marxism on veggies

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Tue Aug 29 09:33:47 MDT 1995


At 9:22 PM 8/28/95, glevy at acnet.pratt.edu wrote:

>Of course ... Lisa is correct.  The demand for particular veggies by the
>working class didn't just happen (as neoclassical economists tell us in
>the theory of consumer sovereignty) ... they were *created*. Veggie
>producers, like firms in most branches of production under advanced
>capitalism, use advertising and marketing to create a demand for a
>particular veggie. I would go so far as to say that it is impossible for
>us to say why we like particular veggies if we abstract from the social
>context of veggie production. More generally, it is very hard for us to
>say rationally that our choices about what products we want and need
>aren't influenced by capitalists and their advertising.
>
>How did particular veggies become trendy? Why do certain segments of the
>working class eat certain veggies and not others. It's not only a
>question of income (as Lisa points out)  and taste (as Jon pointed out),
>but how our desires and choices  are manipulated by capitalists (and, to
>a lesser extent, by small agricultural producers).

I can't recall having seen a single advertisement for arugula (arugola in
Italian, known in places in the US heartland as rocket; the stuff grows
wild, and is considered poor folks' food in Italy). Or baby eggplants or
lollo biondo lettuce. These desires are created in more complex ways -
perhaps because it's more difficult to create brand identity for plants
than for packaged goods. Leading-edge chefs and restaurants create the
first impression of a new food or style on "early adaptor" rich foodies;
these innovations are then passed along in the food press and the "Style"
sections of our major metropolitan dailies; and then the new thing, if
appropriate, is then spread through mid- and downscale publications like
Parade. The distribution pattern follows - local farmers dealing directly
with restaurateurs, then specialty wholesalers, then high-end gourmet
shops, then high-end urban/suburban supermarkets, then, maybe, the Kroger's
in Abingdon, Virginia.

In the case of food, many of these innovations are good, no matter how
debased the process of desire-shaping. American food is so much better than
it was 20 years ago. I love cooking and eating good food. I like shopping
before I cook. I take great pleasure in combing the markets on the Upper
West Side of Manhattan for ingredients. Does this disqualify me from being
a Marxian?

Barbara Ehrenreich has a great rap on how the left is too suffused with
hair-shirtism to make friends in the working class. We're so busy
criticizing the marketing machine that we forget that there is pleasure in
consumption. Like that Mandel quote I posted the other day - the point is
to criticize the hyperindividualized and destructive nature of capitalist
consumption, not to take a quasi-religious stance in disapproval of
indulgence.

Doug

--

Doug Henwood
[dhenwood at panix.com]
Left Business Observer
250 W 85 St
New York NY 10024-3217
USA
+1-212-874-4020 voice
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