I look at this packet of peppers, and I think: is this what the long history of human ingenuity has come to?by Sam Leith / February 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
So the other day I go out to buy some peppers. Like all middle-class twerps in north London, I am now incapable of cooking anything that does not come with the imprimatur of Yotam Ottolenghi—master of the delicious but finicky fusion dish, ambassador for sumac and precise counter of curry leaves. The dish I’m cooking wants three red peppers, so I go to Sainsbury’s and find three peppers. In a pack: one red, one green, one orange.
I look at these peppers, and despair fills my whole heart. They told us—Adam Smith told us; Hayek told us; even Keynes told us—that capitalism, with certain minor adjustments to prevent the bastards ganging up on us, would serve the consumer. That as markets neared frictionless perfection, choice would burgeon and the minutest of our whims would be catered for.
No more waiting six months for BT to put in a telephone line and having three shades of brown Bakelite handset to choose from. No more nasty, gherkiny bit in your Whopper: you could “Have It Your Way.” The world would be a giant retail pic ‘n’ mix. Our lives would be bespoke. And yet here—ostensibly for no more profound reason than that it looks cutely like a traffic light—comes their refutation. You cannot acquire a red pepper without also acquiring a green one (which the recipe doesn’t require) and an orange one (which very few if any recipes require.) Take it or leave it.
I stand fuming in the aisle of my local supermarket, while sullen teenagers with earphones going tss-bomp tss-bomp tss-bomp tss-bomp shoulder past me towards the pouches of glutionous pre-fabricated stir-fry sauce, while mothers wheeling gargantuan three-wheeled toddler-wagons bark my shins and trolley-pushers back up and reverse into three-for-two sliced meats to let them past, everyone doing the “scoose, sorry, scoose, sorry” dance and wishing—on balance—that the earth would cease upon the stroke of midnight with no pain. And I look at this packet of peppers, and I think: is this what the long history of human ingenuity has come to?
Scoose—I mean, here I stand—ouch—after millennia of economic development—sorry—which have taken us from swapping pointy rocks—tss, bomp—to flying vegetables from one side of the world—scoose—to the bountiful fresh produce shelves of the other, where—ouch—they can be scanned by laser and—sorry—paid for with fiat money encoded in the electronic ether and—tss, bomp—cooked according to recipes that draw on the…