All too often, the debate around globalization centers on the economics of production. It is naturally assumed that nations which are able to undersell others in a certain product should do so. Such a system insures the greatest variety of goods at the lowest price. While the globalized economy does enrich the world by circulating a vast array of quality goods, that is only part of the story. It also impoverishes. There is a cultural aspect to globalization that is often ignored.
Culture and Production
Culture, by definition, incorporates the beliefs, behavior, language, and entire way of life of a particular people. It is reflected in customs, ceremonies, works of art, inventions, technology, traditions, foods, and economy. Christian civilization, with its constant impulse toward perfection, especially enriches culture.
However, there is something in the very nature of man whereby anything he touches expresses his culture. All peoples take delight in the uniqueness of their own existence and constantly look for different ways to express it or see themselves reflected in their surroundings and products.
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Thus, the world rightly praises Italy’s vast array of pastas, Germany’s variety of beers, or the assortment of Kentucky bourbons. In some way, all these products reflect the respective locale and culture.
It is a tribute to the inventiveness of a people when they create surprising and novel products by extracting, developing, and refining resources from their surroundings. Sometimes the place itself is so important that the product cannot be produced anywhere else. From the blending of local berries and special grapes, for example, the great Burgundy wines were born. From the cactus in the scorching Mexican desert, tequila was distilled.
A Globalized Apple
Something of this local creativity is lost in globalization.
Take the case of a lowly apple. Buy a simple bottle of apple juice at an American supermarket and look at the listing of the juice’s origin. “Contains concentrate from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, China, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Turkey and United States,” one such label reads.
In this case, the multi-national apple juice ceases to express a single culture and becomes a savorless product to slake the thirst of its undiscriminating consumer.
The Metaphysics of Quantity
The globalized apple juice flees from any kind of distinctiveness. It makes a metaphysical statement by affirming that quantity is worth more than quality and that large quantities of a thing are more important than its refinement and individuality.
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While there are literally hundreds of varieties of apples, the globalized apple suppresses their characteristics and turns them all into a bland mixture of apple concentrates. All apples are equal and blended in a concentrate where the particular characteristics of a Hungarian apple are indistinguishable from those of an Argentine apple. Gone is the distinctive, tart flavor of a local cider, replaced by the homogenized essence of apple made for the globalized masses.
Sinking in a Sea of Juice
It might be argued that globalized apple juice is a lamentable but necessary reality in the world market economy. Apple concentrate from several nations simply supplies overwhelming American demand.
Again, that is not the full story. Globalized apple juice comes at a time when American apple production is at an all-time high. Apple orchards across the country are producing record harvests. However, the prices, adjusted for inflation, paid to growers are now the lowest since the Great Depression — while consumer prices are actually inching upward.
Apple juice prices, $189 a ton in 1995, now stand at $40 a ton. Other farmers report offers as low as $10 a ton and simply let the apples rot rather than pick them. Floods of imports, especially from Communist China, have run orchard owners out of business.1
A Climate of Instability
An economic climate wherein Turkish apple juice can be imported and sold cheaper than juice produced a mile down the road creates instability among producers. The incentive to produce new kinds of juices and other apple products is lost in the struggle for survival.
Something of the local creativity in the quest for a better apple is lost. Something of tradition is lost when orchard owners who have raised quality apples for generations leave their farms.
Ultimately, the consumer loses. There will always be high-priced quality juices available at gourmet shops. However, those common tangy juices so expressive of an area and accessible to all are inevitably the first victims of the globalized apple.
The apple is but one example. When the apple’s plight extends to other fields, something of the way we express ourselves and something of our culture is lost — never to be regained.