Beg, borrow or steal?

In these trying times commerce as we know it is changing. The enormous gap between haves and have not continues to expand. It’s very difficult to see what the future holds for the individual, never mind the Hospitality Industry.

The English-language word commerce has been derived from the Latin word commercium, from com (“together”) and merx (“merchandise”).

Historian Peter Watson and Ramesh Manickam date the history of long-distance commerce from circa 150,000 years ago.

In historic times, the introduction of currency as a standardized money facilitated the exchange of goods and services.

Banking systems developed in medieval Europe, facilitating financial transactions across national boundaries. Markets became a feature of town life, and were regulated by town authorities.

We have come a long way since these early times. In fact commerce as we know it has changed significantly in the past 100 years. I still remember a time, being brought up in a rural agricultural small town when a hand shack was adequate to guarantee a transaction. My grandparents would shop several times a week, the bakery, butcher, cheese shop, etc. Often they had accounts that would be squared up on a monthly basis. Take it a step further, often goods or services were traded, no actually currency changed hands, just an exchange of value. For example, I give you some baked goods in exchange for you fixing my fence. Gone are the days of someone helping for anything less than hard cash, what happened to charity or consideration?


Taking it a step further, but still not exactly charity.  Reciprocity refers to the non-market exchange of goods or labour ranging from direct barter (immediate exchange) to forms of gift exchange where a return is eventually expected (delayed exchange) as in the exchange of birthday gifts. It is thus distinct from the true gift, where no return is expected. Sometimes it’s a good thing to do something without expectation or reward. I do it in business all the time, it’s a form of marketing to give away food. How is anyone to know what it is I do, if they have nothing to sample, right?

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, sought to demonstrate that markets (and economies) pre-existed the state. He argued (against conventional wisdom) that money was not the creation of governments. Markets emerged, in his view, out of the division of labor, by which individuals began to specialize in specific crafts and hence had to depend on others for subsistence goods. These goods were first exchanged by barter. Specialization depended on trade, but was hindered by the “double coincidence of wants” which barter requires, i.e., for the exchange to occur, each participant must want what the other has. To complete this hypothetical history, craftsmen would stockpile one particular good, be it salt or metal, that they thought no one would refuse. This is the origin of money according to Smith. Money, as a universally desired medium of exchange, allows each half of the transaction to be separated.

Trade or the exchange of goods and services will always be the fabric of commerce both on a local and global scale. I foresee some change, necessary change in the balance between local and global. The current model neither makes sense, nor is it working anymore. It has never made sense to me to sell mustard seeds to the French, who in turn sell it back to us as Dijon mustard. What about wheat, fish….water for that matter. We sell our resources for nothing, and buy them back at a premium….weird. We as Canadian Chefs need to buy and cook with Canadian products, surely we can make a decent mustard, no? I make my own mustard on occasion, not so difficult!

In conclusion I hope none of you have to beg, borrow or steal, that’s bad economy. I will suggest that you do the following some of the time. Number one is to GIVE. It’s not always about getting! Number two is BARTER. Nothing wrong with trading skills or goods, nobody gets hurt, it’s win:win. Number three is BUY LOCAL. Support local business that are green thinking. In terms of my industry I always shop local for 80% of my needs, this is transferred through my business as a locally sourced catering service. Likewise, I encourage you to support other restaurants, caterers and food companies that use a similar model. For now we can’t change global trade, but by thinking locally, we are encouraging change right here in our own back yards.

Cheers, and have a happy hump day!

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