Choice Editing

Ooooh, lovely, here\’s the latest idea from the man who brought us food miles. "Choice Editing".

But the professor who, almost two decades ago, first coined the term "food miles" says that it is folly to present the notion that consumers hold all the cards, and instead argues for much more "choice-editing" by the major retailers. Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London and a prominent figure in Britain\’s food industry, questions why the consumer should be the one left in the supermarket aisle to agonise over complex issues such as animal welfare, carbon footprints, workers\’ rights and excessive packaging, often without any meaningful data on the label to inform their decision-making. Instead, he wants the retailers to take more responsibility by making most of these decisions on our behalf before the produce even reaches the shelves. Ideally, our only choice would be between "good" products, as opposed to worrying that we might be making a "bad" choice.

Translation: you\’re all too stupid to make the choices that I think you should so therefore you shouldn\’t be allowed to make the choice.

But if choice-editing is to be adopted, can we trust the editors? This is the shadow that looms over the whole concept. Lang says that this is where our elected representatives must be much bolder. "Yes, there has to be far more involvement and regulation by those in power."

And of course we can\’t trust business either, so politicians must make the choices for you. This is fascism, pure and simple: you will be allowed to have only what we, the powerful, think you should have.

Tell me, do they actually make a rotisserie large enough to stick a professor of food policy into? Fo the public\’s amusement, to be basted live outside Tesco\’s?

14 comments on “Choice Editing

  1. Well, you know, it has been such a success everywhere else: Soviet Union, China, Cuba, North Korea, Cambodia under Pol Pot and so on. All great successes with happy, content, well-fed populations.

  2. “But if choice-editing is to be adopted, can we trust the editors? This is the shadow that looms over the whole concept. “

    Err..no, actually. It doesn’t matter if we trust the editors completely – the isue is still that we are not being given a choice!

    A conclusion that could only really come from a ‘Grauniad’ writer…

  3. Aside from ACO’s entirely valid question, I think that the comments here are just slightly hyperbolic.

    Tim, he is transparently not saying that people are too stupid – they are saying that they don’t have the time to inform themselves on the background of every single product they put into their shopping trolley, and on that point he is certainly correct.

    Whether the smartest solution to the problem as he puts it is the one he gives is a fair question, as ACO picks up on. Another option would be to ensure that every product is labelled with the average salary of the workers who made it, the kilogram-kilometres-carbon-whatevers required to transport it, the number of babies killed due to the manufacturing process, etc. At least that way people would be able to make informed decisions.

    Finally, I do agree that we have too much choice in the supermarket, but that much of the choice is not between the “ethical” and the “unethical”, but between meaningless brand names. I don’t give a toss whether my loo roll is Andrex, Charmin or own-brand, or whether my toothpaste is Crest, Aquafresh or own-brand. They all probably came out of the same factory anyway, just like the sliced bread and the corn flakes. Those are the choices I wish the supermarkets would make for me so that I can concentrate on whether I should buy Fair Trade or organic, recycled or from managed sources.

    Tim adds: Ahahahaha…splurt, snort, gurgle. But that’s what brands are for! So that they identify for you the products that you wish to be associated with! Organic, fair trade, mass manufactured, oppress poor peasants, knitted out of tofu, whatever it is that takes your fantasy. That’s why the Soil Association decides about what “organic ” means….it’s a brand name to give you a certain message.

  4. “…he is transparently not saying that people are too stupid – they are saying that they don’t have the time to inform themselves on the background of every single product they put into their shopping trolley, and on that point he is certainly correct.”

    Why does he start from the assumption that people care about the ‘background of every single product they put into their shopping trolley’….?

    Some will, some won’t.

    “I do agree that we have too much choice in the supermarket…”

    Oh, poor you! Most of us cope with ‘too much choice’ just fine…

    “Those are the choices I wish the supermarkets would make for me so that I can concentrate on whether I should buy Fair Trade or organic, recycled or from managed sources.”

    Well, that’s your lookout. Most people would find the idea that supermarkets make any choices for us absolutely abhorrent.

  5. “This is fascism, pure and simple: you will be allowed to have only what we, the powerful, think you should have.”

    No, that is not fascism, it’s just ordinary socialism, but admittedly only a couple of steps down from fascism.

  6. JuliaM:

    Because they should care about what they buy! If you don’t, if you can categorically state that you don’t care how many people died, or were oppressed or poisoned, or how much damage to the environment the stuff that you buy from the supermarket does, then you’re a monster. “Hmm, buying Coke might be putting money into the pockets of a company that has poisoned millions, mm, but it tastes so good… ooh, I like Nescafé and I don’t care how many babies Nestlé have killed in Africa.” C’mon.

    And supermarkets make plenty of choices for us all the time. They choose what to stack on their shelves in the first place – you only get to pick what to buy from the shortlist of what they offer. And it they who decide how acceptable the goods on the shortlist are based on their own baby-killing sweatshop-working locals-oppressing, etc criteria. Do you find that abhorrent?

    Perhaps you should.

  7. “Because they should care about what they buy! If you don’t.. (utter emotive and vacuous rubbish snipped from comment for brevity).. then you’re a monster.”

    Christ! We escaped the tyranny of the churches telling us what moral values we should have, to have some ghastly jumped up little popinjay with a Fairtrade obsession dictate what we should put in our supermarket trolley instead…

    “…supermarkets make plenty of choices for us all the time. They choose what to stack on their shelves in the first place…”

    And if I don’t like what’s on offer in Waitrose, I go to Marks & Spencer. Or the local market. Or abroad to a foreign market, if I want.

    But I absolutely don’t have to have my choice of foodstuff dictated to me by committee, for ‘my own good’.

    Get it through your head – people won’t stand for this kind of centralised nannying. You are on a hiding to nothing by trying to claim it as the moral high ground. Most people don’t care!

  8. ““Hmm, buying Coke might be putting money into the pockets of a company that has poisoned millions, mm, but it tastes so good… ooh, I like Nescafé and I don’t care how many babies Nestlé have killed in Africa.””

    Is that how you shop…? I’ll shorten the process for you; this is how normal people think when buying groceries:

    ‘Oooh, Coke is on special offer, I’ll have two…hmm, Nescafe is too expensive and doesn’t taste good, I’ll have Tesco’s own brand instead…’

  9. Sanbikinoraion suggests: “Another option would be to ensure that every product is labelled with the average salary of the workers who made it, the kilogram-kilometres-carbon-whatevers required to transport it, the number of babies killed due to the manufacturing process, etc.”

    Average salary will work. If companies see their market share shrinking due to their average wages being lower than competitors, will they increase wages? Of course, but they are likely to do so through increased mechanisation or shutting a couple of factories and concentrating production at one plant. So those making choices based on wages will be feeling good about themselves while people in the developing world are being tossed out of their jobs.

    I don’t give a toss about the carbon footprint.

    The final comment is just plain silly. How about a statement as too how many people capitalism has lifted out of poverty in the area, the extent of improved life expectancy, etc?

  10. There are a couple of comments about Professor Lang over here:

    http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/006178.html

    “With GCooper, I commend to everyone’s attention as a case study, both in the long march through the institutions and the rise of the regulatory class, the development of the anti-food-business movement. The London Food Commission (note portentous official sounding title) and its front Parents for Safe Food secured attention, funding, then notional academic respectability as its key activist Tim Lang got himself a chair in a discipline that his pressure group had invented. Now the same people are advising and driving government policy.

    Want power? Start a pressure group.”

    And:

    “”Professor” Tim Lang, aside from being one of the nastiest pieces of work I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, is a key player in this Gramscian scam. ”

    Anyone know what the prof’s BA and PhD were in?

    He certainly has his snout in a few troughs.

  11. “…those making choices based on wages will be feeling good about themselves while people in the developing world are being tossed out of their jobs.”

    And that’s what it is really all about, when you get down to it…

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