I’m in the depths of transcribing at the moment, which I’m really enjoying, but it doesn’t leave much time for reading. So this week, I’m heading off on a tangent.

I have a ritual when it comes to opening a new packet of black peppercorns.

I slowly snip open the packet while holding it close to my nose. I breathe the dark peppery smell deep into my lungs. And I always feel incredibly rich and privileged to have a packet of black peppercorns to enjoy. I have felt this way for as long as I can remember.

I was opening a packet of pepper earlier this week and I thought, hmmn, I wonder where that comes from, that association of wealth with pepper. I was thinking perhaps Tudor times. I was curious, so I did a quick search to find out more.

Sarah Philpott’s (2013) post on salt and pepper gives a good overview of the history. From that, I found that pepper, my “black gold”, has been shipped from India for the last 4000 years or thereabouts. I praised the wisdom of Alaric the Visigoth and Attila the Hun in demanding a pepper ransom from the Romans, and taking peppercorns to the Egyptian afterlife sounds like a very wise idea. It makes me think of Death’s comments on the lack of mustard in the afterlife, though if curry can make it, maybe there is hope for pepper.

Whether you love pepper, as I do, or see pepper as a commonplace addition to your food, it is important to be aware of the impact of purchasing cheap pepper. Johannisson & Bengsten’s (2011) news item for the Ecologist shows the hidden costs tallied in the lives of pepper farmers and their families in India and Indonesia.

Sarah Philpott talks about the scandal in Victorian times when ground pepper was found to have been mixed with other additives. Now, while the ingredients might state that the packet contains nothing but black peppercorns, the reality is that it may carry a far greater price. Opening my packet of pepper takes on a deeper meaning.

I now know that my pepper comes through the Fair Trade Alliance Kerala, where farmers are working to support each other and with other fair trade groups across the globe. The Fairtrade Premium is reinvested to help farmers switch to organic farming, protecting the farmers, their families and the land from the impact of pesticides and fertilizers. A disaster management fund is in place to support farmers in times of crisis. Small-scale farmers are no longer isolated.

Where possible, we purchase organic, fairtrade products because similar issues are commonplace for the majority of the products we purchase, with poor payment impacting all farmers locally and globally. We need to start paying the true price for our goods and services.

It’s a simple choice to make, if you can. See Katy O’Brien’s link below for information on fairtrade herb and spice options.

References

Johannisson, F. & Bengtsen, P. (2011). Pepper: how our favourite spice is tainted by a deadly legacy. The Ecologist news article, 25 January 2011. Available at: https://theecologist.org/2011/jan/25/pepper-how-our-favourite-spice-tainted-deadly-legacy

O’Brien, K. (2018). Did you know you can buy Fairtrade herbs and spices in the UK? Blogpost for The Fairtrade Foundation, 3 August 2018. Available at: https://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Media-Centre/Blog/2018/August/Did-you-know-you-can-buy-Fairtrade-herbs-and-spices-in-the-UK

Philpott, S. (2013). Salt & pepper. The History Vault Features, Issue 1. Available at: https://www.thehistoryvault.co.uk/salt-pepper/

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