The Anti-Circular Pepper Mill Scandal

The other day, I was preparing a dinner party when I realized my pepper mill was empty. I ran to the nearest supermarket to buy a bag of black pepper corns with which to refill it, but found myself out of luck. The only items available were a small spice jar of pre-ground pepper, and another jar of pepper corns that came with a plastic grinding mechanism on top. I wasn’t in the market for another pepper mill, and didn’t have much time to search elsewhere for pepper corns only, so it had to be one of these items. Pre-ground pepper is acceptable when you’re in a pickle, but nothing beats freshly milling your own pepper. Ooh, that ritual! Aah, that aroma! I therefore opted for the jar with the plastic mill, thinking I could transfer some of its content into my own designer mill for now, and keep this one for picnics.

Much to my dismay, however, I discovered as soon as I got home that there was absolutely no way to open that jar. I tried using a vice, a vice-grip, and even a hammer and chisel, but without smashing it to pieces and hand-picking pepper corns from shards of glass and plastic there was no way to separate the plastic grinding mechanism from the glass. There was no choice but to use the crappy plastic pepper mill at the dinner party. Embarrassing, but at least we were able to enjoy the pleasures of freshly-ground pepper.

The day eventually came when the plastic mill ran out, its grinding mechanism dull and useless by then. There was no choice but to recycle it, which of course entailed smashing it to bits first so that the two materials could be separated and tossed into the correct bins. How many people are willing to go to such lengths just to recycle something? Nobody, of course, except for a handful of 3-R extremists such as myself.

I felt gypped, and came to the realization that this totally anti-circular pepper mill was designed this way. Its design intention is to make people buy new ones every time they run out, which in turn lowers their price even more, increasing market share to the point of world domination and forcing manufacturers of traditional pepper mills to go out of business. Isn’t capitalism amazing? It ensures that throw-away goods will always be more price-effective than –and therefore preferable to– those goods that are designed and manufactured to last. The cheap plastic grinding mechanism makes all the difference here; it is what marketing gurus call “added value” in the perverted cultural logic of our late-capitalist era.

The manufacturers of traditional, high-quality pepper grinders –Peugeot, Henkel, et al– should be as incensed as I am about this gastro-environmental crime. Surely they have sufficient grounds to lobby the EU to impose special taxes and tariffs on throw-away pepper mills and similar items. It’s high time shoppers paid the true environmental cost of throw-away convenience.

Fact is, we pay too little for disposable shite. If that plastic pepper mill and its content cost significantly more than the two euro I paid for it, I, for one, would probably never have bought it in the first place. I would have slowed down, taken a deep breath, counted my change, and by then remembered that there’s a bulk spice shop even closer to my home than the local Lidl. So what if dinner starts a bit late. Long live the slow grind of the slow city.

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