Somehow a punnet of mushrooms appeared in my house today. They bore the name “Mini Portabella mushrooms”. I should admit now that I’m not an expert on mushrooms, but the name struck me as rather odd. On closer examination the pack made very clear that these were just normal chestnut mushrooms.
So I thought to myself, “that’s strange, I’ve been buying chestnut mushrooms for years, I wonder why they’ve changed the name?” I also took the liberty of looking up some information on portabella mushrooms on the internet, and came up with the definition “The portobello also called portabella is really simply a brown crimini mushroom in disguise. […] Once the little brown crimini grows up to be about 4″ – 6″ in diameter he is deemed to be a portobello.” Now, I’d never heard of a crimini mushroom before, so decided to look that up too. As far as I was concerned my pack said that these were “chestnut” mushrooms. I was also a bit confused by the fact that given the definition a “mini portabella” was in fact not a portabella at all. Everything seemed a bit suspect so I did some more digging
Another site told me that “Cremini mushrooms aren’t actually Italian mushrooms. “Cremini” is just a marketing name that was picked, wtiness the confusion between whether the name is actually spelt Cremini or Crimini” – personally, I reckon if any Italian had anything to do with it they’d think that “crimini” (crimes) is a bit of an odd name for a mushroom. I then thought back to good old Nietzsche, in his late work The Case of Wagner saying “Il faut mediterraniser la musique”, and wondered whether “il faut mediterraniser les champignons” would not have been more appropriate. I digress, the issue that I really wanted to discuss here was some old-fashioned orientalism and what this sort of advertising really means.
I’m sure that plenty of readers probably think that this doesn’t really mean very much. The public know that they like “portabella” mushrooms, and what one happens to call mushrooms in a supermarket probably doesn’t affect mass psychology very much. Here I agree, but it does point to a constellation of self, other, and commodity that may be of at least slight interest. In the orientalising or othering moment alongside doing damage to the product we consider (through absolute objectification), we do equal damage to ourselves as subjects insofar as we create fear, and damage any possibility of unity with that object. It is only as a consequence of the product as commodity that this becomes an irrelevance. It does not worry us if the product, already othered by being assigned an exchange value, being utterly reproducible as a commodity, is othered once again. But maybe there is ground to be reclaimed here. Maybe, if we took our food to be an element of the subjective, as a mode of our own existence seriously, then these mushrooms would pose some serious questions. Ok, probably not very serious, but hopefully you see my point.
It is the fact that these tactics in advertising remain so prevalent, that supermarkets jazz up there products with a slice of the exotic (or it’s modern-day equivalent, Tony Blair’s beloved Tuscany), that is a worry. If things are transmogrified into their own brands or slogans then we are very quickly losing the qualitative content of life.