Well it’s Monday and about half of Romania is officially off of work for the big four-day weekend (tomorrow is May 1 in case you’re unaware and a major holiday) and the half that is “working” today will be doing it at half speed and ducking out of the office as soon as possible. But in my book it’s still Monday and time to get into some meatier issues.
This graphic isn’t my creation and you can see the original author if you click on it to see it full size (it’s about 2000 pixels wide so it’s rather large) but I found it a couple of days ago and hung onto it because of how interesting it is.
This is the United States being portrayed here as other countries like Canada or Mexico have slightly different brand names but mostly the same set-up. The European package, of which Romania is becoming a part of, is also different (example: Mr. Clean is Mr. Proper here) but even if you’ve never left Romania in your life you will certainly recognize a lot of the same brands, especially those from Nestle (the only multinational pictured which originated in Europe), Pepsico, Coca-Cola, P&G and Mars/Wrigley.
I could honestly write a university dissertation for a doctorate based solely on this graphic but right off the top what’s interesting is that the name of this graphic is “The Illusion of Choice” and the author’s original intent was to show Americans how little choice they actually have when it comes to food. See? You think you’re “choosing” between different brands but 90% of what you eat/drink and use for personal care are all owned by the same 10 companies.
But for me, the illusion is that you have to choose any of these products in the first place. With the exception of occasionally buying coffee owned by Kraft (Jacobs) I live day after day, week after week without consuming any of this shit at all. I have two cats and they neither eat Unilever products (Royal Canin, Whiskas, both very common in Romania) or any kind of Nestle product. I almost never drink anything from a bottle except for a rare bottle of mineral water (from right in Romania of course). As you’ve seen, I make my own juice and I harvest wild foods right out of my back yard and except for the coffee that’s about all I drink. I don’t eat candy, processed “breakfast cereals” or 90% of the other crap that’s on this picture.
And quite frankly, there are millions of Romanians who don’t consume any of this stuff whatsoever and some who probably have just one or two things in their households, probably detergent or shampoo but certainly none of the food items. And I know for sure that there are still a significant number of Romanians who have never bought or used one thing on this entire graphic in their entire lives. Hell, one of the reasons I live here is precisely because I can escape this “illusion” and eat and drink natural foods and drinks in this country with ease.
But I also know that a lot of people in Romania are pining for and covetous and desire nothing more than to have access to all of these “wonderful” products. Hell, before Unicorn City had a KFC (we now have 2!) I knew people who would drive all the way down to Brasov just to get some. Driving for hours just to get some chicken? It seems ludicrous but that’s the way it is, that these shiny, well marketed, “glamorous” things in brightly colored labels are somehow amazing and wonderful and better than grandma’s old dirty carrots and homemade stovetop chicken.
And these multinational corporations are counting on this drooling desire, which can be manufactured at such low cost with a few advertisements. To them, Romania is an “untapped market” and full of millions of “new customers” and there’s nothing they’d love better than to ensnare everyone in this country (and the world) into having the same illusions of choice as Americans have.
But beyond just brand awareness and marketing, this graphic is illustrative of what “modernization” means. Here in Romania they talk about corruption and “pile” (friends with influence) and “barons” but that’s all small-time shit, made seem dirty or onerous because it’s only quasi-legitimate.
What sets the multinationals apart is that almost everything they do is squeaky clean and legal, enshrined by law and heralded by consumers and the media alike as wonderful and great. Of course, the American Embassy in Romania was secretly using its influence to help Coca-Cola and of course KFC sells toxic food and Nestle engages in big-time fraud and high-level people at Kraft take bribes. But remember, because they have better lawyers and better marketing campaigns, when they do it, it’s a “regrettable mistake” and when Romanians do it on a much smaller scale it’s “corruption” and must be stamped out and let’s all hang our heads in shame and consternation.
It’s obvious that the average person doesn’t have much influence over politics or the government but we all have a special and unique power that we exercise every day when we spend money on food, drink and other self care products. Every leu you spend can either go to one of these multinational corporations or it can go to an ordinary person working their own land right here in your own country.
If you want to eat chocolate cereal and drink Pepsi, then “vote” for it with your purchases. But if you’re like me and want to actually have some real choices then buy your stuff from the “little people”. Buy your chicken from the old lady with the head scarf not KFC and make it yourself at home. I promise it’s not that difficult. Make your own juices and other drinks yourself. Harvest foods from your own back yard. Or not.
The choice, for now, is still up to you.