Our entire world is flooded with advertising. According to the publication Media Matters, a typical adult is exposed to about 600 to 625 ads per day. We’ve all become experts in the art of the commercial, sitting on our couches or at our computers, critiquing the ads for their efficacy and their entertainment value. We’re part of the ad machine that has us retweeting, forwarding, sharing and wearing our favorite corporations’ logos—we actually pay them for the chance to use our own bodies as billboards.
Money that goes to Kashi really goes to Kellogg’s, who makes a number of other products that have no interest in being “natural.”
Being the experts that we are—having been bombarded with advertising since birth—we know the fundamentals of what makes good advertising, and one of the top priorities is being able to feel good about what you are buying either because it’s good for you, your family, or society. Even if you haven’t been motivated to the point of being an activist, you surely realize that the health of our planet and even our own health are in dire straits. Corporations are aware of it, too, which is why they want to make it as easy as possible for you to “go green” while still buying their products.
People like buying “All Natural” foods because they care about their bodies and the environment, but the “All Natural” label is meaningless and unregulated. Kashi, the Kellogg’s subsidiary that touts a more earth-friendly line of products, is currently enmeshed in a class action lawsuit after a Rhode Island Grocer discovered that the cereal brand was including genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and non-organic ingredients in its cereal while advertising that it was “all natural.” People are angry because they feel like they have been lied to, but since the government does not regulate the label, companies are free to define it themselves. In the case of Kashi, “All Natural” means “food that’s minimally processed, made with no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or sweeteners,” so GMOs and non-organic foods are still legitimate ingredients.
It seems insufficient to single out Kashi for misleading customers when there are rows upon rows of “All Natural” products lying in grocery stores. It’s important to look at the bigger picture. We’re trying to be good to the environment by only purchasing “green” products, so that our money is sent to companies who are interested in making a change. We’re voting with our dollars. But that seems to only be really effective if you are a wealthy member of society backing one of two candidates in an election. Money that goes to Kashi really goes to Kellogg’s, who makes a number of other products that have no interest in being “natural.” Clorox will sell you some milder “green” cleaning products, but your money goes in the same pool as the profits they got from the rest of the stuff. And you might be trying to avoid the dairy industry with its questionable animal treatment and its hormone and antibiotic rich products, but soy milk producer Silk owns a number of dairy farms as well.
It’s easy to use greenwashing as an example of how corporations appeal to our desire to be pragmatic, but there are other ways in which they’re trying to overhaul out social consciousness. Those who were at this year’s Pride Parade in Boston (or almost anywhere else, for that matter) would hardly believe that Pride began as the Stonewall Riots, an explosion of early morning violence between police and the LGBTQ patrons of the Stonewall Inn. A history of police harassment came to its breaking point on June 28, 1969, and every year after, marches have been held in memory of the event. But now the marches are parades, and are full of people—and corporations–showing their support of LGBTQ rights. Google had a spot in Boston’s parade, as did Macy’s, Marshall’s, TD Bank, AT&T and Microsoft, among others. As beautiful as any Pride Parade is, it has ceased to be about the continual inequality present in the LGBTQ community, from workplace discrimination to health care costs to, of course, marriage.
So corporations are finding anyway they can to make us feel like we’re buying something that is in line with what we believe, but all we end up doing is really buying into the idea that where we spend our money has any kind of actual impact on their business decisions. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that you can work around it. It’s not about buying the right things from corporations; it’s about not buying them at all. We can find easy, and often cheaper solutions to going out and putting down some cash. Make your own cleaning products, grow your own food or go to grocery stores and take that bread or that produce that they’re about to put in the trash. Make music and art, and sell it or trade it. Work with your community to make that specific environment better, and you’ll see how amazing direct action can be as opposed to the trickle down change corporations have you thinking you are buying. There’s a whole DIY community that is thriving and growing to make things better for the people around them, and they aren’t using their wallets to do it.
You can contact the author at [email protected], or follow her on twitter at @emilhop.