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French Beans and Food ScaresCulture and Commerce in an Anxious Age$
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Susanne Freidberg

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195169607

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195169607.001.0001

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Britain: Brands and Standards

Britain: Brands and Standards

(p.167) 6 Britain: Brands and Standards
French Beans and Food Scares

Susanne Freidberg

Oxford University Press

In February 2002, the Financial Times ran a full-page article on the dangers posed by excessive “food miles.” It was written by the editor of Country Life, a magazine dedicated to the preservation of “the British way of life.” Like many critics of food globalization, the author argued that the cheap food policies that originally drove the United Kingdom to import much of its food had hidden costs and posed grave risks both at home and abroad. The article noted that the United Kingdom, despite its experience of mad cow and foot-and- mouth diseases, still imported meat from countries known to be “breeding grounds for killer plagues”—in particular, species-jumping pathogens such as AIDS and the Ebola virus. Despite Britain’s capacity to produce many kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, supermarkets imported them from countries where, the article said, export farming “deprived” hungry people of land for their own food crops. The airfreight transport of such foods consumed huge quantities of fossil fuel, which drove global warming, which might, the article implied, hasten the onset of geopolitical conflict over increasingly scarce farmland. To avert this dark future, the author called on “concerned shoppers” to use their buying power to “force supermarkets” to purchase and promote more local foods. And, to make perfectly clear who was to blame for burning all these food miles, the accompanying illustration featured two cartoonish characters, one a businesslike carrot wearing the brand of Tesco, the country’s biggest food retailer, and the other a Zambian green bean dressed as an ugly tourist (Aslet 2001). In turn-of-the-21st-century Britain, countryside preservationists were among the many activists who saw the African green bean and “baby veg” as symbolic of food globalization gone wrong, and who called on shoppers to help make things right. The supermarkets that stocked these petite, prepackaged vegetables intended, of course, a very different message—namely that convenient, novel fresh foods belonged in the British way of life, ideally 365 days a year. Yet this marketing strategy had a paradoxical payoff.

Keywords:   Accountability, Carrefour, Due diligence, Ethical trade, Fairtrade Foundation, Moral geographies, Neoliberalism

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