Knowledge is Power


    “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” – H. G. Wells

    My family and I try to be good and socially responsible consumers, but sometimes it gets really tough to make good and aware decisions. Every day, it seems, I learn about another corporation involved with child labor lawsuits, or a company that continues animal testing, or one that is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

    I was talking with a friend the other day. He said that his wife didn’t want to know anything about the meat she eats. He said that if she knew more about where it comes from or how it was raised, she wouldn’t want to eat it. She didn’t even like to handle raw meat and wanted it covered in bread crumbs or coating so she wouldn’t have to see it. At first I thought, “My goodness, how could anyone want to live like that?” Then when I learned that our own co-op sells Back to Nature foods (a division of Kraft Foods) and that Burt’s Bees was acquired by The Clorox Corporation in 2007, I wished for bread crumbs.

    If you go to the Kraft Foods website, they sure look like a socially aware, environmentally responsible corporation that feeds and employs people around the world. They look good, like a company you can trust. Not only do they tell you about all the good they do for the environment, they suggest a dinner plan and will give you a coupon to use when you shop for the ingredients. Gosh, how could I go wrong?

    But did you know that according to the Better World Shopping Guide, Kraft Foods is No. 2 on Multinational Monitor’s list of the 10 Worst (Corporations) on the planet! That’s just below Exxon-Mobil and just above Wal-Mart. They are the target of two major boycotts, a global climate change laggard and have received a “Greenwash Award” for public deception. They are also involved in a document deletion cover-up. They’ve spent over $100 million on lobbyists, making them the No. 1 contributor to lobbyists in Washington. Why? Do you realize that’s enough money to provide safe, clean drinking water for several small countries!

    Maybe Burt’s Bees is an environmentally aware company and maybe they don’t test on animals, but if I buy Burt’s Bees chapstick, I am supporting The Clorox Corporation and their current business practices. They’re also on Multinational Monitor’s “10 Worst Corporations List” and are a major producer of dioxin.

    I am aware that there are many sources for information about corporations and their practices. Right now I’m using the Better World Shopping Guide. It may not have every bit of information on a company, but I have to ask myself, what is Better World’s agenda? What’s their motivation to provide information to consumers on hundreds of companies? I think they suggest to consumers that knowledge is power. On the other hand, what is the agenda of Kraft Foods or The Clorox Corporation? They want to sell you more products. It is clever marketing wizardry when they tell you “who says you can’t hurry love” when you cook your family Velveeta shells and cheese. And they just hope Dorothy won’t look at “the man behind the curtain.”

    What are my responsibilities now that I know more about these corporations? What do I do with this information? One option is to just stop buying Back to Nature crackers and Burt’s Bees chapstick (my absolute favorite, by the way). Would Clorox feel the sting when I stop buying my semi-annual tube of chapstick? Do they care if I don’t want them to test on animals or pollute our environment? Probably not. If they think they’re keeping us all happy (Fat, Dumb and Ugly, too – read the book by that title by Peter Strupp), will corporations have an incentive to help create a better and safer world for us and our children?

    What can our own small co-op do? Do I insist that they stop carrying all products owned by Kraft? Do I even know all of the products owned by Kraft? If they stop carrying all of these products, will the co-op now look like a pre-revolutionary Russian grocery store? Would that drive non-member shoppers over to the new organic section of HyVee?

    I was whining to a friend a while ago about how small my sphere of influence was and she gave me some great advice. She agreed with me and told me that I probably wouldn’t be able to make an impact. I thought, boy, some friend.

    Then she said, “Start a stampede.”

    Now what the heck does that mean? Then I realized a stampede starts when one animal sees something that scares them or that makes them want to get away. When that one animal starts moving all other animals follow.

    Knowledge is power. But when you “know,” what kind of responsibility do you have to do the right thing? Knowledge sucks! Can’t I just coat it all in bread crumbs?

    I don’t know all the right answers – yet. Sometimes I don’t know if I’ve even asked all the right questions. But I do know that I have to do something. I have to start a stampede; a stampede of consumers that are willing to ask hard questions, make hard choices (goodbye Burt’s Bees peppermint chapstick) and work for the right answers.

    Will you join me?

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