When was the last time you thought about what you consumed?
And I don’t just mean thinking about whether to put cheese on that burger or not; I’m talking about really considering what goes into the food you eat and the beverages you drink: how it was made, where it was made, the ingredients it contains.
Now, lest it seem as though I’m preaching fire and brimstone from my soapbox, I’ll admit that I don’t particularly think about my food. Not that much, anyway. And any thinking I do do is pretty superficial: is this going to go right to my thighs?
More and more, however, what we eat has become a greater public concern, with the call for greater accountability in the food industry (what a phrase) getting louder and louder: sustainable farming, the end of agri-business, non-GMO, natural. But a funny thing happens when good intentions so deeply entrench themselves into the public consciousness: they devolve into a blanket philosophy of “good enough.” Is the milk labeled “organic?” Good enough. Do the eggs assert themselves to have plopped from a free range chicken? Well, all right.
This is a dangerous binary and reckless naivety on the part of the consumer. It’s a good-faith effort to do the right thing while still managing to retain the fire-and-forget attitude of grocery shopping.
That is to say that corporations have picked up on this shift of public opinion and are doing their best to stay in our good graces. However, while products labeled “organic” and the like fulfill the letter of the law, they don’t fulfill the spirit, their claims being tenuous at best.
But this is all preamble.
Heineken recently hosted an event, billed as a “master class” in brewing the beer, to launch their new advertising campaign. Now, to relate this to the above, the campaign is called “There’s More Behind the Star” (or, #MoreBehindtheStar if you’re into Twitter). What is this “More?” Well, the “More,” somewhat ironically, is less.
The main tenet of this campaign is Heineken’s recipe, which consists of a whopping three ingredients: water, hops, and barley. (Fun thing I learned from the brewmaster in attendance: how to tell the difference between wheat and barley. Barley has hairs whereas wheat is bald. Now you know.) Not to get a too inside baseball, but they told us that all their ingredients are sourced from a only a couple of places, and the water is intensely purified before it’s used to brew, which ensures the beer tastes the same worldwide.
If you’re an appreciator of minutiae like me, you’ll find that interesting. So I appreciated the crux of the event. After about half an hour of milling about, looking around the room and getting served what seemed to be an endless flow of Heineken, they turned on the projectors, and the emcee began running the crowd through the history of the brewery. Then, one of the company’s brewmasters came and gave us the rundown on the brew process. And from what I can tell, this sort of transparency is going to be the big push behind this campaign. It’s refreshing in a way. The food industry is notoriously oblique, never wanting to reveal just how things are made for fear that we wouldn’t eat it. So it’s nice to see a major company make what seems like a genuinely earnest attempt to telegraph just what we’re consuming.
After the presentation, we got to go behind the bar and learn “how to pour the perfect Heineken” from the tap, which, as it turns out, is a little more difficult than you’d think (my first attempt resulted in mostly foam).
Now, I’ve never been a bartender, so I’ve never gotten to pull that lever from which drink flows freely (or $7 a glass if you’re in New York). It was an oddly pleasing experience, meditative in a sort of way. In the spirit of staying on message: I’ve spent a lot of time in bars. Bars of all kind, from your smoky dives with cigarette burns on the pool table and the biker with stab wounds and a neck tattoo, to your trendy clubby joint with blaring pop music and young people cruising for a good time for the night. But bars, despite ostensibly being a social environment, a place for laugh and be merry amongst friends, are solitary places. They’re places for people to go to, yes, get drunk, either alone or with the aforementioned friends and have a good time. But happiness is a selfish act: to each his own, and it can be no one else’s. And so the beer is ordered, and the only connection that is had is drinking. There was something about pulling that lever, failing, and finally getting it right that made me think more about it. A glass of Heineken at a piano bar doesn’t appear out of thin air. From the growing of the barley to the brewing process to pouring it in the glass, great pains must be taken for me to enjoy it. More Behind the Star indeed.