William’s part-time job demands a 16 hour 900 km journey

Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city, but, geographically a strange place. From ground level it is hard to grasp the shape of it. It’s like an egg carton that’s been turned upside down. Around one edge runs the Atlantic and absolutely stunning beaches. In the valleys sits industry, commerce and a huge number of people. The steep-sided egg holders, the isolated hills, are upwardly encroached by the favelas, the crudely built homes that cling like limpets to the rock, the same way that their occupants cling to existence. The hills rise almost vertically, some to 500 meters, and are frequently punctuated by tunnels to give some degree of access to the 6.32 million inhabitants, the cariocas.

It is not easily accessible, by bus, ferry, car or metro, getting to work is frequently a lengthy process, and three hours commuting a day across Rio is normal. How would you feel if to make your livelihood the journey took eight hours, each way, and by bus! That’s what William has been doing every fortnight for the past year, to sell his cheese. He gets on a bus at two in the morning along with two large flamingo boxes and when he arrives in Rio visits seven offices, including Maersk Training, where he sells the cheese. If he doesn’t sell at least 200 pieces, then the eight hour journey back, means his day out is a financial loss.

Cheese in Brazil costs much the same as in Europe, but with the local cost of living it is somewhat of a near luxury item resulting in Brazilians eating 3.2kilos per person per year. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recommend nine kilos. The average monthly salary in Sao Paulo is €562. The bus costs William around

200dkk (€26) each way for the 450 km journey. Back on the bus just before the offices shut, it will be nearly midnight before William will have finished his working day. On a 200 cheese day with a 10% profit, he might expect to have €38 after local transport and a snack lunch, not cheese. If he sells 300, then the day improves and returns €88.

Home for William is north west from Rio in the state of Minas Gerais, the main dairy area for Brazil which itself is a major player in the industry, only Europe and India has more cattle. The range of cheese is very broad, all locally produced, many mimicking French and Italian varieties. The 20+ different cheeses in the two boxes are important in terms of sales with William nudging people into trying something new alongside their fortnightly favourites. Sadly for William the number one selling cheese in the country is processed – largely due to convenience and the needs of the fast food industry.