Sunday, February 10, 2008
  In a pickle

Pickling is the preservation of food in brine (salt water) or vinegar. Or volcanic mud?
To be in a pickle means to be in a quandary or some other difficult position. This certainly applies to the mudflow victims of East Java.

There are not many strangers in a strange land who do not hanker for a few home comforts. Our tastes may differ but the sentiments are similar. We Brits stock up on supplies of Marmite whereas Aussies favour the much sweeter but still savoury flavour of Vegemite. They're lucky in that several branches of the local supermarket, Hero, occasionally stock it.

Having been out of the country for more than 20 years, I am aware that if I were to return to Blighty I'd have to rediscover my favourite brands. I wasn't aware, for example that Cadbury's chocolate, which is available here, is not made by the Quaker-owned benevolent employer of old.

Like many of the grocery products my mother used to stock the larder with, it is now a Premier Foods product. I'm tempted to say that is a shame because the history of chocolate makes interesting reading. It's not only the symbolism of chocolate being a sensual taste sensation and reputed aphrodisiac, though that may be connected to the intentions of the giver and the eroticism of eating, say, a strawberry cream.

What I've always found interesting is that the original chocolate manufacturers, the Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry families, were Quakers.

The Cadbury company is worth special mention for its enlightened attitude toward employees. This Quaker-owned chocolate company was the first firm to grant its workers a 5-day work week. Also, sports facilities, medical facilities, schools, kitchens and community gardens were built for the employees.

In 1893, the Cadbury brothers purchased 120 acres near their factory (to help workers escape the slums of Birmingham). 144 cottages were built for Cadbury workers and for the public at large. By 1915, rates of death and infant mortality in the Cadbury development were half those of Birmingham as a whole.

It is not important that an alternative history has it that they converted an already built housing estate intended for the middle classes rather than their employees, the working class.

The Fry family is best represented in social reforming by Elizabeth Fry (1780 - 1845), who married into the family, albeit a banking brother, and is noted for her campaigning for prison reform in the early 19th century.

There are four Rowntree Trusts which are funded from the legacies of the Quaker chocolate entrepreneurs and social reformers Joseph Rowntree and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree. They continue to fund social policy research and development and to promote democratic reform and social justice within the UK.

Nostalgic Brit foodies should look at this Premier Foods page - Hovis, Mother's Pride and Nimble (eh?) breads, Crosse & Blackwell and Campbells soups, Bisto (aah!) are in their portfolio, as are Sarson's vinegar and Branston, Haywards and Sharwoods pickles.

But no Pan Yan pickle.

The final jar of Pan Yan, a distinctive spicy, apple-based spread, rolled off the production line in 2002. Two years later, the list of ingredients went up in flames when fire swept through the Branston pickle factory in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, burning it to the ground.

Following a radio appeal for its return, Premier launched a public appeal for full or even nearly empty jars in order for their laboratories to analyse the contents. They will soon be organising a tasting session among connoisseurs of the product.

So that's good news for UK citizens; a massive conglomerate can still be responsive to public demand.

If only that were true here in Indonesia.

Today's Jakarta Post has two main stories. The second lead has SBY asking the country's media to exercise self-censorship because the era of government control over the press is at an end. He also said that the media should not get involved in business or political issues. Whether this is a warning shot before the next presidential election, one can't be sure. After all, most of the media is owned by business and political interests.

What is clear, however, is that before the next campaign he surely must find a different financial backer, one who doesn't feature in today's lead story.

SBY initially appointed Abdurizal Bakrie as Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, presumably because he headed up a major conglomerate and had been chairman of KADIN, Indonesia's Chamber of Commerce. That he remains in SBY's Cabinet can only be because he was also a major contributor to SBY's successful election campaign.

It certainly can't be because he takes his current job as the Minister of People's Welfare seriously. This was a position once held by Suharto's eldest daughter, Tutut, in his last cabinet, and she too lost most of her credibility with the public due to her seeming disregard of, or aloofness from, public concerns.

The vast majority of Indonesians believe that Lapindo Brantas, a Bakrie Bros company, was, through the incompetence of its drilling engineers, responsible for the Sidoarjo mudflow. The company has been ordered by SBY to pay compensation to the thousands of families and the many industries displaced by the still-flowing mud, which has the consistency of hot chocolate. For nigh on three years, many families have been refugees, unable to rebuild their lives or to create a home environment of any substance because Lapindo still owes them the agreed compensation. They don't even have larders to fill.

A year ago, Lapindo were instructed by SBY to pay approximately $380 million in compensation. There was to be an initial 20% to be paid forthwith: about 2% of the 10,277 affected families have yet to receive this down payment. There was also to be a payment of Rp.500,000 per 'victim': 897 families have yet to receive this. It is not known how many, if any, of the affected families have received the promised further 80% compensation. Possibly none?

The families are angry, very angry, and yesterday thousands of them clashed with security personnel at the site of a proposed housing development in Sidoarjo being built by a subsidiary of Lapindo Brantas, PT Minarik Lapindo Jaya.

Minarik vice president Andy Darussalam said, "This is purely a business offer: we're not forcing the mudflow victims to relocate to the housing. Each house has its own price and mudflow victims can buy the houses with the remaining 80% of the compensation money."

In a country which regularly provides 'what-the-f**k' moments, have you ever heard such cynical, self-serving tosh?

You may recall that last December I noted that Aburizal Bakrie and his family had seen their net worth blow out to $5.4 billion, up from a mere $1.2 billion in 2006. And now the Bakrie Boys aim to profit from the mere $380 million they have delayed paying out?

This leaves a very sour taste so, this being the week to celebrate St. Valentine, I offer this ode to the Bakries.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Onions are pickled.
I wish they were too.

Where are the Cadbury's, Fry's and Rowntree's of Indonesia?


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