On reaping and sowing & Maple Leaf Foods

The Maple Leaf Foods product contamination/recall issue of recent weeks is remarkable to me for two reasons.

First, that Maple Leaf was so proactive in immediately recalling all their products and shutting down the plant even though only two product lines were affected. Then they put COE and President Michael McCain front and centre with a brief, sympathetic message to everyone who’s become ill from the tainted products and especially to family members of those who died. The message was free from any attempts to shift blame or deny responsibility.

The man looks devastated. He admits failure (actually using the word). He puts a human face on the company when speaking of their 23,000 employees. He admits he will have to win back the public’s confidence and promises to do whatever it takes to earn that. He has told his shareholders that money will not be a consideration in solving this problem.

I think the $20 million or so this is going to cost the company will be money well spent. Maple Leafs’ public relations around this issue has been so brilliant it will be a PR textbook case study for years to come. It should also help them when the law suits come flooding in.

The second thing that’s noteworthy about this product contamination thing is that highlights how far removed we are from the food we eat. It’s taking forever to track down where all these tainted products have ended up because there are distributors of distributors of distributors. The products are not only neatly packaged under the Maple Leaf banner in grocery stores – they are also shipped out to restaurants, delicatessens, hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions in bulk.

Once, everything we ate had recently been growing or had roamed around in our backyards or in the backyards of our neighbours. Our food used to go from the backyard to the table and the only people who touched it were family or other people you knew in your community.

Now? How many hands has that bacon passed through, from pig to pan, before it ends up on your McBreakfast? Hundreds? Thousands? So much opportunity for contamination it’s a wonder this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.

And for what? Convenience? Variety? Cost? Does all our food have to come ready-made so we don’t have to spend more than 3 minutes preparing it? Do we really need to eat strawberries in February?

And why do we begrudge spending money on food? After shelter this should be our most important expense. People boast about how they only spend a dollar on bread by driving to the big box store and getting it in bulk. In how many ways is that totally crazy?