Halloween scandal candy

31 10 2007

On this day of industrial candies to ward off bad spirits there is consternation in Japan (Chicago Tribune, October 31, 2007). The Akafuku candy company, in continuous bean-jam sweets production since 1707, has been ordered closed by the Japanese government. Accusations charge the company with using spoiled, out of date ingredients for a traditional sweet sold with a promise of pristine freshness since the early 18th century. The sweet bean-jam scandal is one in a recent series of Japanese food scandals, all the more shocking to the Japanese because of their practice of buying foods produced as close to home as possible, for freshness.

Americans have lately begun to rediscover the tasty pleasure of regional food. They have returned to pre-World War II shopping and eating aspirations in a time of increasing suspicion of the intimate friendships between the politicians and the industrial food producers. Every news story about unlabeled transgenetic yummies sends us flying out to buy a piece of meat that had a name (read anything by Michael Pollan). This morning’s expose of terminator seeds with built in pesticides drives us into the arms of good farmers who will fill a cardboard box with something to eat if we subscribe for the summer.

We don’t know the entire Akafuku bean-jam story yet. It seems that they produced a heck of a lot of gift boxes of the treat and met high production levels. Local is good, small scale and local is better. It’s simple, when products we love, from lotions to potions, are made with ingredients we want and by methods we like, it’s likely those products can only be made in small batches. And that means there won’t be enough for everyone who wants to buy it which is a problem with the kind of marketing that even modest producers can have these days. That’s the logical destination of Buy Local. It means more people will want than can have.

That’s just the way it is.

But then what happens? In Soviet times and places there were ways of confronting shortages: become a Party cadre and do with; remain with the little people and probably do without. Today’s consumers of capitalist luxury, certain couture shoes and bags, are forced to ruse to be suitably shod in time: they get on lists, they court sales clerks and if they do it well enough, they have the privilege of paying $800 for a pair of ballerina flats with a sole like a slice of baloney. The supply is very limited, the great couture houses are what’s left of high early modern craft, and they can only produce so much product before compromise sets in. Fair’s fair. Vive l’artisanat!

But those who can’t breathe in that rare air have refused to do without “the shoes” or “the bag.” A saucy fake street market has sprung up fully matured, flooding certain cities with reasonably accurate (only reach people would know the difference) counterfeits of whatever the moment’s It product is. Those $10. Rolexes were the lonely pioneers in the street fake trade but now a teenager of the meagerest means, and her grandmother, can sport top drawer accessories. Which reminds us that the black market may have helped the Soviet Union preserve the “U.” in its S.S.R. a bit past the comfort of a few.

But back to food and Akafuku’s plight. It seems to have played a significant cultural role for quite a long time. The bean-jam treats were a popular regional food product that local people and travelers to the region liked to buy for gifts and ceremonies. The sweets were also closely associated with the 1,700 year old Shinto shrine, the Ise Shrine and a destination for uncounted generations of pilgrims.

plan “b” hopes that the Akafuku plant and those who want the candy to survive can find an ultra-modern solution to their production problem. In other words, how can Akafuku return to its original and historic promise of quality fresh ingredients, sold in a timely manner, but with the inevitable consequence of smaller quantities and the ultimate moment of running out. This is the ultra-modern challenge. By that we mean that the idea of “modern”, better marketing, more customers, bigger production, got the maker of a regional product in trouble. And now to survive Akafuku candy works must go beyond “modern” (and forget about post-modern, that’s so 3 minutes 5 minutes ago) and beyond modern is ultra-mdoern. plan “b” likes to think about things like this. What would it take to make that work?

Meanwhile, Happy Halloween. plan “b’s” favorite is still Hershey kisses, so perfect in every way! Industrialized and they never run out!




One response

1 11 2007

More than I ever could hope to know about bean jam. Bean candy, counting beans and 800 dollar flats.
Dotgo takes her hat off to Plan ‘b’. I’m a big fan.

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