Check out this ad snapped on a recent rip to the local supermarket.
A handsome, young bloke stands with his arms wide to embrace his achievement, another nutritious crop of vegetables for the table. Good on him you think. A warm feeling creeps up on you as though you are being wrapped in a safety blanket. Thanks to strong dudes like this one, I know I am going to be fed with healthy nutritious food.
No doubt the ad, that also appeared as a full page spread in the Sunday magazines, would have cost several hundred thousand dollars to run has nothing much to do with bok choy, or even fresh vegetables for that matter.
It is all about putting the retailer front and centre.
By showing the farmer as a member of the team we are being made to think that our food comes from the supermarket and not the paddock. The retailer is now the supplier.
The messaging appears to be about fresh food, from local farms grown by young and, dare I say, virile farmers who may be in search of a wife. But really it is about the retailer being the source of our food security.
So what is wrong with this particular ad beyond the obvious sexism?
Here is a hint. I purchased the weekend paper in the supermarket and not far from the newspaper stand was a special in the vegetable isle: a net of onions for $1.
That is pristine, firm onions for 15c each.
Good food at great prices. It’s enough to close down the agencies on Madison Avenue. Who needs advertising when the prices are this cheap and the produce so enticing?
The reality is that farmers cannot supply produce sold out of the supermarket at 15c unless they are selling to one buyer who runs a monopoly over them. What is wrong is that the smiling farmer is actually walking a tightrope of viability. If fertilizer prices rise by 20% then they go out of business.
The market is failing them.
The profiteering opportunities and perverse competition of a retail duopoly (two supermarket chains supply most of the food to households across the country) creates huge risks for Australian production systems. Running at the price margin is a challenging way to run any business but in farming the corner cutting and frugality it severely limits sustainability.
It is well known that farmers look after their land best when they are doing well. When they are under pressure they tend to push the land harder to make ends meet. We are at the point globally where we cannot afford for such structural risk. We need every acre of productive land to produce and to remain productive.
The message of food security provided by your friendly supermarket is false. It fails to take into account the risk that the farmer takes on when he has only one buyer of his produce.
And another thing, most farmers are over 50.
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