods fill you up, but make you obese, and cause long-term health problems. Factory farming of chicken from the 1950s also made chicken meat available to working-class families every week, rather than once a year at Christmas. But is battery farming of chicken meat acceptable?
Do we have the time, energy and money to monitor food companies, and bring about change? Or is this all a “middle-class” fad, which puts down working-class families, which have only had food security for a couple of generations? We say this calls for “wisdom”, but does that “put down” people who do not have the resources or knowledge to “shop ethically”? And does “ethical shopping” become a burden, taking the “enjoyment” out of life, making it “no fun any longer”? Is the reaction to suppress idealism therefore understandable?
But “no-one lives on bread alone”: food without justice can only lead to harm for individuals and for society. The advertising methods that have been used to promote “modern” farming have perhaps deluded us into complacency (compare the way cigarettes were aggressively advertised to women in the 1960s, possibly leading now to a rise in lung cancer among women).
We need to find a way to balance food security with health and with justice. But how?