Food Commodities vs. Food Products

Builds Upon: Supermarkets, the Illusion of Overchoice,
The Absolute Value of Material Goods,
Objective Cheapness

Every brand has a company behind it that has obtained some resources and made them into a ‘product.’
We tend to buy these products without asking ourselves:

-Has the company added value to the resources they started with?
-No change?
-Have they actually degraded the useful value of the initial resources?

Consider prepackaged salad greens and pre-sliced produce sold at a 300-400% markup from the base commodity even though only minimal value has been added by saving the customer a few minutes of time.
The moment a mushroom gets sliced up and wrapped in plastic, it stops being a mushroom. It becomes a ‘product.’

How far removed is a breakfast cereal from the grains it was made of? The price tag is very telling.
If we compare a pound of puffed rice to a pound of rice the difference is enormous. The cereal is likely 300-400% more expensive.
Thus, the cereal ought to return 3-4 times the value of the rice, right?

In fact, the high heat processes used to make the cereal have destroyed most of the nourishing value of the original rice!

The pre-packaged produce and the cereal are colossal ripoffs.
The price includes:

-extra packaging

-extra processing

-extra middlemen who must take their cut.

-advertising

-a longer logistics chain (food also going to be less fresh)

-consumer demand from emotional attachments to the brand and its advertising

-demand from lack of critical thinking about costs and benefits.(Effectively a market share of others’ failure to look after their best interests!)

-“convenience tax”: the penalty for buying in small individually packaged portions.

If we instead move towards the original commodity by buying a pound of rice, we cut useless corporate middlemen out of the picture, leaving only those who actually create value.
Furthermore, every additional middleman makes the system more complex. More complexity means more points of failure in which our food could be degraded or contaminated. This is a legitimate concern when these companies have little reason to care what they churn out so long as it doesn’t immediately poison consumers.

Not only do we deprive middlemen of opportunities to screw us,

-An entire factory devoted to degrading the resources it starts with is discouraged.

-A whole bloated army of parasitic advertisers, marketers, corporate lawyers misses out on a bit of its payday.

-We avoid purchasing a whole slough of intangible baggage associated with the brand name.

Only those who actually produce the food and bring it to market get our money!
Whenever we make a purchase we have an opportunity to cast a vote against the superfluous, the wasteful, the inefficient, and the incompetent!

Better still, as one approaches the original commodity, one is increasingly likely to be able to buy in bulk.
If one buys a 25 pound bag of rice of instead of a one pound bag, the price per pound is far less.
An added bonus: at popular stores with high merchandise turnover, the bulk items are often the freshest and highest quality.

Yet brands thrive because they are symbols of social belonging in industrialized cultures. One might be thought strange by one’s friends for bringing a dirt cheap 10 pound sack of in shell unsalted peanuts to a party. But it would be perfectly normal to show up with an overpriced little jar of brand name peanuts that have been cooked in cottonseed oil and coated with MSG.

Because of the critical importance of social belonging, companies with popular brands can not only charge more, they have less incentive to offer a quality product. It’s not the food people are after as much as it is the image.

As such, buying bulk food commodities is a form of arbitrage.
Not only are they higher in quality than processed brand name foods, there is less demand for them among the general populace.

Can we imagine one company marketing a sexy, exciting, cool potato for the younger generation and a steady dependable potato for baby boomers?
Advertising becomes much more difficult when it’s the same inglorious lumpy sack of russet-burbanks just sitting there.
You get what you see.
In this situation, corporations have much less room to boost their profit margins with deceptive practices and appeals to emotion. The item they’re trying to sell is nearly identical to what their competitors are bringing to market, thus their profit margins are kept to the market price just as employees’ wages are stuck to a market price.

When employers purchase our labor, they are our bosses.
When we purchase goods from our employers we are the bosses!
By failing to look after our best interests in the market place, we cede power to our employers and allow the equilibrium to shift in their favor. Can you imagine a company paying employees more than it has to simply because it’s too lazy to figure out the market price for labor?

Buying commodities first is a way of keeping the corporations on a short leash just as our corporate bosses keep us collared and leashed every minute of every working day.
In one action you oppose:
-A hollow post-industrial concept of atomized ‘individuality’.
-A shallow socialite marketplace in which chatty, flashy substance sells over form.
-Undeserved profit that actually undermines our power over our lives and actively subsidizes the cartels that run our government and decide whether or not we get to eat and keep a roof over our heads.

Perhaps, most significantly of all, by avoiding the name brand product, one secedes from a superficial, self-destructive, and hostile modern mass culture.

In an enlightened economy, I could easily imagine a business phenomenon that would push many other retailers out of the market, especially in hard times with low wages steadily losing their already meager purchasing power.
Imagine a supermarket that just had bins, barrels, and drums of commodities with no brands in sight.
No unnecessary packaging, bags, or plastic. Customers could just bring whatever containers they like from home. There could be cheap burlap sacks to sell to customers in case they don’t have anything suitable with them.

Beyond a critical mass impact on suppliers, no existing retail model could possibly compete with the low prices such a business could offer.
The only reason no such model exists is because too many customers have grown indolent in watching out for their best interests and don’t even recognize that they’re being systematically parasitized.
Even where the odd shopper might connect the dots, money cannot buy most goods in commodity form in industrialized countries. Nearly everything has been swarmed over by micropackaged brand scams that force the customer to pay more.

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2 responses to “Food Commodities vs. Food Products

  1. You give a whole new meaning to the term ‘food chain.’ And you’re right about how expensive a “product” becomes after all the physical and commercial processing.

    I’m no food snob, I was raised on plain (but good—at least to me) food. And that’s what I still want. Every once in a while I buy some packaged thing with the spices already in it and each time find it disgustingly reminiscent of chemicals. Too salty, too unidentifiable, too indigestible. Try searching the frozen food isle for a big bag of plain old peas that don’t have some repulsive sauce slathered all over them. (I know you’re talking about taking it down to real basics but I do appreciate convenience.)

    None of this is making food better, it’s just producing new generations of people addicted to over-seasoned, over-processed, synthetic crap.

    • Nothing wrong with convenience, but the rise in price, deterioration of the ingredients ought to be proportional with the gains you receive.

      ‘Convenience’ is mostly just an excuse that we have bought into. We might save time buying ‘instant’ products that are marked up 2-3 times from barely modified or degraded base commodities, but few of us stop to think:
      If we paid a fraction of the price for food, how much less time would we have to spend working in the first place? If the price is drastically less, time spent in preparing it makes itself up. Furthermore, the time investment really is not that much if you know what you’re doing in the kitchen. There’s all kinds of ways to fix something up quick, especially with a microwave.
      However, a major barrier that keeps people locked into convenience food, I think, is that they need to develop an entire new skill in order to change from their already comfortable habits. As noobs, they think cooking is about trying follow recipes all the time, which they rightly perceive as a hassle. They don’t understand that after awhile you know what spices pair with what and how much to use without having to obsess over measuring spoons.

      The convenience products you have gotten at the store have an inferior taste and compromising effect on the digestion because the sauces are nearly always going to have a toxic soy/canola/cottonseed oil base with some corn starch or white flour for thickener. To counterbalance the lack of flavor, the ‘spices’ mostly consist of MSG. In fact it’s the MSG that causes that excessive metallic, chemical, salty flavor that almost burns the mouth if you’re not used to it.

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