To someone interested in complexity, everything seems like a complex system. Take my lunch for instance… I sampled the delicious Vifon Pho Ga Chicken Flavor Vietnamese Pho Rice Noodle Soup pictured to the side. Its preparation was anything but complex. But the $2.50 lunch was itself made of 10 distinct parts: A cellophane wrapper, a bowl with lid and separate label on top, dried rice noodles, a soup base pack, a dried vegetable pack, a flavor oil pack, a hot sauce pack and a plastic fork.
The list of ingredients was also mind-boggling: Rice Noodle: Rice, Salt, Sugar, Guar Gum,Vegetables Pack: Textured Wheat Gluten, Eryngium?, Leek. Oil Pack: Palm Oil, Chili, Artificial Chicken Flavor. Soup Base: Salt, Sugar, Monosodium Glutamate, Artificial Chicken Flavor, Onion, Disodium 5 – Inosinate & Disodium 5 – Guanylate, Ginger, Caramel. Chili Sauce: Chili, Garlic, Salt, Sugar, Vinegar, Corn Starch.
Whenever I look at food in front of me, I can’t help but think about how many ingredients are involved, and the complex production and supply chains behind each of them. How did it get this way? What forces have let us to such complexity? I scoured the web but have not yet found a relevant discussion of what drives food complexity. Perhaps readers can suggest some sources?
In a complex world, Vifon and other prepared food manufacturers can no longer control their entire production and supply chain chains, worrying about sources of supply, consistency of taste and appearances, and food safety. It’s too complex. They trust and rely on other manufacturers to isolate these complexities from them by buying soup packets and oil packets produced to their specifications. The network forces driving producers to evolve this way must be very strong to end up with such incredible solutions. What is amazing to me is that Vifon and others manage to produce, distribute and sell this 10-part product for less than $3.00. Most of the cost must be in the packaging, by the way.