Eating your politics (or prejudices)

I first tried Max Brenner when it was just a shop in Paddington in Sydney. After that visit, I was surprised to discover that the chocolates I had bought were made in Israel. The presence of Israeli companies in Australia isn’t strong, and often obscured (the Australian Max Brenner website makes almost no mention of the Israeli connection)

In the following years, the company has expanded into a hot chocolate empire (although a chocolatier, in Australia the brand is known mainly as a place to have hot chocolate, and is extraordinarily popular for its overpriced chocolate foods, often with underripe strawberries). Extraooooordinarily popular, seemingly with a broad cross-section of consumers here.

Until, that is, you walk down the street past a Chocolateria San Churros (another overrated hot chocolate place, this time with disappointing sweet churros) and notice a different mix of consumers – many Indonesians and faces from across the Middle East, for instance, alongside the range of consumers you also see over at Max Brenner. At first I was just puzzled at the different faces, then the light went on. No surprise that the Muslim population (amongst others) might choose to avoid Max Brenner for political/social reasons.

Examples of this sort of consumer behaviour lie well below the radar for most Australians, quite simply because there a few examples of that sort of home-grown or home-sustained political/social polarisation. Sure, Melbourne’s Lebanese population is, I’m led to believe, quite clearly divided between north and east in their choice of shops, and perhaps the Croatians and Serbians refuse to enter each other’s shops too, but those are deep-rooted historical divisions.

I can only think of two locally nurtured discriminations, now quite old: (1) When I was a kid, I’m sure that my parents would have strongly discouraged me from frequenting, say, a South African shop (if such a thing had existed in Melbourne) because of their views on apartheid. (2) Severe antipathy between Catholics and Protestants in Australia lasting until the mid-20th Century presumably affected where people shopped/ate (as it did their employment, leisure and marriage options – here’s an interesting radio documentary).

This article was prompted by some news of anti-Israel political action in front of Max Brenner stores, and the contrary action of a former prime minister to deliberately have a hot chocolate there. I wonder what other examples readers know of where political or social beliefs (not basic broad racism, or a real religious requirement – kosher/halal/etc) specifically affect the shopping or dining habits of sections of the Australian population?

What about in other diverse communities?

Please AVOID political, religious or prejudiced OPINION here. I’m seeking objective commentary about how such opinions in communities shape people’s shopping/dining behaviour.

11 thoughts on “Eating your politics (or prejudices)”

  1. I choose not to frequent Max Brenner because their products are made in Israel, however this is not because they are from Israel specifically, but rather because I do not understand why I would want to eat expensive chocolate that has travelled halfway across the globe and subsequently tastes stale when there are other much more delicious, locally made chocolates available very widely.

  2. I think at the moment the carbon tax is generating a lot of debate. On the David Jones Facebook page there is lots of talk from customers on both sides

    As someone who enjoys food immensely, overtime I have started thinking more about and being more aware of where my food comes from and try to buy more free range, organic foods, supporting local producers and buying from farmers’ markets.

    What we value and believe is an extension of ourselves and will carry out into other aspects of life and will affect where we choose to eat and shop.

    Woolworths bought out an iconic local music venue in Perth a few years ago – The Hyde Park Hotel Ever since that day some of my friends refuse to shop at Woolworths.

  3. @Ali: that’s a very good point, absolutely.
    @Apex: they’re interesting examples, but I’m looking for perhaps more long-standing or ingrained dis/preferential behaviours. Boycotts of companies because of issues of environment or who-bought-whom tend to have fairly short (and mixed) level of public interest, whereas some deeper political/social preferences/prejudices often involve a more clearly identifiable group in a broad community.

  4. That is certainly something that has gone unnoticed by myself. I have noticed the opposite however:) I often suspect a restaurant of being a good option, if I’ve not heard reviews on it, by the number of people who may have an idea of the food. That is, a Vietnamese restaurant filled with people of Vietnamese heritage is likely to be a better bet than a Vietnamese restaurant filled only with caucasians. Not a sure thing, but it’s been a great guide for us! Sorry, I know this isn’t really the subject matter today.

    As to religious bias, I know that my own heritage stems from my grandparents escaping Holland after the war as their families disapproved of their marriage (one family Catholic one family Protestant) but, while this left my grandparents being anti-religions altogether, they were not averse to shopping anywhere in particular in relation to this issue. I think they felt sorry for those restricted by their beliefs if anything!

    It’s a sad thing to think that some people are holding a bias that is passed down from generations before of something that really doesn’t need to effect them any longer. A grudge held tends to hurt the person holding the grudge more than anyone else – note that I am not speaking of ongoing, current political issues but rather of historic animosity here.

  5. I grew up in the 70s when Nestle’s questionable food promotion practices in third world countries first hit the headlines. My mother boycotted their products and made it very clear to her three young children why she was doing this. To this day I still can’t bear to buy their products, and a taste of ‘Quik’ feels like a guilty pleasure.

    I think you’re right though, a lot of this stuff does fly under the radar here. I felt the race/ethnicity thing more keenly when I lived in New York, and there were definitely shops and restaurants i would sometimes go to and felt completely out of place, and never go back to again!

    Maybe the issue here in Melbourne is still class/SES status. Even though I am a successful professional, I still feel slightly out of place when I go to places south of the river, although the east/west overlay is getting stronger as a dividing marker.

  6. I have to say here that I avoid Max Brenner, not for any political reasons, but purely because the times that I’ve gone there in the past, the strawberries have ALWAYS been underripe and tart!

  7. My parents, who left China in 1939 after enduring air raids and fleeing a moving front for more than two years, found it difficult to consider buying Japanese products for more than 50 years, though they accepted a Japanese American daughter-in-law without hesitation

  8. I’m sorry to say that I’d probably be one of those people that would avoid that shop since my grandmother, aunts and uncles and mother, (all Palestinian) suffered greatly under israeli occupation, had all their lands confiscated, and all ended up in exile in various countries of the world. I also avoid Nestle products, for the reasons mentioned above by Queenotisblue, and products from companies that are known to mistreat their animals or workers….not always easy, but I try to buy local, and from people I know. I’m sure though that even with that vigilance I probably end up buying stuff that comes from places and people that I’d rather not support, since often we do not even know all the permutations that products go through in this international market place. Like wheat imported to Italy from the US which then ends up being shipped back to us, as ITALIAN pasta….

  9. There is definitely some internal tensions that can get quite nasty between north and south when it comes to the Vietnamese restaurant scene in Footscray, and no doubt the other Viet precincts across the city.

Comments are closed.