Can you see that Avocado? Yes, that’s right… Do you like it? Come on, buy it, no guilt… you deserve it.
Is this simple chain of thoughts enough to make us buy something that we do not need at all? But of course, that is not the problem, but the top of the iceberg. The real problem is that our distracted decision moves the gears of a consumption system beyond what we can see; or, in truth, beyond what we want to see.
Probably when we look at that Avocado, we don’t want to know anything about the people who planted the tree, cared for it, harvested the fruits, stored them on pallets, and packed them carefully in padded cardboard boxes to send them by plane to Europe. But, it seems enough to know that avocados are trendy and that instagramers champion them as the must-have element of the healthy diet that our liberal friends lead.
The less glamorous aspect of the label is seldom read. It says that countries like Chile, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Indonesia and Kenya go to great lengths to offer the lowest prices in the European markets for Avocados. But who pays the cost of so much wonder within reach of the citizens of the first world? Who cares about this in the 21st century?
Who cares that 1.16 kilos of Avocados per capita are consumed in Europe and that this consumption has grown by 8% between the years 2017 and 2019? Who would be interested in learning that 2,000 litres of water are needed to produce one kilo of Avocados? The price of Avocado in Europe rarely exceeds 5 Euros for a pack of 4.
Do European consumers of Avocados care to know that, in Latin America, amidst draughts and private ownership of water streams, avocado trees are prioritised because of their commercial worth, and they are given the water that the people of the nearby towns struggle to obtain? Nor does the fact that farmers and their families earn a miserable salary working all day under the sun to produce those Avocados. None of them will get out of poverty because they will never make enough from the draining job on the avocado plantations.
Conscious or unconscious, our thoughts, attitudes and actions represent power in the production chain. Every time we buy, we press a button that points in the same direction, driving the wheel of the system in the direction of inequality and poverty of many and the privilege and wealth of a few consumers eager to follow a trendy, liberal style of life.
The guilt that young European liberal consumers apparently feel sometimes is not a sign that things will change in the future. Instead, it is just an example of the distance that increasingly separates those who poorly subsist in precarious, badly paid and poorly regulated jobs in the third world and those who enjoy the benefits of that system and who ignore the origin of the products and services that they are consuming. In the same way, they celebrate cultural diversity but do not mix personally with refugees, asylum seekers or immigrants from poor countries. But they talk about them a lot.
The idea of guilt that afflicts the European middle-class today is not religious. They, who killed God just to put money in its place, know it. It’s just the hangover produced by the excess of consumer choices. The sense of entitlement leads European citizens to fall into that emotion temporarily, the guilt of the conscious consumer. Because if there is something consumers know very well is prices: cheap is better and cheap means that they are not obliged to face those who work to produce those products.
But the king goes naked through the streets of Europe. The nakedness of his guilty middle-class is expressed in the story they tell themselves to maintain their entitlement: they deserve it because they have worked hard. They have the right to consume to death while falling into depression in a lonely house in the middle of the hills!
Our ills derive from this distance, from this voluntary and comfortable blindness that separates us from others and the world.
Why has accommodating reality to our desires become the most common form of denial of reality?