From Iceland — So Long, And Thanks For All The Cheese!

So Long, And Thanks For All The Cheese!

So Long, And Thanks For All The Cheese!

Anna’s 49th Editorial

Published October 10, 2014

Anna’s 49th Editorial

For someone who is used to having an entire aisle at their disposal when they run out of toothpaste, Icelandic grocery stores can seem, shall we say, a little mundane.

As I walk through the Nóatún by my apartment, it’s easy to imagine that I’m living in the Eastern Bloc. I grab the few fresh-looking items from the produce section. I walk past a wall of ham that all looks and tastes disturbingly similar. I peer into the frozen food section and contemplate picking up a Dr Oetker’s pizza, but then think better of it. I consider grabbing some chips and salsa, but there are no tortilla chips (also known as ‘nachos’ in Iceland) to be found and that red stuff in the Casa Fiesta jars, it’s no party. Despite the desire to fill my basket with exciting food, I wind up grabbing the same things I bought the week before, and the week before that. And the week before that.

To the outsider, the dairy section looks like the best thing Icelanders have got going for them. It certainly did to me. I mean, just look at all the cheese. There’s block cheese. There’s sliced cheese. There’s cheese that translates to stuff like “Bread cheese,” and “Sandwich cheese,” and “Good cheese,” and “School cheese,” and “Household cheese” and “Goodie.” And then there’s all that cheese spread, which comes in flavours like wild mushroom, and red pepper, and Camembert, and ham, and Tex Mex, and shrimp, and pizza seasoning, and even bacon. There’s so much cheese!

But this is actually where the real scandal and the root of the problem lies. For most of the 20th century and onwards, dairy farmers in Iceland have co-operatively sold their produce through a conglomerate co-vendor called Mjólkursamsalan, or MS for short. MS produces nearly all of our dairy products (they hold a 99% market share!), which explains why nearly all of those cheeses taste more or less the same. And, as RÚV news magazine Kastljós revealed this week, they’ve steadfastly worked to push out any prospective competitors in the field, stifling the market through bullying tactics and other illegal measures.

Click here read an account of this story, based on Kastljós’ good and important work. Icelandic groceries haven’t been this much fun, ever.

Afterwards, you should lift your spirits by browsing through our special Airwaves pullout. In particular, the roundtable discussion between the five most active musicians playing the festival this year is very telling of our small, but active music scene, in which bands inevitably find themselves sharing custody of some of their members. The five in question (pictured on our cover), for instance, are in a combined 21 bands, and anticipate playing more than 50 shows over the five-day festival.

By the time you finish reading those stories, I’ll have started a sabbatical, wherein I intend to finally write my master’s thesis. Getting to devote all of my time to it sure excites me, but in the meanwhile I know I’ll miss making these issues with so many great writers, photographers, designers and illustrators. Not to mention the fun and often-overqualified interns who cycle through the office every three months. If only I could juggle as many things as those guys on our cover, I might… Enjoy Airwaves! Catch you on the flip side!

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