In a millennial-driven world where vegetarianism is on the up, and during a pandemic that has already forced us to look within, comes a book that will further provoke debate about eating habits.
“The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket” by Benjamin Lorr exposes facts about the food industry that nauseate and startle, even when you are not expecting anything to the contrary. And though mainly about America, the book has relevance to other parts of the world.
Behind glistening arrays of seafood laid out on ice across supermarket shelves are stories of slaves and torture. Lorr took the Hemingway-Gonzo route of immersing himself in an activity and then writing about it. In the five years he spent on the book, he worked at supermarkets, endured their “fecal-matter” like stench during cleaning, and visited fishing docks in Thailand, among other things. When an unpaid labourer on a boat in Thailand got delirious from exhaustion, he wasn’t given fluids and taken to hospital. The man was beaten up and thrown overboard. Some others were lashed with stingray tails.
“One of the first things you realize working retail grocery is that people, in general, are hideous and insane,” Lorr writes. “A grocery store is a finely tuned instrument to serve human whim, and the diversity of human whim often allows it to do double duty serving one through the act of serving another. To do so, the industry relies on an anonymous and underpaid staff working without health care or job security.”
Lorr blames American consumers for a lot of the troubles in the grocery business. If best practices are ever to be adopted, and people want to crunch into their prawn tempura without guilt, they have to be willing to pay higher prices. But Lorr feels people want the best of everything at low cost. American shoppers, he says, demand “completely impossible, unsustainable opposites — low price and high quality, immediate availability and customized differentiation.”
Thanks to environmental, health and animal welfare awareness, many people are eating consciously all over the world. Veganism, a concept that is nearly eight decades old, is on the rise. The Economist had predicted that 2019 would be the year of the vegan.
“Where millennials lead, businesses and governments will follow,” was the publication’s simple explanation for its stand. And millennials were going vegan or at least vegetarian. According to The Economist, a quarter of 25-34 year old Americans were vegan or vegetarian. There are 8 million plus millennials in the US. India, of course, has 426 million of them.
If a decent percentage of them are sensible about food, there is hope for the rest of humanity. Maybe we shouldn’t mock millennials and their organic coffees.