The disappearance of REAL choice

At the turn of the 20th Century (meaning back there in 1900) they say the average grocery store had about 300 stock items. The last I saw, the average grocery in the 21st Century has in excess of 20,000 items for sale.

Yet for all the increase there are lots of ways that actual choice is less than it’s ever been. Let me give you a single example — even though I could literally point at dozens of others if I wanted to bore you.

I like cheese. Actually I love cheese. When I was visiting France I was delighted to find that they have at least one registered cheese for every single day of the year. If one were inclined to push their infatuation with dairy products that far. I tried a great many of them and here in the U.S. I continue to seek out and try new flavors — of cheese and other things.

I like blue cheese — you know that stuff with the veins of mold running through them. There is one particular brand made by a company here in Wisconsin called Sartori that I really like. It’s called Dolcina and it’s actually a gorgonzola, as opposed to a generic “blue.” As little as 5 years ago there were probably 5 stores in town where I could purchase it. Today — it’s still being made but I have been unable to find a single store that carries it. My tastes can’t be that “off” that I like something that NO ONE else likes. But the fact of the matter is that not enough people at enough stores ask for it so the stores simply stop selling it.

A trip down the cereal aisle will reveal dozens and dozens of cereals that all are pretty much the same. How many ways can you flake, or puff, or flavor wheat and rice. Lots of options but not really all that much variety. Go looking for other forms of cereal or other grains and your options quickly dry up.

Walk down the tomato sauce, or the salsa aisles and you’ll see the same thing. Half a dozen companies all selling roughly the same spice level or flavoring combinations just under different brands so that you have 20 or 30 different products but not really all that much difference between any of them.

It’s not just food items. Pretty much every product available for purchase is now more of a cost center and if you can’t sell enough of them they aren’t made any longer. I know I’m an old geezer, and times have changed but I used to be able to purchase a pair of all leather shoes that I could have resoled 2 or 3 times and the leather uppers would be just fine and serviceable. The leather pair of shoes would last me 10 years. Now even the ones that LOOK leather aren’t. And aren’t resole-able unless you are talking hundreds of dollars a pair. The canvas and net ones I go through in a year. Guaranteed obsolescence — or short life-cycle — whatever you want to call it non-food products are made to be replaced. No company wants products that last a long time — they want to keep making them and making money on you.

I guess that after a lifetime of enjoying the variety that used to be available I’m going to have to be happy with mass production. But I’m not going there easily. And I’m not going there willingly.