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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 December, 2003, 00:07 GMT
Myths of our time: globalisation

By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

One of the biggest myths of our time is that globalisation will lead to everyone having the same tastes worldwide: food becoming the same wherever we eat it; Coca Cola becoming the homogenised drink of the future; while locally produced products like cheese become the way of the past.

Welsh farmhouse cheeses
Local cheeses..global markets
The snag is that it's just not true.

One of the great boons of the internet is that it makes the local available everywhere.

In the hills of North Pembrokeshire, Wales, for example, on the far western edge of the British Isles, there's a cheese-maker who uses all the old methods.

The business ought to have died a death decades ago.

Llangloffan, where the farm is located, is so small it could barely be called a village.

Yet, through internet ordering its cheeses are available throughout Europe with a delivery time of less than four days.

Local cheeses

At the click of a mouse, North Americans can order Beer Kaesa cheese from Monroe, Wisconsin (it doesn't actually contain any beer but took its name because it was devised in 1933 to mark the end of prohibition) or Humboldt Fog from California or Vermont Shepherd from New England.

The University of California has just published a history of Camembert, and it does show a relentless move towards uniformity over the last century.

Where once individual farms would have produced their own unique strain of the French cheese, invariably using milk from a particular herd, the trend has been to agglomerate production in factories, where the product was standardised, homogenised and pasteurised.

Camembert lost its distinctive look and taste and became uniformly pasty white, with scarcely a hint of robustness.

But the good news for cheese-lovers is that distinctive, local Camembert is making a comeback because of the internet.

It's expensive, of course, but at least it's there.

Internet push

Local producers of all foods can probably thank Google and Amazon for their survival.

Search engines are now much better at sending potential buyers to potential sellers.

And the online retailer has moved way beyond books into up-market food.

A search on the word "cheese" brought up 1,524 references.

Small businesses selling food or anything else seem to be getting their act together, seeking professional advice on how to make their products more prominent on sites like Google.

They're learning how to change wording to push their site up the list.

Online sales

In 2003, it's reckoned that about 80 million Americans will have made online purchases, up from 70 million last year.

For the first time, industry analysts reckon that women will outnumber men as buyers.

The signs are that the internet is doing what its proponents promised it would: creating a truly global market for a huge range of products made all over the world.

This, plus the postal service, promises small producers of obscure cheeses - and meats and olives and anchovies and herbs and wines - a return from the brink of oblivion.

And it promises the rest of us a happier time and larger girths.

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