What about the oils and fats business?
What can the oils and fats industry do about this social trend? Oddly enough, a large part of the answer could be ‘nothing at all’. After all, it is a golden rule in politics that, when your opponent is making a mess of things, you should sit back and let them dig their own graves.
At the moment, there is a long list of organisations, especially NGOs, telling the general public what to do, how to think and what to buy. To be fair, this has worked rather well for these organisations for a long time. But at some stage, people will feel resentful about being told what to do and consequently flip to a point of view that would be against what is normally popular.
The problem is, of course, to get the timing right. We don’t know everything about resentment as a motivator but we do know one thing: it has a gestation time or, if you prefer, a time-lag. The general public will endure all kinds of things – from being treated like they are stupid to outright insults – but only for a certain period of time. And, as any good politician will tell you, timing is everything.
It is always hard to make predictions on timing, but it seems that 2016 was a special year for the changing mood of the general public; it is almost as if things came full circle. It reminds me of the 1976 Oscar-winning movie Network, where the main character keeps saying “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”.
The next point is: which group is ‘the establishment’? With politics the answer is easy: the politicians who are in power and their related peers.
But with the oils and fats industry, what is the situation? Is a palm oil producer ‘part of the establishment’ or does that term fit better with Greenpeace? A lot of the answer comes down, again, to motivation. The edible oils industry is viewed as motivated by profits. Politicians are viewed as motivated by votes.
But what is the case with NGOs? Environmental groups are typically viewed as decent people whose hearts are in the right place. That is a view that is unlikely to change until some factor arises, be it internal (the NGOs or their audience change of their own accord) or external. For the latter to happen, the edible oils industry needs to tap into the rebellious tendency of the public. A good way would involve pointing out economic unfairness.
Back to Prof Mark Blyth. Many US voters saw a vast number of middle-class jobs disappear, while Clinton and her supporters in Wall Street and among media moguls grew their millions.
The oils and fats industry could gain support by pointing out that they provide a livelihood to a vast number of workers, while many NGOs have very highly-paid executives on their staff.
Dr Ian Halsall
Author & Researcher