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11 Jul 2018

Carmine is one of the most ubiquitous food colourings. It is found in every day products such as puddings and yoghurts, as well as in cosmetic products such as lipsticks. It is made from the ground up dead bodies of the cochineal insect which is found in South America, especially Peru. All of which means that you have been eating or even wearing insects for your whole life. Supporters of the use of this product also point out that it is a natural product which was first discovered and used by the Mayans and then the Aztecs more than five centuries ago. They claim that it is far healthier than artificial alternatives such as food colourings made from the by products of coal or petroleum.

Conversations about carmine and cochineal always make me think about professional sex workers. People have these preconceptions about what the best escort Ibiza has to supply must look like I real life. And they are occasionally right. I have met professional escort girls who have the cliched look of street walkers. But, to be honest, they have never been successful or even good to work with. If a client wanted a street walker they would go and get one. When they book an escort they want to have the illusion that they are on a date with the sexy and beautiful woman of their dreams. Albeit a more skilled lover than most can dream of, it has to be said. Just like when we eat a yoghurt we want to think it is natural and healthy, not made in a factory and dyed with the bodies of dead insects.

Anyway, even fans of carmine agree that it should be more clearly labelled, and there are a growing number of natural red colouring alternatives that do not come from insects. But it is noticeable to me that the same people who object to the use of carmine in food and cosmetic products on ethical grounds are also the same people who want to support local production and third world economies. It does not seem to occur to them that there might be a big problem in making the thousands of people in Peru and South America redundant and throwing them into the jaws of poverty. And yes, it is exactly the moral equivalent of people who want to ban sex work without giving thought to the hundreds of thousands of women who have chosen to work in the sex industry of their own free will.

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