Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Conspicuous Prog Consumption

Within the world of organic food retailers, there is a trend emerging. The new organic consumers coming up through the ranks are not as wealthy. Whole Foods is creating newer stores that are smaller and offer cheaper options. Trader Joe's is beating Whole Foods in markets. Large grocery chains are offering more and more organic products that eat into Whole Foods. This change in organic food distribution reflects a change progressive consumerism will have to undergo: a poorer prog consumer.

Progressive consumerism allows for conspicuous prog consumption. Political identity can be expressed simply by what one buys. Think of the negative connotation Chik-fil-a has as 'hate chicken'. This works in reverse as one builds their identity. We have formed political thedes and the thedes eventually mold how we act, buy and dress. Crossing over in consumer land is not as hard as crossing over to vote, but there is something similar. Red tribe America laughs at Prius owners.

The younger prog generation is a far more minority filled consumer group. They are poorer. They are loaded with student debt. The first problem retail outlets like Whole Foods run into is that their brands are a white progressive identity. Pulling in non-whites will be a challenge. Have you ever seen a Mexican in a Whole Foods not making a delivery? Of those white progs that remain, they will be poorer than the Boomer or Gen-X generations that built the Whole Foods empire.

This also poses a problem for the idea of conspicuous consumption to signal one's progressive bona fides. If the young generation of progs cannot afford a Prius, a grocery run to Whole Foods and other artisinal, prog approved goods, how are progs going to signal? We can see progs already rationalizing their poverty as a choice with 'tiny houses' and other quirky lifestyle things. These consumer choices though are monthly, weekly or even daily.

Daily signals will need a new channel. This signaling is part of the intra-progressive competition as they jockey for status. It is entirely possible that poor progs throw themselves into political activities, social media outrage, or voicing even stranger and more leftwing ideas publicly. This is not just in mixed group settings, which are happening less, but when they are all together. Consider the venom that happens at caucuses (2008 Iowa Dem comes to mind) during primary season.

It would be wonderful for all if the progressives did not have the money to spend on signaling and would seek status in another way. This would require progressives to disengage from politics. This is a tall order as the entire system needs engagement and will prime these foot soldiers hourly to stay plugged into the political game. The other possibility is that larger brands go all in on progressivism and start aligning their product with one political tribe. Pepsi, the protest choice of the next generation!

4 comments:

Frank Gappa said...

Interesting observations. I am on the East Coast and I have noticed that Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are sustained to a great deal by the Chinese. The Chinese are loyal shoppers and have the funds to spend, plus their diets are conducive to the organic offerings. Another phenomena is that the Indians are replacing whites as the solid middle class. The FOB Indian will first shop at the local Indian store but the later generations have this incredible desire to emulate the white culture and will shop at Whole Foods and stores like this. I see the replacement of the white middle class happening before my eyes. Yes the upper class whites will have a strong presence in the future but the middle and lower classes are going to be majority brown, with the blacks and Mexicans at the lower rungs. However, I see the Indians and Asians with the spending power to keep these stores open.

August said...

There are a lot of progs, but organic food hits a wider audience. This is why you are seeing more organic options. They are slow to learn though, because many major organic brands are stupidly mimicking the crap food. Example: I like to avoid many gums, emulsifiers, etc..., but idiot organic companies will find organic gums to put in their products.

We just recently got a whole foods in our town- and it is almost like they are bringing the diversity. In the same development, we now have what appears to be a chain- the Halal guys.

But anyway, the drive for organic is really the drive for better food. It may be driven more by various modern illnesses (not just of ideological type either). It is mostly just a government approved label, and often you can find better practices at a local producer who doesn't have enough money to comply with the government requirements for the label.

And the progressive's love for local food may actually be a gateway to ending their political activism. Creating one of these local products appears to ground them a bit, since they have to deal with the realities of business. Not that it is perfect, but they end up noticing how often government is the problem when they start their farm, food truck, or local brewed kombucha. It's probably worth buying their stuff (if it is any good) because it keeps them working and away from the protests.

peterike said...

Unfortunately, a lot of organic food is being co-opted by large food suppliers. In America, everything gets co-opted, whether it's Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, organic food or, apparently, Donald Trump.

The problem is that "industrial organic" may be "organic," but it's still as tasteless as the non-organic industrial food. The idea was that small supplier, organic produce and meats were supposed to taste like real food. But when you buy organic down at the local Uber Market, there is no discernible taste difference, only a cost difference.

But if signalling is the true goal, what difference does taste make? Mass produced organic is also not really healthier in terms of nutritional profile, because it's not coming from rich soil, or meadow raised meat or heirloom seeds. You can feed a cow organic corn down at the feed lot to get your label, but it's not making the meat any better. Besides, the organic corn is just organically grown industrial FrankenCorn from Monsanto.

The entire food chain is disastrous and corrupt. In this regard, the Lefties are correct: corporations and "muh capitalism" really are evil.

Family farms went the way of the dinosaur thanks to Big Food. But in a nation with 300+ million people and growing every day, you have no choice but to have Big Food, because you can't feed that many people via small farms. It's really all a deal with the devil on all fronts. And of course it goes without saying to this audience that someone with genuine concerns about food, animals and/or the environment would understand that population growth via immigration is the number one enemy. But they will never see that, ever.

August said...

I believe it is possible to feed everyone with small farms. It would take time to get to the point where we have enough farms, and it would take time to figure out best practices. Like getting many on the left to finally realize you have to incorporate animals in your models, or else you are doomed. Various ruminants would keep much of America in a healthy ecological state- much of it was oak savanna in the past and could be again- IF ruminant animals are herded through it in an appropriate manner.

Plus, the robots are coming. Right now they are coming for the larger farms. But if you think about how farms are laid out- the choke-point in ag is harvest, and everything is designed to minimize harvest costs. But automated harvest changes the equation, potentially changing the lay out. We could have food forests and/or food production in more urban areas, with robots doing constant low level harvesting.

And finally, we just can't continue to have Big Ag. Sooner or later, something kills it. The costs may rise, the mono-cultures may fall to pests, some GMO may finally prove to be the frankenstien everyone is afraid of, or the soil may just go kaput and not produce anymore. Or even simpler- the stupid post World War II subsidies disappear. It's not like corn farmers are actually making that much money; remove the bad incentives, and they are going to change to something else.