Capitalism sucks (but only on mints)

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The Independent Online
Recently, my wife and I decided that it was time our eight-year- old son moved away from juvenile toothpaste and on to the grown-up stuff; away from things called Milk Teeth and Punch and Judy and on to real toothpastes, even if they do have even more ridiculous names.

There comes a time when we all have to put away childish things, as the Good Book says, and move into a more adult-orientedmarketingsector, where we can pay lots more money for the same sort of stuff, but stuff which has a more sophisticated image.

My son, however, showed a disinclinationtomaketheswitch.It wasn't that he didn't want to brush his teeth with grown-up stuff. It wasn't even that he didn't want to share our tubes.

"I just don't like the taste of mint," he explained. "All your toothpaste tastes of mint. I don't like the taste of mint."

"Fine," I said. "I will get a non-mint-flavoured toothpaste for you."

And that is what I went out to do. I visited a very good pharmacy in the middle of Bath and asked for a non-minty toothpaste. It was then that the pharmacist and I made an interesting discovery: there are no toothpastes that do not taste minty. There is no such thing as a non-minty toothpaste. All toothpastes taste of mint.

They are not all actually labelled mint; some are labelled "original flavour" and others are called "fresh". But mint is what they all taste of.

So I ended up buying a tube of juvenile Punch and Judy strawberry-flavoured toothpaste and taking that back for my son's inspection. He quite liked the idea, so we are sticking to that flavour for the time being, but when you think that the whole idea was to get him to use grown- up toothpaste, it isn't exactly the ideal solution.

Now, before toothpaste fans write in and tell me that you don't have to have minty paste because you can get interesting Swiss products in health-food shops, which taste of rosemary and coriander and things, I would like to say that I have tried these interesting Swiss toothpastes tasting ofrosemaryandcorianderand things, and they are absolutely horrible. No, what I want to say at this point is that I have never had my eyes opened before to the ubiquity of mint in dental products. It is always mint. Even dental floss comes flavoured with mint. It doesn't come flavoured with strawberry or coffee;itonlycomes"plain"or flavoured with mint.

The dental-hygiene industry has obviously decided that mint is the flavour for dental products and that's that. (I don't feel strong enough to raise the peculiar British habit of having mint-flavoured vinegar as an accompaniment to roast lamb - a tradition that has done far more to make us a laughing stock in Europe than BSE ever could.) If the industry has decided that mint is for teeth and gums, it has also decided that pine is the flavour for room-freshener.

I believe it is possible to make your room smell of synthetic lemon, but the most common flavour, by far, is synthetic pine. Of course, when a room has recently been sprayed with pine room-freshener, we don't walk into it saying: "Ah, the lovely smell of fresh pine!" We go in choking and saying: "Blimey, the stink of room-freshener!" But we would besurprisedifitwasn'tapine-derived smell.

Similarly, it's lemon for washing-up liquid. And shampoo. You don't get many minty washing-up liquids. You don't get many pine-flavoured shampoos,either.Allaftershaves smell more or less the same - of that basic aftershave smell.

There is much less choice today than we have ever had. Let me give you an example: when I first went to New York, as a teenager, I was bowled over by the choice of chewing- gum flavours. Most American gum was madebyafirmcalledAdams, and you could buy it in sour apple, grape, blackjack (which was licorice) and many other fruit and candy flavours. I, who had been brought up on nothing but spearmint (mint again) and juicy fruit, thought I was entering a new era.

Now, 30 years later, if you want some chewing gum, you can buy mint-flavoured gum and juicy fruit, and, um, that's about it. You can buy minty toothpaste, and that's it. You can get pine room-freshener, and that's it. You can get lemon washing-up liquid, and that's it.

The next time you hear someone saying that capitalism is good because it gives you choice, just remember these things.