What’s weird is people complaining about this:
We have a weird relationship with food in this country. Many of us know the calories in an apple and have a specific preference for a caramel hazelnut flat white or type of fried wings in a bucket; very few can say how long it took for the apple to reach their table from the tree (up to a year), where the almond milk for their coffee was produced (California, with 300 litres of water per litre of milk) or how their chicken was killed (gassed in their transport crates). We are obsessed by cookery books, spend vast amounts on diet products and worry when the Deliveroo order will arrive but are less interested in sourcing our produce. We care about Geronimo the alpaca being put down, not the 300 cows killed each week because they are suspected of carrying tuberculosis or where the meat comes from to feed our pets.
We don’t need to know any of this. The entire joy of the marketplace is that we only have to deal with our particular and specific interface with it. What is it that we do in order to gain cash? What is it, among the things that are there, do we wish to spend that cash upon? All that interaction of the other 7 billion people on the planet gets boiled down into how much cash do we get in, what do we have to send out?
To take a different example, one from a little bit in the past. So, sodium streetlamps. Near everyone uses them, at least a bit even if only to lose keys under them when drunk. So, a miracle and vital ingredient is scandium. In tiny, tiny, quantities but it’s – often at least – there. How does that scandium get into that lightbulb?
Who gives a shit is the correct answer. It’s of absolutely no interest – well, OK, some do find it interesting but that’s rather different – to know that it’s (actually, it was) harvested from the runoff of uranium exploitation on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Refined up in Moscow to a 99.999% purity as the oxide. Shipped to Ohio where it is turned into the fluoride as an extra purification step, then the metal, then the iodide. That scandium iodide is then added to a bolus of mercury which is shipped to the actual lightbulb manufacturer. There was, for a time, an alternative route through Japan, where that Russian source replaced extraction from tin slags. This past decade it’s all been a largely internal to China operation.
When you’re walking down the street at night you don’t need to know any of this. Nor that for a decade and change much of this global trade was organised by one single Englishman living in Portugal. Even, for a couple of years, near all of it so organised. This is the entire point of the market system. You only need to know your own interface, you don’t have to try to understand that whole international and global economy. Prices at the interface do all of that for you.
Of course we don’t know where our food comes from. That’s the fucking point.