By:Samailagi Poteki Production and Consumption in the Raw Substitution is present in our everyday lives, and maybe much more than we once thought. Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism is loosely defined by substitutions, stand-ins, and clones of real objects and real labor. These commodities tape off and block out the public form the truth. In this essay I will peel back the label on some of these products and companies that have sold us lies time and time again. We are the martyr to the capitalist war. The book Tangled Routes will give examples that pertain to big companies and exploitation of workers in the capitalist movement.
The films No Logo and Food Inc. will show how we relinquish to outside forces and let companies control our lives daily. Tangled Routes introduced me to Marx’s notion of commodity fetishism. Marx’s ideas brought to light the invisibility between the worlds of production and consumption. As consumers we are blind to the labor and the humanity, or lack thereof, behind the products we use every single day. Deborah Barndt takes us on a journey of discovery where we see the tomato’s cycle from the international companies’ point of view to the agricultural workers in the fields.
We also see how capitalism dehumanizes our fellow man (or woman, in this case) and how people are exploited in the name of surplus value. In chapter three I learned about George Ritzer’s analysis of “McDonadization. ” There are five key characteristics to this process that showcase the power and control of McDonald’s. The first step is efficiency. McDonald’s has turned the classic drive-in to something that resembles and assembly line process, and all in the name of capitalism. Most of the food McDonald’s is serving now is prepackaged and processed to the point that it’s now turned to a mere idea of food.
All this fast food restaurant does and other of the sort is freeze and refrigerate the “fully-cooked” food and then warm up, or microwave these concoctions. The fast food process has changed and gotten much quicker and simpler to make it more convenient, not so much for us as consumers, but for themselves and their workforce. The streamlining of this process also serves to make fast food even faster, which leads to the second step. Calculability at McDonald’s has reduced both food and work to a mere number. McDonald’s focuses on the quantity of food, the speed of service, and portion sizes.
In ninety seconds, a McDonald’s crew member is expected to complete the process of order taking, food preparation, and the order’s delivery. McDonald’s doesn’t want to waste time, as wasted time is wasted money. To put this in perspective, McDonald’s once gave paper and plastic recycling a try in their stores, but this practice was discontinued because when the numbers were added up, it became much cheaper to simply dispose of these materials. The third step in the process is predictability. Like most fast food chains, McDonald’s employees are required to dress in uniform. Uniformity is also expected in the crew’s behavior.
McDonald’s does the complete opposite of promoting diversity and creativity. The process of order taking even dehumanizes the employees, as they are expected to recite the same line car after car and customer after customer. If there is anything that McDonald’s promotes to it’s workers it is robotic conformity. It was ridiculous to me that workers were even trained to say “Would that be a Coke? ” to cut two seconds from the ordering process. The fourth step to this cycle is control. Machines at McDonald’s have replaced humans in certain circumstances because they give the company greater control.
McDonald’s rewards it’s employees for machine-like repetition and discourages them from any creative behavior. The last step in McDonaldization is the irrationality of rationality. This step describes how fast food and TV dinners have almost wiped out traditions like the family meal. Ritzer has given some credit to McDonald’s though, explaining that it’s food is readily available, affordable, and convenient. The McDonald’s empire continues to grow and it’s all owed to it’s consistently youthful workforce selling and serving meals to it’s targeted clientele, the youth of the world.
Deborah Barndt traces the tomato through every step in its cycle, from the greenhouses and plants in Mexico to our neighborhood supermarkets. In chapter six of Tangled Routes, Barndt tells us a little about the lives and histories of some of the workers in the tomato industry. The stories begin with Juana who is a tomato packer. She began at the plant when she was fourteen years old. The last grade she completed in school was fifth, since she had to drop out and begin working to help her mother.
The company that she works for makes the job sound semi-glamorous, as they provide the workers with food, shelter and transportation. Juana is satisfied with her work. Another worker is Soledad, who is a fifteen year old greenhouse planter. She has been working there since she was thirteen. Soledad lives with her grandparents and two of her siblings. Her mother and father moved to Los Angeles to try and make more money for their growing family. Soledad makes twenty-six dollars a week, which doesn’t begin to compare to the five-hundred dollars that her parents send the family every two weeks.
Yvonne also works in a greenhouse, where she is a packer. Yvonne has the luxury of working alongside heavy machinery, which has resulted in injuries of the workforce. Yvonne was once told by supervisors at the plant that she was working below the quota, which pushed her to become more efficient. Yvonne worked hard to pick up her speed and productivity in order to fill her daily quota. The sad part of the deal is that she doesn’t get paid by how much she produces, she’s only paid hourly. The exploitation of these people is clearly defined in Barndt’s story.
We watched a few films that also took into account Marx’s idea of the commodity fetish. These films pulled back the veil on the processes of commodity production and consumption. Sometimes we as consumers don’t open our eyes and by capitalism are hidden away of the truth behind consumer goods. We watched one film called No Logo that brought about the truth about branding and logos pertaining to our everyday products. The film was broken up into three sections which include no space, no choice, and no jobs. The first section, no space, focused on the advertisement overload in media.
Branding took off in the industrialization period and has since gained popularity not only to companies, but has become attractive and seduced us as consumers. People have come to identify with brands more than actual products. Logos are comforting to us, and their product consistency builds our trust. Companies have evolved and come to a point of selling us a certain idea or lifestyle rather than the product itself. The second part of the film, no choice, explains how we see stores and companies as giving us more choices when it comes to products when in actuality there is less choice.
These days brands are everywhere you turn. Logos decorate our homes, our streets and everything in between. There is no aspect of our lives that isn’t open to the theater or brand. Logos and brands are intertwined into everything and everyone. The last part of the film, no jobs, explains how the quality of jobs has diminished. Globalization and capitalism are resulting in lower wages and sweatshops popping up worldwide. Women are in this case the victims of capitalism, since they are the ones in the sweatshops working for a few cents an hour. Women are thought of as easier to control than men in he perspective of exploitation. Globally, we seem to be in a race to see who can abuse workers more, rather than who can churn out more product. My favorite film of the bunch is Food Inc. Like the last film, Food Inc. served to demonstrate the commodity fetish. Mass producers are using branding and pictures to lure customers into and a non -existant idea. Our human fetishes of “farm fresh” foods are toyed with and the label stand-in that totally masks the real product is accepted. It seems that the whole supermarket is a lie. The products themselves are traced back to all the inequalities behind them.
The college students getting paid minimum wage at the drive-thru, the undocumented men that catch the chickens to make the nuggets, and the farmers that are incarcerated and controlled by huge companies are proof. The film told us some truths about false advertisement. So much of the food we buy actually turns out to be corn that’s been cleverly rearranged. Corn is used in everything from our “fruit” juice to our medicine. One of the scientists in the film ventured to say that about ninety percent of the food in our supermarket has a corn ingredient, soybean ingredient, or a combination of both.
Corn is also now used as feed for our cows. Farmers have chosen to make a switch from the traditional grass diet of a cow to corn. Corn is much cheaper and fattens the cows up quickly. This also resulted in a drop in price of meat. The down side to this situation is that corn changes the cow’s digestive capabilities. Cows therefore end up standing knee deep in their manure and are covered in it from head to toe. E. Coli is then transferred from the manure of the cow to our meat when the cow is skinned.
The FDA doesn’t conduct as many food inspections today as they once did, so they root of the problem can be traced back to our own government. One little boy named Kevin fell victim to the corruption in our society. After eating a burger with his family while on vacation, he fell ill and was pronounced dead in twelve days. The public wasn’t warned about this tainted meat until sixteen days after Kevin’s passing. His mother became an activist and is the brains behind Kevin’s Law, which gives the FDA the power to shut down plants producing contaminated food.
The most shocking part of this section of the film was that companies know that if they feed their animals corn for their whole lives but for the five days prior to their use they feed them grass, that in itself would shed eighty percent of the E. Coli. Even after they know this information, they refuse to spend an extra buck to better ensure their customers’ health and their product quality. Food Inc. shows us different takes on our economy as related to food. The one I could relate to the most was the section about the fast food industry versus fresh home cooked meals.
Busy and less fortunate families resort to fast food because of the quickness and affordability. A bundle of vegetables or a fruit are priced to almost the equal price of a burger at McDonald’s. Big companies like this one have changed our idea of what food is. Salt, fat, and sugar are the three main tastes we look for in our meals. The control of the food industry is hurting our health more than our wallets. This food is causing us to develop diabetes and obesity, and we are passing our bad habits to the younger population. We have to eat in order to live, but why is eating killing us?
We must find healthy options for us and our youth amongst the garbage we are consuming. In conclusion, I believe bill SB-63 sums up the issues of secretive production and open consumption. Everyone has a choice as to what we buy and where, but we also deserve a right to know how our products are made and their origin. SB-63 gives consumers the right to know measure and requires that cloned foods be marked. In California this bill passed senate, but was vetoed by Schwarzenneger, which once again leads us to see the corruption and gives us reasons to point fingers back at government.
The tomato isn’t merely a tomato, but an intertwined vine of social connections and relationships. McDonald’s isn’t a burger joint, but a massive super brand that aims at controlling our food and our people. Corn isn’t only on the cob anymore, but has taken over and is masked behind labeling and processed junk filling up our refrigerators. SB-63 is carving the way to a solution for our corrupted food industry, and it’s up to us as consumers to take the steps and find wholesome and just commodities to better ourselves in body and ethics.