During my recent jaunt around the Victorian countryside, I found myself missing a vegetable peeler, one of the travel essentials I carry in a box in the boot of the car along with salt and pepper, tea and sugar, enamel cups and plates, basic cutlery and a corkscrew. I must have left the peeler in a camping ground or a hotel room. (Vegetable peelers are among mankind’s most lost items: I regularly find several each spring when I turn over the compost bin.)
I called into a Coles supermarket in a medium-sized country town, I don’t know, Maryborough or somewhere, and bought a pack of three peelers. I had to buy three because they won't sell you one. The three peelers come affixed to a hanging cardboard display pack; metal-bladed and with red, white and yellow handles respectively.
I took them back to where we were staying, untwisted the metal ties with difficulty, removed the first peeler – the red one - and started to scrape a carrot.
The blade gave way, crumpling like the bumper bar of a Datsun 120Y hitting a gum tree.
I threw the red peeler across the room, extricated the white peeler from the cardboard and picked up the carrot. Again, the blade bent, like a twig in the wind, except that it stayed bent.
I was down to the last peeler: the yellow one. Sure enough, the plastic handle resisted the metal ties but the blade was no match for the carrot. And it was just an ordinary carrot.
Some things are mildly annoying. Other things I don't think twice about. But, occasionally, something really fires me up like the Flying Scotsman steaming out of London into a headwind on a freezing winter’s morning, if we can drag out a British locomotive analogy in the middle of Victoria, Australia.
Let's just think about this for a moment. The peelers were made in China, of course, because everything is made in China now.
But the steel for the blades came from this country, where it is mined out of a pristine red dirt landscape in Western Australia and then shipped by Andrew Forrest halfway around the world to some foul smelter in China spewing out half the world's pollution unencumbered by Kyoto treaties, emissions protocols or carbon trading schemes. Then it is taken to an equally foul factory where it is fashioned into something resembling a blade, before being transported by ancient Chinese truck to a filthy port and shipped all the way back to Australia in one of several hundred dirty containers sitting on a tramp steamer. Alright, a diesel powered freighter. In terms of food miles, my peelers had circumnavigated the world and visited some of the most environmentally-unfriendly locations on earth.
All that so I could buy a piece of crap.
Is this efficient?
No. It is possibly the most inefficient, wasteful, wanton squandering of resources, energy, materials and human labour ever conceived in the entire history of the world. (Apart from Olympic Games torch relays and the reality TV industry.)
What also steamed me up was that the peelers were not a no-name brand (which would be no excuse anyway) but bore the brand of McPherson’s which, if you know your Melbourne establishments, was one of this city’s leading companies in the days when such august businesses were known as Firms. McPherson’s had a magnificent art deco building on the corner of Collins and King. It was one of this city’s commercial jewels, in the days when Melbourne was the financial and commercial capital of Australia.
Judging by the quality of my three peelers, McPherson’s has now been reduced to shipping unusable garbage around the world in an endless cycle of throwaway dross and sheer uselessness. Complicit in this crime is Coles, whose quality control department must be based on the dark side of the moon, or the Tooronga Village carpark, which is much the same thing.
The carrot remained unpeeled. I sliced it finely with my knife. It’s German, and more than twenty years old.
Tried to save the trees
Bought a plastic bag
The bottom fell out
It was a piece of crap
Saw it on the tube
Bought it on the phone
Now you're home alone
With a piece of crap
I tried to plug in it
I tried to turn it on
When I got it home
It was a piece of crap
Got it from a friend
On him you can depend
I found out in the end
It was a piece of crap
I'm trying to save the trees
I saw it on TV
They cut the forest down
To build a piece of crap
I went back to the store
They gave me four more
The guy told me at the door
It's a piece of crap.
Thanks, Neil. I couldn’t have put it better myself.