April 2017 Orsola de Castro/The triumph of the ugly tomato
The similarities between the food and fashion industry are several, and it is often looking at the food industry that I derive the strength to have faith in fashion, because I know that where food leads fashion will follow – and food is leaps ahead in terms of looking at alternative ways to grow business and feed consumers.
Food and fashion both affect 100% of the population. Both food and fashion have a luxury element and a basic one, so you might not be able to afford gourmet, but you still have to eat, as you may not be interested in fashion, but you still need to use clothing.
Both industries have now reached geographically further afield than we ever imagined, relying on a huge and often exploited work-force; both industries take up space, consume energy and create waste that could be better distributed and reused.
With food, as with fashion, there is literally an ocean of difference between the globalised industry that supplies the big retailers on the high street, and the local, artisanal version of small producers just around the corner.
Global, glossy, perfect food and global, glossy, perfect fashion is what we have been served, in supermarkets and department stores, for the past 20 years, everyday, regardless of season, to the detriment of all artisanal practices.
And yet, food has shown us that this trend is reversible, and fashion is now looking at exploring the same parameters, finally, and beginning the improbable shift from massive to tiny, from the age of dinosaur to the age of the mammal.
Why? Because intensive agriculture and chemical usage has depleted the earth of its capacity to absorb rain water, because people are weary of eating the toxic chemicals our food is drenched with, because we are becoming aware of the environmental and ethical footprint that is linked with battery farming.
Foodstuff may be checked, controlled and look safe, in its nice packaging and labelled to the nines, but we really don’t know where it comes from, or how contaminated it really is, and questions are being asked.
Consumers understand that what you put inside their bodies affects their bodies, and suddenly, that ugly tomato that was lovingly grown in the organic farm 2 hours away from your home looks, and tastes, very different. It tastes purer, better, real.
If chemicals in food are a concern, chemicals in clothes should also be, and just as we have started to question the origin of what we eat, we need to apply those same health self-care principles to the clothes we wear, as the skin absorbs almost as much as the stomach does.
Our system is not efficient, and it is not safe.
Safe is knowing where things come from, and who made them, or grew them, what are they made with, and knowing that there is dignity in that toil, to provide the food that feeds and nurture us and the clothes that cover and adorn us.
Safe is to consume things, not merely use them and throw them away.
Food-wise, things are rapidly changing, and trends are moving consistently towards a total about turn, a real quest for forgotten flavours, local produce, purity and things that are genuine.
The new luxury gourmet is all about diversity, and imperfections are now accepted as nature’s creativity. The flavour lays in the fact that everything that is born naturally is unique, it’s only the manmade that distorts this individuality into conformity.
To engage the public on these issues is an important first step, providing information and guidance, advice on how to become a positive and creative part of the solution on a daily basis, because every choice we make comes with its resonance, and for every ugly tomato we chose to buy we stake our claim to a safer future.