As most of you know, I’m not an academic, and I’m certainly no expert on economics or government. However, with elections coming up in both Australia and the USA, I thought it might be a good time to say a few things.
Lately I’ve been noticing a trend, with an increasing number of articles referring to the compromise of quality due, largely, to capitalistic pursuits. A few days ago, yet another article arrived to my inbox about the adulteration of olive oil. Olive oil!! Is nothing sacred? The author made the comment that ‘capitalism is costing us quality’, inferring and relating to recent news articles about olive oil being tainted/cut with other products to increase profit margins. The blog originates in the USA, as did the research that revealed the tainting of olive oil. Recently when we were in the USA we made a number of similar observations ourselves, though not specifically about a single product, more about services. That is not to say that we don’t have problems in Australia, but it is sometimes easier to observe things when out of one’s own environment.
The American Corporate Medical model we experienced, while it was created to work well on paper, has huge chinks in a system that relies on human consistency while simultaneously does not acknowledge characteristics of the individual. A system that was ‘improved’ to offer freedom of choice to many, didn’t account for the fact that offering too many choices can actually diminish the individual’s experience. Our own Medicare system has its problems, and neither system is perfect, but I guess it’s the devil you know, so I was not unhappy to return to the Australian system.
Corporate style food production and consumption seems well out of control of the individual trying to eat healthily, certainly in Southern Ohio.
How did supermarket vegetables lose their palatability, with so many people right there watching? The Case of the Murdered Flavor was a contract killing, as it turns out, and long-distance travel lies at the heart of the plot. —Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Finding foods that have not travelled halfway across the country, or even the world, was rare. The quality of food served by many medium priced restaurants was barely adequate, and never mind the cheaper corporate franchise options which further diminish the eating experience. Finding vegetables, other than potatoes, on restaurant menus was, once again, a challenge. And sourcing something like organic, or local produce seems only available to a very, very small group of people who happen to have access or who grow their own. Many foods are sweetened to a degree that completely drowns the taste of the food itself, or is designed to make up for the fact that poor quality ingredients have little flavour. I could only conclude that most people do not even know any more what good quality food should look and taste like, let alone what it costs to produce. Sadly, this is partially replicated in Australia.
Walmart is well documented to target urban rural sites for its stores. They undercut the prices of local shops until the shops close, and then when Walmart closes it leaves the small towns with no local shopping or employment. Heavy subsidies of the corn industry have supported GM development that ever increases yield, not to mention the use of high fructose corn syrup to ridiculous levels. The end result in many rural areas is that the financial returns do not go to support the surrounding communities which continue to lose educational and medical resources, but to line the pockets of corporate owners and producers. (Rural communities: Legacy + Change by Cornelian Butler Flora, Jan L Flora, Stephen P Gasteyer)
If you are aged and can no longer live at home on your own, and don’t wish to live with family, or they cannot provide for you, there is the corporate style ‘assisted living’ option. Decades ago, our parents made it clear to us they had their own plans. The reality of that did not work and so they opted for the assisted living situation. During our recent stay we felt our Mum needed a higher level of care and we sought to use the ‘in house’ service to take her blood pressure and administer her medications on a daily basis. It was badly managed by aides with such low levels of skill that we cancelled the service less than two weeks after it started. And it wasn’t just the low skill, but in one case a very bad attitude that I could only say reflects badly on bovine-like behaviour. And what can you expect, when the minimum wage is half what it is in Australia and other countries?
Let me share with you a simple example. On our American Airlines return flight from Cincinnati to Dallas Fort Worth, we flew ‘first class’, which is the same as ‘business class’ in Australia. For this two and a half hour flight we were offered alcoholic beverages and a snack, free of charge. My husband ordered a gin and tonic and I requested water. Both drinks appeared in plastic cups, with no fruit garnish, making it difficult to tell which drink was which, save the bubbles. Potato crisps, sweetened popcorn and something else sweet were offered as a snack, no doubt to satisfy the well trained palate expecting HFCS or a high carbohydrate alternative. At the end of the flight the attendant walked the aisle with a large garbage bag, nodding (not speaking) to us to drop our trash into the bag ourselves. (We are not above picking up our own trash, but really, we had paid for first class service.) Hours later we were in business class seats on Qantas and we received drinks in real glasses, water garnished with lemon and nuts with pretzels as a snack, even serviettes. The attendant collected the trash by hand and returned it to the rubbish recycle receptacles in the galley. I could not have made up two more starkly contrasting examples of the same situation if I had tried, illustrating that not every corporate experience needs to be a low quality one.
These are not only things we have read and seen with our own eyes, but have been validated by various Americans we spoke with while there. In fact one of them encouraged me to write this article. The general population seems disillusioned and disappointed, evident in the anger and abhorrent behaviour in the current political race. Who can blame them?
Some of the benefits of capitalism are supposedly quality and choice. But if those have become the casualties, perhaps we are partly to blame for the choices we make. Perhaps we need to lower our expectations of having ‘stuff’ and having someone else look after us, and we need to educate ourselves and discover what is really important in life, so that we make better choices. There are other ways to ‘vote’ than at the ballot box. We can vote by shutting our wallets, we can vote by actions and we can vote with our feet, by walking away from unsatisfactory options. If we are not always trying to find the cheapest service or product, but look for value for money and understand what the real cost of living is, we will empower ourselves and our respective country.
When we aspire to a good quality of life, let’s not look to the corporate paradigms that show how cheaply things can be done, those that put growth and profit above all else. Let’s look to examples that preserve quality of life at every opportunity.