I wrote a week ago about buying Belgian chocolate, and talking to the chocolatier and finding out about what goes into the average chocolate bar. We all know about the Chinese milk scandals involving replacing milk solids with melamine.

If you go to your local supermarket and buy garlic, you will probably find that it was grown in China. The oranges that provided the orange juice were probably grown in South America. In a flat world economy how do you determine whether the goods that you buy actually have in them what you assume they do?

We may not understand yet how much we need provenance.

In the art world provenance is about being able to determine authenticity. But we are fast approaching a time when we need it for everything. How else can we make important purchase decisions?

And it isn't just food that is important to be able to authenticate.

Its products of every kind…. Last week our less than two years old dishwasher broke down. This was the second time in a month. The first time it was a sensor that checks for water overflow. It was taken away and repaired under warranty. So no problems. This time, still under warranty, it was taken away for investigation, and this morning I got a phone call to say that the motor had blown up, or melted down and needed replacement…

While the repairman was pulling out the dishwasher I talked to him about the fact that we are going through a similar problem with our oven – the second oven in two years, with this one being a replacement for one where the hinges on the door wouldn't work properly. And now we have a similar problem with the replacement.

So I thought I would try to get the low down on which dishwashers are the best from the point of view of the guy that gets called out to repair them. So he started telling me how all the motors for all the dishwashers now come out of two, count 'em, factories in China. So his advice was basically, “Look – all the dishwashers are fundamentally the same, with slightly different designs with some being engineered better than others, but the working parts, circuit boards, motors, etc are fundamentally the same”.

To me what this cries out for is provenance. We need to know where things actually come from. If we all knew that all the dishwashers are fundamentally the same, how much would that alter our purchase decisions? And then how much better would the manufacturers want to make the quality brand offerings?

Now there apparently are some exceptions to this rule. If you buy the absolute top of the line products you get quality. And that is the only alternative we have.

This is the fruit that we harvest from a globalized economy.

Provenance is the only option….

And it can probably be delivered by the use of RFID tags on absolutely everything. Imagine going into the store to identify a dishwasher that are considering and being able to scan the product for its working parts and where they came from so that you can then scan an alternative product. Determine whether they both came out of the same factory and just have a different front panel… I think that this would be pretty interesting. Not something that any brand would want. But if you could do it, I think it would change the consumer society radically and positively.

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