The cost of efficiency 1 – Our food turns to crap

Nutrition: That's not ice cream... that's 'pink slime'

Nutrition: That's not ice cream... that's 'pink slime'

Efficiency savings. Every time a new government gets in they claim they will make efficiency savings. One of my first jobs was as a computer operator. In those days computer time was so expensive that work would be “batched up” and done in a big chunk. One guy said to me that we are the slowest things in the computer room and he meant that if a batch job stopped and needed another tape loaded then we needed to change it immediately.

I was young and I got into this efficiency stuff. I worked to maximise the time that the computer was doing work. Since then I have noticed efficiency is a driving force behind capitalism. The way it’s sold is that efficiency will mean we get quicker service, that our products and services will be cheaper and so overall our lives wil be better.

I have started to question this.

It seems to me that efficiency these days is a way to squeeze more profits from a process or organisation. Computers have been introduced everywhere and most organisations now provide a web interface for front ending their services. The idea is that we as “consumers” will be given a better service but often this is not the case.

Take the sale of car insurance for example. In the old days you would meet with some salesman in an office and he would ask you a few questions and get you to fill out a form and hand him a cheque. That would be it. The salesman would have done much of the work. In my case he would have realised that I was over 21 and so not asked me this idiotic question. He would have noticed my gender. He would see that I did not have a wooden leg. etc etc.

A corporate fashion of recent years has been outsourcing and this is usually taken to mean a company getting it’s non-core work done by a third party company. However, in the case of many interactions with consumers, companies are outsourcing work to you. In the case of car insurance we are forced to wade through endless pages of forms and tick boxes on the web. Am I over 18? Am I male? Have I  ever been involved in an accident? Did I claim? How much did I claim? Along with this outsourcing, computerisation has meant that is easy for the corporations to throw in extra questions. The risk department will be telling the software designers to ask more and more questions and as the  time wasted  is not their own they just throw them in.

What race am I? What is my previous address? What is my national insurance number? We are forced to answer hundreds of impertinent questions and then, when we’re done, we are forced to read their bloody agreement. Pages and pages of clauses and caveats that get the company out of paying claims.

We are doing their work for them.

The end result is that all this efficiencies has worked in favour of the organisation but not in the favour of the consumer. Service may be cheaper but they are also crapper.

More and more our society has been reduced to two actors: The global corporation and the individual and this relationship is decidedly unequal. When did you last play any part in creating the contract which you signed for a service? You probably never have. The corporation creates the contract and presents it to you. You either sign it or they refuse to do business with you.

Efficiency means squeezing more people onto aeroplanes so that many of the seats don’t tilt back. Efficiency means cramming more and more homes into smaller and smaller areas of land so that interior walls are now made of chipboard. Efficiency means there is never any slack in the system. Efficiency means that when you call the  bank they read from a menu and are incapable of dealing with non-standard requests. Efficiency means that when you go to buy petrol, the few seconds that you have to chat with the guy behind the counter is taken up by him asking if you would  like two fucking chocolate bars for the price of one and you drearily replying no. Efficiency means we drink out of paper cups and the food in Indian restaurants consists of microwaves meat covered in bulk order sauce.

The picture at the top of this article is of a product known as Pink Slime. It’s seems that, in an effort to squeeze even more value out of the consumer , American food “manufacturers” have taken to collecting the offal that is normally thrown to animals after a cow has been slaughtered, mixing it up with a lot of chemicals (including Ammonia), sticking it in a spin dryer and then putting it into hamburgers and feeding it to Americans.

Bollocks to efficiency!

hove station

hove station

One thought on “The cost of efficiency 1 – Our food turns to crap

  1. Mm. This has been in the news. Many schools have now been pressured to stop accepting pink slime from their suppliers.

    The photo on top of your post has also been in the news and is actually a slight variation on the theme. It is a “before” photo of the pulverized product that becomes the McDonald’s chicken nugget.

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