ARCHITECTURAL CONTEXT: HISTORY AND THEORY Plymouth University School of Architecture, Design and Environment
Egg Equation collage: by Elizabeth Gilligan
Supermarket Sweep Elizabeth Gilligan
[click here for full essay]
When was the last time you walked around a supermarket with just one item? Supermarkets are fast becoming, one of the largest consumer machines around. Feeding our need to buy everything about a supermarket invites you in. But where are all the products from,what is their story?Why as a consumer are we not shown this? What is being hidden ? This essay try’s to explore this journey with the everyday product of eggs. From farm to family. This research explores the role of the ‘others’ in the production and distrubution of eggs. Using Actor Network Theory, I was able to un-cover the social interactions of humans with the ‘non-humans’ in social life, real world situations (that surround egg production) whilist simutaneously looking into the real world egg wastage reports of a supermarket and the procedures that they have in places for eggs. All of this has aided my research and lead me to disect egg boxes and the marketing stratergies used to sell them. This lead me to question how eggs are cultivated and why they are no longer local produce but instead farmed on large scale. How ethical are free range eggs and what does free-range really mean? I’m going to structure this essay around the idea of a supermarket trip so that I can fully analyse each part of the supermarket and the supply chain that brings the eggs into an isle. “We are not encouraged, on a daily basis, to pay careful attention to the animals we eat. On the contrary, the meat, dairy, and egg industries all actively encourage us to give thought to our own immediate interest (taste, for example, or cheap food) but not to the real suffering involved.” 1
1 Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food. London: W. W. Norton & Co. 15 Jun 2010 p1-288. 3
supermarket expereince photo: by Elizabeth Gilligan
Introduction As many key architects and proponents have stressed, Actor Network Theory (ANT) was never supposed to be a programmatic theory, but a way of understanding complex and multiple realities which might other wise have remained obscured. ANT has a social scientific focus on humans and the social domain of human subjects by directing attention onto the significance of the non-human social life. It implies that social relations are not isolated, but as always existing in relations with all kinds of extra-social networks among human and non-humans that need to be recognized and made viable1. Within ANT there is no society as such but a sense of domain consisting exclusively of relations between human subjects and mediated relations which are transformed and enabled by non-humans of different kinds, whether objects, materials, technologies, animals or Eco-systems. In contrast to a dualist perception of society, nature or subjects and objects, ANT puts forward the idea of hybrid societies and natures; heterogeneous assemblages in which humans and non-humans are intrinsically mixed up together,it studies trace complex interrelations between autonomous social and natural domains. This “more than social” or “more than human” approach2, broadens the gaze on how we respond and sees the relationships within our everyday world. This idea has influenced the way in which I study eggs and the wastage within supermarkets; with this highly banal substance,consumed by millions of people everyday as part of a highly routinized consumption practice, it couldn’t be more ordinary, futhermore I want to highlight what happens before the egg gets to the supermarket and the supply chain that people don’t see. 3 ‘There are no humans in the world. Or rather, humans are fabricated – in language, through discursive formations, in their various liaisons with technological or natural actors, across networks that are heterogeneously comprised of humans and nonhuman who are themselves so comprised. Instead of humans and nonhuman we are beginning to think of flows, movements, arrangements, relations. It is through such dynamics that the human (and the nonhuman) emerges.’ 4
1 Latour,1993; Michael,2000 2 what-more,2006; Lorimer,2010 3 Richie Nimmo. Actor-network theory and methodology: social research in a more-than-human world. Methodological Innovations Online. 2011 p109-110. 4 .Mike Michael.Reconnecting culture, technology and nature. we trip the light fantastic.2001, p1-288. 5
Trolleyology The supermarket layout is a chaotic opera of flattery, designed to make you feel that you must and need to consume, as the doors open you are wafted by the cool fresh air and then you enter this cornucopia of fresh food, spilling off of pliths in every direction, bursting with colour and oozing freshness. Most supermarkets will start their visit with produce, but others open with flowers; this is to instantly try and forge that connection to the idea of a natural and clean (farmers market). Words like “Fresh British” are hung above plinths. Perhaps the designer of the supermarket suspects that a common olfactory experience would be perceived as too threatening, too ethical and too political. Every item is neatly stacked in rows, creating a fortress of plastic,vacuum seals and resin dips. In an age of safe sex, this is safe food. The supermarket is the best consumer machine around, yet according to the UN food and agricultural organization estimates that a third of all food produced worldwide is wasted, valued at $1 billion. The theorist behind the layout of any supermarket knows your mind, they know you don’t want to spend time looking at packages and examining everything you put into your trolley. Every shopper falls into one of four categories;dieting, economist,indulging and impressing guest.With two thirds of people not going shopping with a list,free reign is given to the layout kings of the supermarkets, making you consume more as your attention is malleable. We are all set a predetermined route depending on what type of shopper we are, it turns out that each inch of space is scientifically calibrated to hold only what you will buy at the highest possible margin. I found that the supermarket has been subjected to an absurd level of scientific inquiry: complex experiments regarding display, observational studies of human movement and intricate work on the effects of lighting, colour & music. If supermarkets are supposed to be so helpful, then why are we sent around a labyrinth to find bread, milk and eggs placed all around the shop? 5
Shelfesteem After mundanely walking through isle, finally reaching neatly stacked boxes made form Cardboard and plastic containing that small hand sized egg. On one hand eggs are consumed by people everyday they are very much a product of ritual dating back thousands of years,inseparable from life and of social organization,production and distribution, as well as the techno-social arrangements that confine them. Intense farming (free range), choosing an egg is as much an ethical decision as it is an nutritional one. 6
5 .Jack Hitt. (1996). The Theory Of Supermarkets. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/03/10/magazine/thetheory-of-supermarkets.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm. Last accessed 06 may 2013. 6 .Richie Nimmo. Actor-network theory and methodology: social research in a more-than-human world. Methodological Innovations Online. 2011 p111-112 SUPERMARKET SWEEP: Elizabeth Gilligan
“Because eggs embody the essence of life, people from ancient times to the modern day” 7 still see eggs as a symbol of life, as we all came from an egg completing the cycle. But eggs are also a product for reproduction, the vessel for which the embryo of the chicken forms and remains in a sense deeply natural. The eggs we consume are not just manufactured objects or a commodity but have a deeply intertwined inter-species relationship. This nonhuman side of eggs is both visible and invisible. The naturalness of eggs has long been advertised and yet the nature that is presented in these discourses is little more than a commercial masterpiece ,a romantic idea of purity which has more to do with the logic of commodities and consumerism than the real materiality of the product with the life cycle that it presents. The real non-humanity of eggs is hidden under a curtain of advertising, the problematic for modernity and which is therefore been carefully managed, repressed to be made as invisible as possible, so that eggs can be consumed without it signifying anything that will show a problematic relation with nonhumans and the environment. Yet in 2007 the world was shocked when a free range egg from a supermarket was hatched by a nine year old boy, this made the invisible side of eggs visable and showed there naturalness back in the world. Free-range egg farmer, Phillip Greenacre, told BBC news: “Well it could have happened by a rogue bird from a neighboring farm or more likely a bird from within the farm that didn’t get sexed properly.” 8 Francine Raymond, of the Hen keepers’ Association, said the average person wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a fertilized and non-fertilized egg. She told BBC news: “After about three weeks you wouldn’t be able to hatch it - it was obviously a fresh egg.” 9. This is similar to the study by Carol Adams (1990) calls ”the structure of the absent referent”in the practice of meat eating, wherein the death of the animals that precedes the act of consumption, but is somehow abstractly made to not signify or made absent through the range of materials and semiotic techniques. Wherein the living organism is detached from what we see neatly packaged on our supermarket shelves. In the case of eggs the product is produced from a living animal, what is made absent is the inter-constitution of the human and non-human worlds that embodied in the hybridity of eggs. For these reasons eggs provide a particularly insightful object of analysis with the ANT theory ,which is centrally concerned with the rendering of the visible and multiple 7 Tamra Andrews.Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food in World Mythology. California: Santa Barbara CA. 2000 p86-7. 8 Samuel Clark . (2011). Proto-type Research And Testing Versus The Retail Environment. Available: http://www. getcomfortableltd.co.uk/blog/personaldevelopment/proto-type-research-and-testing-versus-the-retail-environment/. Last accessed 03 may 2013.-image 9 Allan Bentworth. (2007). Boy hatches chick from shop egg. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/suffolk/6643407.stm. Last accessed 25 april 7
interrelations of humans and non-humansthat make up this complex modern world, while analyzing how they are shown within the medium of a supermarket and the marketing tools that are used. This was necessarily a social media analysis and was therefore indispensable in order to grasp the reality and complex relations that surround eggs which are now almost invisible. The layout of the shelves talks volumes about the products they are holding and how they want the consumer to interact with them. Free range eggs are the must have product in this section with the ethical issues that have risen regarding the welfare, this shows the supermarket as an ethical machine encouraging people to remain brand loyal to them. What consumers want from a supermarket, is food that is unadulterated from chemicals and has good ethical values. But can this utopia ever really be obtained? Now food is not bought from local shops and people, it’s not regionalism but globalist. I have obtained some interesting data from my store “TEDBURYS” 10 about the wastage of eggs and the policy that is employed on them, taking us further away from this utopia supermarket we are searching for. Every week this supermarket throws away 358 eggs which could provide around 38306 calories, this would feed 20 people for a day, how ethical is that? These are perfectly edible but if even one egg is broken in a box, every egg is disposed of.
Eggvertising The advertising world revolves around the principal of attraction. Whatever the packaging is, it’s end result is to attract the customer. The connotations with colour and how this affects our buying habits,How does packaging manage to attract our attention? I’m going to dissect egg boxes from a local supermarket to explore the human and nonhuman relationships that are contained within an egg box.“In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is - as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.” 11 .This optimises the idea of how colour can completely change how we see products and effect how we buy them Green is a natural colour and in today’s world is strongly associated with the idea of getgreen (environmental movement). This reinforces the naturalness of the eggs and keeps the romantic idea about eggs going. Along with this, green has a nurturing and tranquil effect as it is the easiest colour on the eyes. So it becomes obvious that the supermarket is trying to sell their free range eggs as they are subconsciously manipulating the consumer to react with a non-human object in a way that makes them consume more. The images on the egg box also evokes a sense of origin within the product ,with the eggs being produced by 10 TEDABURYS-merged supermarkets name as to not name one but to be a representitive of them all. 11 Josef Albers. (2013). The Color Theorist. Available: http://www.socialphy.com/posts/art/14043/Josef-AlbersThe-Color-Theorist.html. Last accessed 6 may 2013. SUPERMARKET SWEEP: Elizabeth Gilligan
eggvertising: collage: by Elizabeth Gilligan
farmers market photo: by Elizabeth Gilligan
woodland hens. A silhouette of the woods is merged onto the egg box with our “hens” in the foreground. This is reinforcing the products brand and making the consumer have faith in what is being sold. This physiological element encourages the crossing of the nonhuman side of eggs and makes an active connection with the “hens”, (the hens that are represented on the box, with an idealistic silhouette) but this could be far from the truth of how the hens are really kept, we never see the farm or farmer on the box. Overall we are given a brief insight into the hens, but never really invited to look behind the silhouettes, just enough to make us feel like we are making the right ethical decision, but not enough to make us challenge what we really are being presented.12 Orange is mostly associated with energy and warmth, but also gives a really strong impression of cheapness, while stiil stimulating the appetite. This is very clever marking for a supermarkets own brand product as consumers shopping on a budget will instantly connect the colour with the store’s own branded products. But this packaging completely detaches itself from the idea of a hen, none are shown on the packet and rather than advertising the way in which the hen were raised, it only states that they were raised in barns. Once again still to maintain the idealistic sense of egg production, whereas the reality of intensive farming is far from what we are shown within the media of the box as this helps to keep customers in a stable world where they don’t have to deal with the issues that involve the food that they buy. Trying to detach the product from where and how it is produced as it may be a bit too political to bring up in a supermarket. “Agriculture needs local, sustainable solutions based on farmers and the needs of consumers and the environment rather than corporations and further globalization.”13 One of the most experienced suppliers and marketers in the industry, is in charge of ‘the happy eggs company’, which bases it’s selling pitch on the welfare of the hens which then in turn contributes to better quality eggs and influences the well being of the consumer. Yellow is a happy, energetic color, that sometimes symbolizes rejuvenation; hence the use of the color yellow in beauty products. But somehow, the colour remains distasteful to men, maybe because of its conventional “cheap” connotation. People tend to associate yellow to sunshine and happiness, so towards that effect, it remains a good advertising color tool. This completely optimizes what the brand want to portray but yet still on the front there is no actual picture of a farmer or a real hen. This is because the industry still wants to keep what 12 Darrell Zahorsky. (2008). What Color is Your Business?. Available: http://sbinformation.about.com/cs/adver tising/a/colors.htm. Last accessed 02 may 2013. 13 Richard Allison. (2009). The Happy Egg Company marketed on welfar. Available: http://www.fwi.co.uk/articles/17/03/2009/114339/the-happy-egg-company-marketed-on-welfare.htm. Last accessed 29 april 2013.-image. SUPERMARKET SWEEP: Elizabeth Gilligan
life is like on a farm away from the consumer, the naturalness of the product is submerged under a blanket of social mediation. Reinforcing the separation of human subjects and making invisible the non-human product that is being consumed as this makes it ethically easier to deal with.
Poor eggsxcuses An investigation carried out by VIVA (Vegetarian international voice for animals) shows a completely different side to the Happy Egg company and how they actually approach the ethical values with there hens. Contented hens pecking at the ground and enjoying a dust bath in the sun; that’s free-range egg production. It is if you believe the TV adverts, a major Viva! investigation into the egg industry shows a very different story; one of disease, incarceration, mutilation, short lives and electric shocks. Not very happy eggs.‘The Happy Egg company ’ is one of the biggest egg producers and supplies almost every supermarket, they claim that they are ‘progressive’ within the egg industry and supply 60 million eggs a week under stores own labels or their own happy egg label. 14 They take advantage of the consumer cocern with animal welfare and the growing boom in the free range egg industry.Turning over around £2BN a year, the output now matches that from caged systems but we are fasely lead to believe that free range equals high welfare. TV adverts aid this belief showing hen’s in sunshine, surrounded by lush vegatation and even riding around with the farmer. They paint an idillic picture of an akin holiday camp for the hens. Ethical values have made the free range egg market boom, leading to increased stocking densities and intensification going back to the days of battery farming, hardly ‘progressive’. 18-21 weeks is the average age that a hen will actually reach the free-range units, during which time they have been kept in intense farms (sheds with thousands of birds in).This conditions them to stay indoors as the majority of their young life has been spent, this is encouraged as it’s harder work having to collect eggs from outside. Within the first few weeks of their life in these ”free range” farms spent with them being shocked into submission with electronic wires running along the feeders and drinkers to prevent them from defecating in them. 15 Although this is against freedom food guidelines, the RSPCA are supposed to monitor these farms, yet investigations showed how these guidelines were flouted and ignored, the fact remains that this objectional system as a whole is rewarded with approval by an orginization set up to stop animal abuse.Home for these hen’s are large cavenous sheds, with small ‘pop holes’ down the sides. Even when open many birds are seemingly so traumatised by 14 viva. (2011). Viva! investigates: The Happy Egg Company. Available: http://www.viva.org.uk/campaigns/chickens/happy-eggs.htm. Last accessed 7 MAY 2013. 15 ibid 11
their first few months of life indoors that they never venture out.The life of a happy hen ,it seems is far from happy -it’s also far from long.They are slaughtered at just 72 weeks so once the weeks indoors after hatching are substracted,they spend barely more than a year in this supposedly free-range system. 16 Local produce is the way I believe food production should progress, the eggs aren’t just a product to be consumed but a social experience that connects the people that buy them and the non-human products themselves. They create a stage for interaction between the farmer (humans) and the non-human (eggs) to directly link with the consumers. This creates a new dimension where people know who and where their eggs come from. They have a relationship with their farmer and in turn, a closeness with the hen’s that produce the eggs. I believe that this is the way that food should be produced in a social and ethical way, not by a consumerist machine.
Conclusion This research paper explores some of the methodological implications of the use of actornetwork theory in social research. Many of the key characteristic features of ANT as an approach have been outlined, including it’s emphasis upon the inseparability of human and non-humans. This highlights the role of the ‘others’ in the egg production which emphasis on the ‘social’ and the ‘natural’ in the hybrids of networks. This shows the way modern knowledge is used to purify or separate these assemblages into discrete domains, and the key idea of generalized symmetry as a strategy for un-thinking this purification. Commercialization of the egg industry has changed, the way consumers see the product & how it has been produced. This made me examine how eggs are produced on a local and regional scale. It made me question why we don‘t localize food production on a whole. In this paper I wanted to highlight the “others” in the egg industry, eg; the hens that don’t have a voice but are used to feed our hunger for greed and add to our disconnection to the natural world.The paper as a whole has brought to light,the huge lack of animal welfare (the others) which is practiced in free-range farms. Eggs are an important source of food but surely there has to be a better way to produce them. “Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.” 17
16 ibid 17 youcouldsavetheworld(2010):Words to live by .Avaliable : http://www.youcouldsavetheworld.com/quotes.html. Last accessed 7 May 2013 SUPERMARKET SWEEP: Elizabeth Gilligan
Bibliography : Arnheim, R. (1968). Gestalt Psychology and Artistic Form, in Aspects of Form, ed. by LL Whyte, Burlington: Lund Humphries, pp. 190-208. Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. 2004 Gregory, R. (1997). Knowledge in Perception and Illusion, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B, 352, pp. 1111-1128. Hamdi, Nabeel. The Placemakerâ€™s Guide to Building Community. London: Earthscan, 2010 Harvey, David. Rebel Cities. London: Verso. 2012 Hickey, Amber.A Guidebook of Alternative Nows. The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press, 2012 Hochberg, J. (1983). Visual Perception in Architecture, in Architecture and Visual Perception, ed. by A.G. Read and P. Doo, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp. 15-46 Hyde, Rory. Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture. London: Routledge. 2012 Massey, Doreen. For Space. London: Sage Publications, 2005. Merrifield, Andrew. Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge. 2006 Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002). Phenomenology of Perception. trans. C Smith, London and NY: Routledge. Morris, Rosalind.C. Can the Subaltern Speak?: Reflections on the History of an Idea. Columbia University Press. 2010 Morton, Stephen. Why Spivak?. London: Routledge Critical Thinkers Series. 2002 Neuwirth, Robert. Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy. Pantheon Books. 2011 Sachs, Wolfgang (ed). The Development Dictionary. A Guide to Knowledge as Power. London: Zed Books. 2010 (first published 1992)
For general enquiries about the School please contact us directly: School of Architecture, Design and Environment Faculty of Arts University of Plymouth Drake Circus Plymouth PL4 8AA Telephone: email:
+44(0)1752 585150 email@example.com
ARCO: Journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License
Published on Jul 16, 2013
SUPERMARKET SWEEP When was the last time you walked around a supermarket with just one item? Supermarkets are fast becoming, one of the la...