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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Made with Love... I don't think so!

I saw an advert for a popular brand of biscuits in the back of a magazine the other day that included the phrase, "made with love." To me, this has become one of the most overused phrases of modern times, and consequently, one of the most meaningless.  I have to question how anything mass produced in a factory can possibly be "made with love". Love not an ingredient, to be shoveled in, on demand, somewhere along a conveyor belt. The occasional required human along the production line is not there to transfer warm, fuzzy feelings into the biscuits as they zip by. Whatever their role, they are there because they are being paid to do a job and even if they happen to love their job (seems unlikely), they cannot possibly be feeling any kind of love for you, the unknown, future purchaser of this brand of biscuits.

It seems to me that there is a direct relationship between the length of the production chain and the amount of care that goes into the end product. I remember pondering on this point last year as we drove down the A9 from the north coast of Scotland. Whilst staying up there we had seen, daily, logging trucks thundering past our little cottage, loaded up with freshly cut down trees. We were staying only a few miles away from the pine forests which were currently being harvested and the freshly cut logs were being taken off to, presumably, a sawmill for the next stage of processing. On the A9, several hundred miles from these pine forests, the trucks we were stuck behind as we ground our way south, were loaded not with logs but planks cut from the logs. This, it seemed to me was the next step in the production line.

So, in my head, I fast-forwarded to where the end of the line would be and thought of the pieces of wood that we sometimes find ourselves in need of purchasing from our local DIY store. In the interest of saving space and packing in as much stock as possible, the long strips of wood are stood on their ends in store so, inevitably, with time they warp. This is something that causes Steve to curse as he sorts through the buckled pieces of wood, looking for the pieces that are least bent. It seems such a shame that so much effort was required from the point of planting the trees to putting it out on sale and yet the end product has been wrecked by a lack of care. It is obvious why this happens when there are so many steps in the chain from creation to end product and so many people involved so that they person who finally blips the barcode really doesn't give a stuff whether the piece of wood is straight or not.

I'm sure you'll agree that claiming that these planks of wood were "made with love" would be farcical, yet how is this different from factory produced biscuits?

Now, when you shorten the chain from producer to customer to just two people (the producer and the customer), you can start to make some sort of claim about the amount of "love" that went into the making of the product.  But I shall make a shocking revelation now, I don't make my products with love! I do make them with care, however. I care about the sourcing and quality of ingredients, I care about the recipe and the way that it is cooked, I care about the labeling and storage conditions and I care that the customer's expectations are met. It is lovely then to be able to discuss my products with the customer, establish their needs and likes and hand over a product that I know intimately.

Honestly, when I think about the rigid trading standards requirement for labeling products correctly, what with ingredients, allergens, weight etc., it makes me wonder how sticking the words "made with love" on a label is even allowed. Maybe that in itself further demonstrates how meaningless these words really are. As consumers we are urged to read food labels carefully so as to better understand the ingredients, the number of food miles, the carbon footprint, the calorie content, the product's place in our daily allowance, and so on. I would add to that the importance of assessing the amount of "care" that has gone into the product. Not always easy when misleading wording can be added without censure and mass produced foods can be packaged to look homemade.

Next time you are at a craft fair or a food event and the person who made the product puts it in a bag for you, feel satisfied that you have been handed a product "made with care". Next time you cook up something special in your own kitchen for a relative or friend, thinking about them as you do so, then you'll know what something "made with love" is all about. And next time you see those words on a label perhaps you'll be regard them with the same kind of indifference as the person who put them on the label in the first place.