Last week I went out and picked up out-of-town guests. Some had travelled a few hundred kilometres to get to my apartment, others had actually come halfway round the world! Imagine the specialness. Here's the guest list:
1/2 dozen Gala apples (New Zealand)
1/2 dozen oranges (California)
acorn squash (British Columbia)
seedless watermelon (California)
pears (South Africa)
5 lb bag potatoes (Prince Edward Island)
2 lb bag carrots (British Columbia)
300 grams coffee (Guatemala)
1 bottle habanero pepper sauce (Jamaica)
1 bag 'Mayan Sweets' onions (Mexico)
And so on. With the exception of the bags of quinoa and couscous from the organic grocery store down the street, not a single item in my kitchen is grown or manufactured in the province where I live. Would I buy local? Heck yes. Would I be able to pay rent and clothe myself if I did? Heck no! Like the leader of the acting troupe in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, I can do rent and food without the clothes, or clothes and food without the rent, but food is compulsory. I'm aware that economies of scale, government subsidies and numerous sweet deals operate in favour of grocery store chains and the MegaAgriBiz that feeds them, but the relative cheapness of these goods still strikes me as dangerously false. How is it that apples from New Zealand run for twenty cents less per kilogram than the ones grown forty kilometres from my door? What kind of costs must be dispersed and reimbursed to maintain the monster supply chain that shuttles pieces of fruit from a tree in New Zealand to a swinging wire basket in my kitchen?
Whatever the intricacies of the system that keeps me in South African pears and Phillipine jeans, I do know that I'm living in a state of freakish historical luxury. If were to take stroll back to the the early 11th century and explain to William the Conqueror that I'd just eaten a vegetable ragout that had travelled a total of 8000 miles to get to my stomach, he'd probably turn white, shake off a few lice and hand me that newly acquired territory of his. He'd say, "What is the secret of your wealth and power, O Healthy One Without Obvious Signs of Rickets and Smallpox?" And I'd answer, "Rock oil. It's not just for lighting arrows and pouring off of battlements anymore". He'd say, "Mon dieu, c'est formidable! What vast resources do you command?" I'd say, "It's not me. There are millions of us, all living high on the hog off of cheap petroleum energy, exploiting labour in poorer countries in order to position ourselves at the termina of all supply chains". "Oh. So who's really in control?" "The companies that maintain and control the chains". "So you're a fabulously well-fed serf, then". "Well, I wouldn't put it that way". "No, of course not. I'll be taking back England now. Have a nice afternoon". "But I'm so straight of limb, bright of eye and fair of face". "Here, why don't you have an arrow for that bright eye of yours? C'est un souvenir". "Oh yeah? Here's some Mexican habanero sauce from the FUTURE, you condescending barbarian! C'est l'avenir pour vous!" "Mes yeux! Ils ont chaud!" "Yeah, that's the supply chain in action. Be glad I didn't bring a Kalashnikov".
Yeah, that's pretty much how it would it go, with me standing triumphant over William the Conqueror, clutching an uncapped bottle of Matouk's in my hand, while the Norman invader writhes at my feet in agony, clawing at his eyes. I wonder how knock knock jokes would go?
Me: Knock knock.
Will: My name is William.
Me: Yes, I learned about you in school. Knock knock.
Will: Sorry, is that some kind of insult from the future?