Monday, October 17, 2011


a few weeks ago i got a sneak preview of forthcoming firmament when i visited the construction site of kluuvi shopping centre. a murky, stuffy and dark labyrinth of a mall was to be redone completely, and already while under renovation it looked brighter and more fresh.
cables, concrete and tile.

heads will roll.

i haz a helmet! wearing makia. (and a safety vest.)

last thursday i got to experience it fully. it was lighter and brighter definitely, but the celestial bliss waited in the depths of the basement...

tradition meets urban.

butchers who know their business.

genelec for soothing sounds.


"the right to clean food."

eat & joy farmers' market opened a large store downstairs the entirely renovated downtown shopping mall. shelves filled with local and seasonal produce, their own cheese maturing facility, a bakery, a smokery, butchers, grain mills and a potato cellar where genelec speakers play ambient music to the pleasure of the veggies and roots – talk about some rutabaga boogie...

the first night and the weekend were filled with people just browsing and lingering, tasting and, at times, complaining about the prices... as could be expected with finns who are used to eating distantly grown food cheaply and thinking that they are being ripped off because they have a hard time understanding how relatively high prices are formed in an environment where the weather is everything but suitable for human inhabitation let alone farming and where two corporations monopolize the food industry. (whoa, was that a sentence?) constraints come in forms that bind the mind sometimes.

needless to point out, this is no whole foods. we're still up north and awkwardly situated and it just does not make sense to have a selection of tropical fruit and other whatnot on offer year round. if ever, that is.

as far as trying to take the prices down, i have to side with thinking that we should learn to pay for what we choose to eat according to the real toll it is taking on our entire (eco)system although i feel uneasy with the elitism the thought might provoke. i actually believe that a healthier food chain can and should provide us with more affordable food, but it may just change our eating patterns drastically.

and if i understood correctly from my chat with the owner of the store, they are not single-mindedly promising to cut prices with more demand, but intend to grow the portion going to the producer – supporting healthily profitable agriculture and artisan food production.

swallowing that will be hard for those who believe in simplified interpretations of economics... but yeah, such is life.

the market also serves food and today i had my first lunch. a welcome addition to the neighborhood, it seemed some sort of normalcy arrived with monday.

in regard to nourishment, this fall has promise. such promise.


taru said...

It does look lovely indeed, and I'm glad we're finally getting this sort of grocery heavens and showing appreciation to local artisan food production. Very nice for us living in central Helsinki with money to spend.

But I'm afraid I'm getting a bit over-sensitive for the elitism apparent in food talk in Finland today. Food is not "too cheap" here, we already spend much more of our income on it compared to other Euro countries. (I've followed a bit of the Food Movement discussion in the US as well, and there the situation is different, "bad food " is dirt cheap and (most) Americans could afford to pay more for "real" food.)

As nice as it is to have this sort of stores as examples, it's also important (as I'm sure you agree) to ensure that everyone, anywhere in the country has access to quality food. As I do most of my shopping in the vilified supermarkets, I have been glad to notice they have increased the amount of organic produce and maybe even more importantly, more often than not, tell the near-by origin of the veggies, meat, etc. I'm sure this is a response to pressure from the customers, who've learned to appreciate quality over price at specialist organic shops or on their travels. I do think the evil grocery corporations will exist in the future as well, as they are pretty efficient in delivery, but they will have to change their ways because of competition. I have high hopes for the new chain of organic super markets, that is supposed to launch this year and spread through the country. Even if they don't play ambient to their potatoes.

It's very fine and dandy that the Eat & Joy Farmer's market promise to increase the farmer's/producer's share, but I might be too much of a cynic to swallow that as a whole - don't they also have quite heavy expenses and as any other company, aim to make a profit? Most importantly, I think it's important that we not only "vote with our wallets" as consumers but as citizens put pressure on the politics - they can change the face of Finnish agriculture steering more support to organic farmers, making non-sustainable, enviromentally unhealthy farming less lucrative (by taxing), etc. I recognize this seems hopeless, what with the ever worsening state of the Baltic sea and the government's non-actions about it.

The point of my over-long, preachy comment is: Will ya lunch with me at Kluuvi some day soon-ish?

stellagee said...

taru, well, yeah.

as i said, i find the elitism discussion problematic because talking about price is such a polarized issue here... taking it further from "i am willing to pay implies i have the moneez" towards "we should start understanding what things really truly honestly cost and how prices are formed and what is worth paying for and what is not" in addition to "use your wallet and your politics to change things" seems almost impossible without an official lament about all the people who cannot afford good food...

and not saying this because it's not true, but is just a rather boring prerequisite for a short blog post.

but yeah, let's have lunch. my soup was delish!

taru said...

Yeah, and studies that show how little of the money from grocery shopping atm dribbles to the producers are enough to make one very angry indeed. I do think people here are beginning to understand this and demand that this changes - I just don't think the bigger share for the farmers should only come from the customers' wallets through higher prices but from the chains'/stores' gains. You may say I'm a dreamer.

Maybe I'm just blind to the issues you point out, as eating mostly locally produced seasonal food seems so (pardon the pun) natural to me. I tend to forget people don't necessarily act like me and that some really do buy all that processed crap and beef from half way around the world littering the stores and feel that it's right and should continue to be so. Living in my safe bubble here...

And I'm very, very happy about how many restaurants there are now offering fresh, local, organic food here. Let's hope this trend is here to stay.

stellagee said...

taru, as far as this goes "I just don't think the bigger share for the farmers should only come from the customers' wallets through higher prices but from the chains'/stores' gains. You may say I'm a dreamer."

the point the owner of the store was making was exactly that. nevertheless, if consumers think that massive buying automatically leads to lower prices (which has been a prominent point in the discussion around organic and local eating in finland), they are ignoring the fact that the producers are getting a diminutive portion of the price but that the business must also get its share. for certain corporations, the share is exceedingly large, but that does not remove the fact that the business owner can cut only so far.

thus, i did not understand the owner saying that they will keep on charging outrageously high prices (which they're not, just to keep things clear) because they're not willing to cut their own share or want to increase it, but that they are starting at a healthy level and as their own margin grows (less waste, more efficient logistics, etc), they want to give back to the producers, not necessarily go first towards the customer.

yup, it is against the consumerist mindset, but i think it's a brave thing to say out loud.

stellagee said...

oh yes, and if you want to violently burst your bubble: take a trip to one of the good supermarkets and spy on people's carts and baskets.


it's scary.

taru said...

Stellagee, thanks for explaining the shop owner's point further. I should explain that my point was not that I expect prices for specialist gourmet products to go down when some magical critical mass is buying them. Nor do I expect indie/small chain stores to act as charities. But there has been evidence of organic products prices going down and their availability as well as quality getting better when more people not only demand them but put money where their mouth is. I don't think the farmer of organic carrots suffers when her product's price is now closer to the other carrots.

The fact that farmers get ridiculously small shares of the supermarket prices has recently been widely discussed, and at least when asked, people seem eager to steer the gains more toward the farmer. What we doo seem to lack, however, are any real political efforts to make it happen. I sincerely hope these new independent stores and other ways of getting the good stuff to consumers will prove big enough a threat to the current corrupted system, so that it will have to mend its ways.

In my time, I've done my fair share of shopping cart spying and feeling superior because of my organic, fair-trade, making-from-scratch foodie-Jesus-like choices. I also feel people should not only be more aware of their impact on the food industry but really act it. A bit of guilt never hurt anyone. However, I don't think food snobbery or sense of superiority will take us any further in solving the real problems.

(I'm available for lunch-time live ranting preferably early next week!)

stellagee said...

taru, yes. well.

"But there has been evidence of organic products prices going down and their availability as well as quality getting better when more people not only demand them but put money where their mouth is. I don't think the farmer of organic carrots suffers when her product's price is now closer to the other carrots."

is it evidence of anything else than traditional economic rules? of course it is true that a growing demand is good for the producer and for everyone. yes, prices should go down a little with better logistics and such. and there is air in the prices, as well.

but if we're into change, pointing out that wider demand naturally and inevitably leads to lower prices is ignoring the picture in its entirety and complexity. it's sometimes good to point out that the consumer and their interest might not be priority number one always. me thinks.

oh, and i thought you said you _forgot_ about the sad facts in your safe bubble, not that you chose to ignore them for the sake of trying to remain noble and nonjudgemental. my bad, sweets.

taru said...

Stellagee, as I said before, I do not believe _all_ prices will go down nor that they should - I just hope not all prices climb astronomically because the seller uses "the struggling farmers" as an excuse/marketing ploy.

I do however believe that people should have a right to healthy, proper food no matter their income. The structure of food cash flow needs to be more transparent so that we can actually see, how much is going to whom and act based on facts, not beliefs. I'm also for taxing the hell out of unhealthy processed food, etc.

The transparency should also apply to the indie food markets. While changing the flow of money from The Evil Supermarket Chains to producers is a priority that needs political will, I don't see independent store owners as "noble" warriors for the rights of farmers. And I don't get how me being appalled and disgusted by how "the other half" shops would help change but divide our society further. But that's just me being simple.

stellagee said...

taru, skipping a few logical steps here with this one, i see: "I just hope not all prices climb astronomically because the seller uses "the struggling farmers" as an excuse/marketing ploy."

transparency we definitely agree on and applied to all, of course. that's a basic. however, i am not entirely sure where the interpretation of "saintly indie store owners" comes from – must be exaggerated to prove a point or what?

if i remember correctly, it was you who brought up the "forgetting how the other half consumes", and my point was to say that i believe that both ignoring it (living in a bubble or forgetting) and feeling superior (as a false opposition) are simple ways to avoid the fact that people's consuming habits are essentially destructive and most do not give a rat's tush about it – especially if changing anything means it comes from their pocket.

point being, being aware of what goes into your fellow citizen's basket is not inherently snobbery, just keeping up with the facts. if saying that seeing the average grocery basket scares me turns me into an pretentious elitist, i am quite happy to be one.

but i'm sure you did not mean it quite like that...