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Confused Ethics and Mixed Morality: The Quandry of Beer being Big

Dairy Farming Destruction

I currently live on a working dairy farm estate. For a while I was ensnared by the idyllic concept and the peacefulness of it. Life on a farm: Countryfile could record an episode here.

Before I first stepped foot on home soil I was embarrassingly naive to the now-widely-reported practices within the dairy farm industry. Once we’d looked into the reports and heard the arguments for and against dairy, more Almond or Oat milk started appearing in the fridge. The romance of farm life had been slightly dented.

Yet once the fridge was empty and a cuppa was needed, the 30 second walk to the farm to buy some fresh milk option resurfaced. It didn’t take long for cow milk to re-emerge in the fridge door. After all, the farm cows are grazing cattle and have lives comparably better than many dairy cows in this country, though some of the uglier elements (artificial insemination, removal of calves) will almost certainly exist. It might not be the ideal compromise, but by only buying milk from a grazing dairy farm we are doing better than purchasing from some of the horrors, as well as not feeding the domineering corporations. A little improvement. But a little contrary.

This type of mixed morality is present in many areas of modern living. It's the dying era of cheap convenience living broken by a new wave of awareness that is currently overlapping. It is hugely prevalent in the modern UK beer scene and becomes no more to the fore than in light of brewery takeovers or investment. 

More Beer is preferable to Good Beer

With the latest big beer news concerning Heineken taking over - ahem, buying a stake in -  a low distributed South London brewery came the outcries of anguish and despair. This ran parallel to the usual arguments of better beer being more widely available and the positives this brings. 

Those in the former category continuously get accused from those in the latter of being "precious" about beer and claiming their own ownership over it. "Beer is business." Yet the modern beer scene for many is part of that anti-corporation stance that goes through to making better judgements about where you buy your vegetables, making sure your chicken is free-range or not wanting milk from cows that have been chained to one shed area all their lives. It is those ideologies that beer drinkers love about independent, smaller and often local breweries and beer businesses. To have that then taken away or diluted by the machines that destroy those small businesses does lead some to feel disappointment and rage. I can sympathise with that; I struggle to empathise with those that argue the opposite.

If investment from large conglomerates into breweries means better beer more widely available then that will be trained on a specific market. Obviously, they have an area they are trying to breach and they will probably be successful. If a number of Beer Twitter faces suddenly turn their nose up at that brewery because of their financial dealings, it still shouldn't affect their master business plan in the long run. Let people spend their money where they want based on their morals. 

Confused morals at that of course, because there will become a time when Heineken's master plan will work for some. "I'll never buy Brixton again" until the choice on the bar is between Brixton IPA and Carling. I guarantee they will not be turning around back out the door and refusing to buy anything. It's just when the choice is between that Brixton beer and, say, any other damn brewery in the country that does not have ties to Heineken, people know where they would rather spend their money. 

If one of my favourite street food vendors made enough money to expand or open a permanent fixed restaurant, I’d be delighted for them. If they did it with small investment from a friend then I’d be all for it too. If they suddenly secured 6 new trading vans and four restaurants because of an investment from The Restaurant Group PLC, then they’d lose all credibility to me. That ideology doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Yet I wouldn't flat out refuse a meal at a Restaurant Group chain. Mixed morality.

Beer Is Business

I rarely buy beer online these days if at all; the rise of good local bottle shops coupled with avoidance of “FOMO beers” has made this unnecessary. Yet I know I would actively avoid buying beer through The Beer Hawk due to their ownership. Unfortunately, their dominant search engine presence does mean I have received gifts people have bought through this website. Am I to reject the gifts to really make a stand? Of course not, not when such kind thought has gone into them. Though I have been known to, a few weeks down the line, advise them to use other avenues should they ever want to repeat the gesture. Mixed morality.

I’d also avoid Beer 52 (personally.) Their route-to-market tactics have become repeatedly repulsive to me. The “Free” box of beer offer (£8 P+P) that has been offered through various channels, clearly in exchange for sponsorship, isn’t something I was ever going to take up. Then I saw this:

View the Beer Bods website

This isn’t an unusual business tactic. The last time I searched “Gregg’s Christmas Menu” through Google, the top answer was “Mark’s and Spencer’s Christmas Food.” (This doesn’t seem to be the case now.) Using SEO to steal somebody else’s market is common practice. People are employed to perform such tasks. Some will use the tired livelihoods are at stake argument for such antics. Fine, but if I don’t like it then I can choose to spend my money elsewhere. They’ll be plenty who took up the “Free” Beer 52 box astonished I wouldn’t accept such a bargain on moral grounds.

I am not naive to business practices and what it takes to take a place in the market. Do not consider this post a lack of understanding. There are thin margins in this industry. Yet this is why companies such as AB-Inbev hire Marketing Managers in Disruptive Growth.

Though what really tops this off is when these business tactics are defended and applauded by those that can profiteer from them; and they use that position to chide those who don't like it. For those in the industry, such moves bring about the chance for extra work; consultancy programmes, article writing or maybe that sales and marketing position they were looking for. It isn’t for those that can see potential financial reward from such deals to tell those of us who are just customers how to feel about the same subject. Put your food on the table quietly – do not berate us. 

Another Log on the Electric Fire 

We are the generation that began to wake up to the accepted problems and practices in society. Yet when you've been raised by parents who loved the extra convenience and ease of life that super companies brought, it's a slow curve to break yourself from that cycle. This leads to the clash of ethics from time to time. It's tough to buy your potatoes from the local farm shop when its opening hours are the same as your working hours but Tesco is open 24 hours. Convenience leads to mixed morality. 

I liken modern life to something my mother always says about her children all growing up to own open fires or log burners. "When we were children, we couldn't wait to get an electric fire. It was magical to us and meant no more carrying wood and stoking fires. Now all my children have returned to what I wanted out of 50 years ago." My mother's generational lust for convenience led to the closing of the high street. It led to a mass market of animal cruelty and dairy farming that pollutes the planet. It led to six major breweries owning UK beer; six huge breweries owning global beer. It will take time to break that ingrained system of limited choice, faceless CEOs and bovine cruelty. 

The family member that brought the dairy farm issue to our attention has since become a vegan; or is at least trying to be one. Recently, they were at our house munching on a Cadbury’s chocolate product – non-vegan food from a company known for using some of the worst dairy farms in the country. Confused ethics? Hypocrisy? “I just really fancied some chocolate and this was all that was in your cupboard.” I can’t argue with that. Hardened mindsets take some changing. It will look confused and mixed at first. We’re not perfect. We’re just trying to do a little better.


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