Legend has it that Diogenes, the ancient Greek philosopher, would wander the streets of Athens in broad daylight, naked and carrying a lantern, and when asked what he was doing would reply, “Looking for a human being (an honest person)”.
It would appear that little has changed since Diogenes’ time, except for the level of sophistication of the con. And even there, recent revelations about Bernie Madoff’s Ponzie scheme show very little sophistication in fact; Madoff himself expected to be busted as far back as the turn of the Millennium. And the Earl Jones affair here in Montreal shows just how far a naive and trusting audience can allow a scammer to get before the well runs dry. Truth is, sophistication has largely become the purview of corporations with their massive resources, always managing to stay just within the letter of the law rather than its spirit. As consumers, we are sandwiched between the companies on the one hand, and the street smart “kids from the hood”, all intent on milking us like farm animals.
One of my company’s strategic partners is a P.R. firm. At lunch recently with their President, she was telling me how honesty is very “hot” these days in P.R. It seems that the Internet and blogging have created an environment where corporate lies and misdirection are quickly pounced upon and exposed to millions of people. The potential consequences of failed viral marketing campaigns can be staggering.
But it turns out that slight-of-hand is pretty well entrenched in the human psyche, at all levels from the corner grocer to the corporate mogul. I remember a story during the height of the Mad Cow scare a few years back, about an Italian farmer caught trying to sell an infected cow at a local market. I can only imagine the rationalizations he must have used to justify his actions: “It’s not my fault the cow got sick”….”Why should I have to absorb the loss?”…”It’s the government’s fault for not preventing the outbreak”….”I’m sure once you cook it, it will be fine”.
These thoughts rushed to mind after my recent visit to a high-end fruit and vegetable store at the Jean-Talon Market. I started chatting with the owner, always eager to learn more about what I’m eating. He pointed to some beautiful fresh strawberries from the Ile d’Orlean. His young assistant immediately chimed in: “But I have something even better…just arrived a few minutes ago”. With that he rushed to the back and returned with a crate of sad-looking berries, exclaiming that they were even sweeter than the ones on display. I took a taste of both and decided to stick with my original choice. In the meantime, the owner had cut into a plum and encouraged me to taste it. I did and it was fantastic. I said that I would buy some, whereupon he immediately handed me a pre-wrapped package with about a dozen plums.
Arriving home, I opened the package only to find half the plums so overripe that they literally had to be eaten immediately as they were already leaking. They were good mind you. But it struck me that I had been tag-teamed by the owner and his assistant. They were intent on selling me their older, over-ripe produce, rather than something fresher that would mean they would eventually have to take the loss on their older fruit. They were trying to balance their own interests with my satisfaction. No question, I will still go back because their stuff is magnificent…but I will be far more careful to choose my own fruit. Hey, that would make a great title for a food blog: Choose Your own Fruit.