Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Epiphany #69: Consumers Can Strike Back!

The opportunity presented in this post will likely annoy more readers than it actually empowers.  That's okay.  In fact, it's kind of the point.

So I've been working a new app on my phone recently.  It's called Buycott.  It's a bar code scanner app, but with a twist.  Before you start scanning anything in your local grocery store, Buycott give you the chance to choose any number of "causes" that are important to you.  You can check as many of those as you like, and then when you do scan a grocery item's bar code, you find out if that item connects with your causes in three ways:

1.  It can tell you if the company that produces the product support that same cause(s) you do.
2.  It can tell you if the company that produces the product violates the cause that you believe in.
3.  It can tell you if there are other causes out there, maybe ones that you aren't all that interested in (yet), that have put this product on the radar.

For example, a friend gave me a box of Mallomars a few weeks ago; they have been sitting in my office.  I just scanned them.  The Nabisco Company, which makes them, is not supporting any of my causes.  To the contrary, a scan of these delicious chocolate-covered, marshmallow cookies tells me that this product is problematic for two of my causes--1) they contain GMOs and 2) they have given $2,000,000 to a campaign to prevent the labeling that would alert us to the existence of GMO's in our food.

GMOs are genetically-modified organisms, or scientists playing with your food.  Are they good?  Are they bad?  Depends on who you talk to.  Corporate giant Monsanto wants us to think that they are "beneficial."  Grocery chains like Whole Foods base much of their existence on the fact that they are a safe haven for non-GMO products.  If there were a battle map drawn in the war for the soul (on non-soul) of our food, GMO vs. non-GMO would be one of the main campaigns.

One simple fact is undeniable: the food giants like Monsanto don't want you to know if there are GMOs in your food.  We are, perhaps, right to be at least suspicious when someone tries to hide something like that.

Other causes that the sweet little cookies bring to my attention on my phone range from calls to boycott companies that advertised in the issue of Rolling Stone magazine that had the Boston Marathon alleged bomber on the cover to calls to boycott Nabisco products because Nabisco was purchased by tobacco giant Philip Morris in 2000 (though the more recent Kraft (who owns Nabisco) split-up is a bit more confusing to follow.  What is certainly as true as the hidden GMOs is the fact that there are many, many, many causes out there.  Perhaps too many to keep up with or to pick battles from.

Is the chocolate in Mallomars produced by child slaves?  Are farmers who produce products used in American foods underpaid?  Should we only buy organic products?  Did Nabisco contribute $2500 to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's campaign?

All are causes I didn't originally subscribe to and don't know if I will.

The typical American response to all of this is to throw up our hands or shrug our shoulders and say everything is bad, or how can I keep up with all of this, or why does it matter, or I'm going to go eat a cheeseburger in a strange act of bravado.  I get that.  We expect it at this point.  Americans don't care, much of the time, about things like this.

But I guess I would argue that the app works.  When buying almond milk the other day, I scanned to brands in the organic/healthy section of the supermarket.  One contains GMOs and one doesn't.  I bought the one that doesn't.

And, as I have been hammering in various ways for the past 7 years, there is a broader reality--that food producers are messing with your food.  Whether it's GMOs or chemicals and additives to stabilize and extend shelf life or antibiotics given to animals that are raised in awful, sickness-inducing conditions, they are messing with your food.  Whether it's using processes that turn fats cancerous or more dangerous to your heart, they are messing with your food.  And, maybe you do have some issues that you care about.  In either case, a little app that makes the exploration of these issues portable and easy might be worth your time.  But, like a fresh, juicy radish, take it with a grain of salt.  It's better that way.

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