Supply Chain

When I go into the supermarket, I see foods from all over the world. I’m not talking about the items in the so-called International section, but even the stuff on the other shelves. I just picked up the nearest supermarket purchased item that came to hand. Batteries. They are packed locally, but are manufactured in China. When I say locally, I mean almost 500 kilometres away.

Much of the fruit and veges that I purchase come from overseas. Bananas and pineapples don’t grow here and are imported from various countries. If I want to buy a t-shirt it will almost certainly originate in Asia somewhere. I just looked at the t-shirt that I’m wearing at the moment, and yup, while it has a designed featuring a local attraction it is manufactured and printed in China.

All our electronic gear come from Asia, our clothes from Asia and plastic ware like laundry baskets also originates overseas.

This is not unique to this country though. It’s much the same in any other country. This country produces dairy products, meat and meat products, fruit and wine which are exported to other countries. The world is full of goods being shipped from one place to another, and sometimes a product will go to more than one location on its journey from where it is produced to the supermarket that it ends up in.

I don’t know if this actually happens, but one can envisage that milk taken from a cow is turned into milk powder here, sent elsewhere to be turned into mozzarella cheese, which is then sent to a pizza manufacturer, who sends the finished pizza to an pizza outlet where it is cooked and then sent out to satisfy the appetites of people somewhere else yet again.

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There’s a term for this. It is “supply chain”. Actually it’s more like a supply network as, if we consider the pizza case, the pizza is made up of multiple ingredients all of which pass through several stages. Even the box that contains the pizza may have a complex history before the pizza is dropped into it and it is sent off.

It’s also possibly that the box may be made of recycled material. Cardboard collected at a recycling station may be pulped, processed and made into pizza boxes. Some of the collected cardboard may be old pizza boxes.

Generally, though, the components or ingredients of a consumer item, like a cell phone or a pizza with extra pepperoni start out by being harvested or dug out of the ground. If you want to cut out the supply chain, you could grow your own, but then you need to source the seeds, you need to buy in compost, unless you make it yourself from vegetables that you’ve sourced somewhere else, which come from goodness knows where, and you need to feed the plants with chemicals which have all come from somewhere else, and most likely have been processed in various ways.

So what would happen if the supply chain broke? People in the cities, who have no other way to acquire things except through the supply network would quickly starve, and would likely flee the city for the countryside, where things would be much better, and where they could settle down and grow things, right?

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Except that most useful productive land in most countries has already been taken for farms, and the fleeing city folk would be forced onto marginal land and would starve, or they would be forced to steal from the farmers who are already there, or maybe they would beg for food from the farmers or work for them for food. Or they would fight to displace the farmers from their lands. In any case a flood of refugees from the city would likely be a trigger for conflict.

Actually the farmers would not be that much better off than the city folks. Most farms these days are more like little factories feeding into the supply chain and would concentrate on one or two crops. A beef farmer would have a surplus of beef, a potatoes farmer would have nothing but potatoes, and so on.

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So, it is likely that even farmers would have severe problems if the supply network broke. Even if the farmer could trade most of his produce with other farmers so that he did not have to subsist purely on potatoes, he would have great difficulty in producing more crops after the first one. He’d quickly run out of fertiliser and without insecticides he would probably loose a lot of his crops.

The problems would be even worse if his land was deficient in some critical mineral. Many farmers these days have to add traces of minerals to their land, either to help grow bigger produce or to add the trace elements that the crops need to even grow.

Of course, not everyone would starve. Some non-city dwellers would eventually, after a period of realignment, be able to feed themselves. But many, many city dwellers would die, and a significant number of non-city dwellers would also die before an new balance is found. All trade would be local, probably barter based, as the city dwellers are the ones who keep the banking systems going, and they would be dead.

I haven’t yet considered what sort of catastrophe could disrupt the global supply network. If the oil ran out, and couldn’t be replaced by some other source of energy, that would do it. Local power could be generated using solar energy or water power, but the ships that ship goods from one place to another run on oil. That means that we would not be able to source solar cells in sufficient number.

If someone started a global nuclear war, then that could cause significant disruption and throw many countries back on their own resources, especially those who are more isolated than most. Similarly, if a super volcano were to erupt anywhere in the world, and as a result the world would become shrouded in clouds of dust for years on end, killing all food crops, then there would be no food to be shipped, even if the ships were to keep on working. And without food crops animals would starve, and so would we.

Say Cheese!

Cheese board
Cheese board

Cheese – let’s see if I can come up with one thousand words on cheese. OK, that start is a bit of a cheat, so let’s get into it.

When humans started domesticating animals, my guess is that they would have started small, with goats or sheep. We can’t know why the first cave man or woman first milked one of them. Maybe it was a cave woman who could not feed her growing kids on her own milk and decided to steal some from the goat or sheep. Of course, if the child was too small it would not have worked because the milk would not be suitable for babies. It’s not the best thing for older children too, but it’s better than nothing.

Of course, there would inevitably have been milk left over after feeding the kids, and this would have “gone off”. It’s possible that cottage style cheeses were made from “gone off” milk, though the present day process for making cheese is more complex than simply allowing it to clot. Milk that is clotted is closer to yoghurt than cheese.

Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese

The cave man or woman who first tried eating the curds from clotted milk would have to have had a strong stomach. After all, most clotted milk smells terrible. As I understand it, it depends on the type of bacillus that gets into the milk and causes it to clot.

Proper cheese needs rennet to cause it to coagulate, and according to Wikipedia’s page on the history cheese, it was probably discovered by carrying milk in bladders made of ruminants’ stomachs due to their inherent supply of rennet. It would still have required some person who was desperate or brave to have tried it first.

Cheese curds floating
Cheese curds floating

Once the liquid is removed from the coagulated milk, the solids are processed into the myriad of types of cheese we have today. There was once a shop near us which sold the unmatured and unprocessed cheese as milk curds. They formed quite a nice snack.

There are thousands of types of cheese. France is known for her cheese and former President Charles De Gaulle once commented “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” In fact he was probably underestimating by quite a wide margin. There are apparently over seven hundred named British cheeses.

Tentation du Vercors
Tentation du Vercors

I presume that this doesn’t include those cheeses which are merely a named type of cheese with added herbs and spices. I’ve seen cheese with added nettles, of all things. If you are interested, it tasty OK. I think that this trend may have sprung from the small, often called boutique, cheese producers. If you are a small company, you will not have the facilities to produce more than one or two types of cheese, and an easy way to provide variety in your range is to create herb infused varieties.

Cheese types presumably fall into various broader types of cheese. There are the soft cheeses, some of which are almost spreadable, such as Brie. Others are denser and more solid, such as the various Cheddar cheese types, some are really hard, such as the Parmesan that is shaved and used as a condiment.

Mottin Charentais
Mottin Charentais

Some cheeses crumble easily and others are more easily sliced. Some supermarket cheese is so processed that it is almost plastic! In fact supermarket cheeses could be considered to be a separate type of cheese. It is almost always highly processed and formed into blocks, slices and spreadable wedges. Even the more conventional cheeses, such as Cheddar cheese, is sold in supermarkets as a block, which seem to me to be a long, long way from the original Cheddar cheese which came in the form of a wheel.

Sometime during the evolution of cheese some cheeses became infected with a penicillin mold and developed blue markings or veins. Once again, some brave person tasted it and liked it, and so blue cheese was born. Blue cheeses are among the tastier of cheeses, and to me, beat all other cheeses that I have tasted hands down.

Shropshire Blue Cheese
Shropshire Blue Cheese

Cheese is used in many recipes, one of which is Welsh rarebit. There are many variations of this recipe, which basically involves melting cheese with several optional ingredients on toast. I particularly like the one which involves soaking the toast in red wine before the cheese is added, although I’ve never tried it.

Cheese scones are another favourite. I always add more cheese than the recipe calls for, as I don’t think the standard recipes call for enough cheese. Cheddar cheese, grated, is the best cheese to use, I find. One thing is important, though. If you like cheese scones hot, it is best to eat them almost direct from the oven. At a pinch they can be reheated in an oven, but heating them in a microwave cooker turns them into something leathery and, to my mind, not particularly nice.

Cheese scones, mmmmmmm!
Cheese scones, mmmmmmm!

Macaroni cheese is a familiar dish from most peoples’ childhood, and even adults find it a tasty meal. It is essentially cooked macaroni, covered in a cheese sauce, covered in breadcrumbs and reheated. Some people put ham in it, some add ┬áherbs, and there are many, many other variations.

Speaking of cheese sauce, cheese and pasta go together. Pasta without cheese sauce is a bare gluggy mess. Pasta with a cheese sauce, with maybe some ham or sausage or even seafood can be heavenly. Some tomatoes or tomato paste make it even nicer.

Farfalloni
Farfalloni

Cheese also goes with pizza. What would pizza be without the stringy mozzarella cheese? Cheese producers around the world have spent large amounts of money, I’d guess in the millions, developing cheese which melts properly and has the requisite stringiness when it cools slightly, so that you can do that twirly thing with your finger to wind up the stings of delicious cheese.

One particularly tasty, but probably not good for you, use of cheese is in cheese straws. These are basically strips of slightly puffed pastry infused with cheese. the strips are twisted to make a spiral shape. The bit is crunchy, the biscuit a little flaky and delicious.

Just one more. Oh no, they’ve all gone!

Cheese straws
Cheese straws