Economics · Modern Times

Fish Out Of Water.

Stiff competition that has forced supermarkets to fillet their margins to the bone, meaning that any little nicety has to be paid for.
Does a filleted fish need water to swim in?

Well, this is a fillet, bought at my local supermarket. So the kind producers of this delicacy added some water for its comfort. Obviously they are fish lovers, subscribers to the RSPCF (the Royal Society For the Protection of Cruelty to Fish, a fictional variant of the RSPCA which cares for animals.) There’s also a nice little absorbent pad for the fish to sit on.

Providing life’s little niceties is what supermarkets are all about, isn’t it?

Stiff competition that has forced supermarkets to fillet their margins to the bone, meaning that any little nicety has to be paid for. Well, I had to pay for that water as though it were fish. It’s not as if the fish needed it, is it? The fish was caught, filleted, frozen and packed into shipping containers a thousand miles from the nearest port. It was dead a very long time before I got to see it.

In Hong Kong, you buy your fish out of a tank. And they don’t inject it with a charge of STTP and salt water. STTP – sodium tripolyphosphate to give it its proper name
Live fish on sale in a Hong Kong supermarket.

So why does a dead fish need the comfort of some water? It’s not as if the fish could manage for more than five minutes on that amount anyway. In Hong Kong, you buy your fish out of a tank. And they don’t inject it with a charge of STTP and salt water. STTP – sodium tripolyphosphate to give it its proper name – is what the industry uses to ‘enhance’ their product. STTP is known familiarly as E451.

Nothing to do with the temperature at which paper ignites, and everything to do with adding a little weight for very little cost.

In a world that demands cheap food, weight is everything. Even when it’s weight that you’ll regret buying when you try frying your fish and you find that you’re boiling it in its own juices instead. Put better, the juices added are now being expelled because the natural processes of cooking that haven’t caught up with modern technology yet. No doubt at some point in the future there will be a method of frying fish in water, or cooking the fish at such a low temperature that the water isn’t given off. That way everybody’s happy.

When Is A Fish Water And When Is It Not?

Only this water isn’t fish, and it wasn’t there when the fish was caught. That much water in a live fish would see it sink to the seabed where it couldn’t move any more. If the fish were sold at its true weight – and sold at the price that enhanced fish is sold at – the poor producers would be making a thumping loss. After all, this is a commodity market where nobody asks stupid questions like “why am I buying water at the price I should be paying for champagne?”

No: consumers look at the fish and think, ‘that’s on offer this week, I’ll buy some.’

On getting it home they cook it and find that the amount the cookbook suggested would feed four will in fact only feed three because the fourth portion is now sloshing around in the bottom of the pan.

It has to be reiterated that we are dealing with a commodity business here. Things are bought and sold on weight and nothing more. It’s like the scientist saying that Gold has an atomic weight of 79 (1). Gold isn’t gold because of a number the scientist gave it: gold is gold because it’s gold. STTP is STTP even if it hadn’t been numbered 451. The numbers that people use have nothing to do with the things those numbers are supposed to portray. Cod is cod no matter how many kilos you buy or how much you pay for it. Cod is cod and will never be halibut.

Okay, so halibut is more expensive.

:sigh:

Only when the consumer doesn’t know a halibut from a hedgehog they aren’t going to be bothered about the taste. They know it’s the right kind of fish because it says so on the label. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what it tastes like: they can add any flavour they like by adding the sauce of their choice. That way it tastes in the way they think it should, that is to say, in the way their last fishy meal tasted. It’s nice to know that you’re eating Trout a la Meunière because the punnet had ‘Trout’ written on it in bold lettering. The flavour would be the same if they used cod, herring or sardine.

Okay, so it probably would taste different: the producers haven’t managed to commoditize the sardine to that extent. Yet. No doubt they’ll push the populations to near extinction and the only fish that can survive are the immature fish that haven’t developed a flavour.

Mechanical hoovering of the seas has its shortcomings. But these aren’t shortcomings that worry the consumer. They get [insert name of fish here] and it’s the cheapest they can buy. Guaranteed by the advertisement in the flyer that was stuffed in your letterbox.

Something Has To Give.

A shop selling dried fish on the Des Voeux Road in Hong Kong. If they're dried, you don't sell them with extra water, right?
A shop selling dried fish on the Des Voeux Road in Hong Kong.
If they’re dried, you don’t sell them with extra water, right?

If you are going to drive everything on price, the one thing you have left is the sheer bulk of the product you’re dealing with. Gravity isn’t something you can cheat. But of course, we’ve seen that you can. In the real world it’s called adulteration; in the fanciful world of the fish producer it’s called enhancement. Well, it doesn’t matter what you call it: this is fraud and would be fraud by any other name.

And as all good fraudsters know, all you need if you’re going to practice fraud is the person who wants the illusion you’re peddling. In this case, the illusion of cheap fish.

Because I’ll guarantee you this: buy your fish from a reputable merchant and it will cost you 10% more.

But you’ll get 25% more fish.

Sounds like a bargain, doesn’t it? Because if you want to escape the commodity market either as a seller or as the buyer, you have to put your thinking cap on. But that means you have to realize why a filleted fish needs water to swim in and the fact that you’ve been robbed blind for the last thirty years.

Notes:

(1) Don’t call me out on this one: I know what I’m talking about and it’s for an upcoming post. Then you can shout at me, okay?

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