Thursday, November 3, 2011

Corporate "Encouragement" of Healthy Food: Disney's new strategy

I was just reading a blog post about advertisements and noticed she mentioned Disney's practice of branding fruit. I decided to investigate and found the Posts' report about the good business sense Disney is making by distancing itself from branding junk food.
This was several years ago, but I just became aware of it. Not having children, I've never noticed cartoons on my apples.
Like it or not, the concept is totally genius. Disney is nothing if not savvy. You can find now a wholesome page on their website that explains their commitment to the nutrition of children. Of course, we all know it's because they saw market trends shifting away from sugar cereal and french fries and jumped on the prosperous grocery industry. But for a change of pace, a corporation is making a popular decision that makes everyone happy and it is increasing their profits, but overall feeding something to children that will most likely help them be healthier.
The argument against this behavior is the unsettling feeling that someone is making money off of manipulating your children. However, Disney is a huge machine and will find a way to make money or not, and too much back lash could lead to Disney candy bars, where there moral fiber of the industry is not as high. 
Disney seems to even be avoiding the issue of contributing to monoculture by offering over 250 products and partnering with already existing growers.  Of course, corporation touching growing is never ideal, but until everyone is willing to live on dried and canned food that was grown locally all winter, it's a losing battle.
Baby steps.
The biggest relief I find in this is the corporate response to consumer sentiments. We are wanting better, healthier, fresher food. They are not responding the way I would like them to, but it is a response. It's a small shift. Slowly, perhaps, we can all learn to wean ourselves from corporations altogether, but that is a paradise I cannot hope for anytime soon. Overall, I am pleased by the influence that the natural movement is currently having, and hope the momentum continues, however slowly.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fair Trade: Priority?

As the "green" movement gains more mainstream momentum, a lot of large companies are throwing their hat in on commodities such as shea butter, coffee, chocolate and tea.  Over all, this sounds like an awesome thing, and I think it is as an idea.  However, the water quickly can get muddied on both sides.  What is market price, and who determines how far above market price should a company pay a farmer for their harvest in order to call it fair trade? How do we as consumers not end up paying unnecessary premiums because our will to do right is being taken advantage of?
I tend to buy into these buzzwords easily, and the stamp on a product does not necessarily make it better. See my post on Middlefork Roasters for this very discussion in relation to organic certification.  I do feel it is important, however, for us to understand why Fair Trade is important, and attempt to separate the bullshit from the truth, although you can never really do that.
So, fair trade. Green America defines fair trade as "Fair Trade is a system of exchange that honors producers, communities, consumers, and the environment. It is a model for the global economy rooted in people-to-people connections, justice, and sustainability." Sounds like a lot of fluff to me. But basically what they are trying to say is that the idea of fair trade is to pay producers a living wage for their products rather than paying pennies on the dollar compared to what ultimately sell the product for.
It's difficult to find information on products not coming from fair trade relationships.  In the story with coffee, it seems to demonize the commodity brokers and cuts out the profit from the traditional supply chain by allowing farmers to sell directly to co-ops or roasters.  Fair trade certification basically guarantees that farmers will receive $.05/pound above market price.  So, it's pretty easy to get on board with that, right? You feel better knowing you are supporting companies where the farmer will make more money.  I don't necessarily believe, however, that it is a permanent solution.
This article makes a great case for free trade over fair trade. Daly makes a good point that fair trade will basically create a mediocre equality that will never really pull farmers out of poverty. I do agree with this, but what she does not pose is how free trade and the practice of companies like Millstone constantly screwing the little guy is going to help them either. She basically takes an objectivist approach by saying we should only help those who can help themselves.  While she may be right about fair trade, her argument only leads me back to the political "trickle down effect argument" about how when the rich get richer it rains down to the poorer. Obviously if this were the case the rich would have stopped getting richer and the poor poorer hundreds of years ago.
So what is the answer? Fair trade isn't perfect but I do believe it's a step in the right direction. If that extra .05 cents per pound allows a man's child to go to school, isn't that development?
The best answer though, is to go back to small.  Buy from independently owned private companies, preferably local, that you have a relationship with. Buy from companies that are providing jobs in your community, disconnected from the corporate grind, and provide products that you love to have in your life and feel good about buying.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Value of Hard Work

Have I ever told you all how much I love quotes? If not, allow me to indulge myself:

" I'm a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it" Thomas Jefferson
"Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in coveralls and looks like work" Thomas A. Edison
"Unless you are willing to drench yourself your work beyond the capacity of an average man, you are just not cut out for the positions at the top" - J.C. Penny

The digiot generation (yes, I just made up that word and yes, that includes myself) seems to have lost the powerful virtue of hard work.  I often struggle with the idea of work. My main problem is not that I am unwilling to break my back for a cause, but that I too often question whether the cause is worthwhile.  Having spent 4 years in the military practicing that very habit, my teenage snobbery taught me that if I want to go nowhere in life, it is to stubbornly resent any work that I do not find up to my very high standards.  I lagged at the bottom of the totem pole, wallowing in my unhappiness while my friends got promoted, earned special privileges and earned the respect of more powerful superiors.
Some people would say these qualities are good, and young workers definitely have a lot more power and influence at work than they used to, and are subsequently fueling change, innovation and start up businesses in an economy that is as uncertain as we are about ourselves.  I agree that it is good to push the box, think creatively and focus on how to change your enterprise for the better. But there is a fine line between entrepreneurial spirit and just plain spoiled rottenness.  We twenty-somethings tend to carry a sense of entitlement that will leave us disappointed when things don't come easily to us.  In the recession we are now feeling stuck in jobs (or stuck without a job) that are below our value and it's causing us to think and feel negatively about where our life is headed.
I may have hated the navy, and often moan and groan and whine about my current job, but at the end of the day I have to face the hard truth: until I earn my next opportunity, I will garner more value out of doing my very best at my current job, even if I hate it.  I will also never, ever submit to my current position in life.  If I don't like what I am doing, why would I ever say to myself "Oh well, at least I have a job."?  Funny how so many of us give in to this type of thinking even though we think our situation is unjust.  We are afraid to dream big because that might mean we have to be accountable for it. We are afraid of being poor, failing, we feel responsibility to our family, or we are paying off too many debts.  Needing money is not a bad reason to stay in the job you are in, but if you are unhappy you need to change your life.  Otherwise, what is the point? And don't say it's impossible, say that it will be hard.  And it will be hard.  If you want to go back to school, start a business, or just get rid of your debt, you need an exit strategy. Saving money is like losing weight. If you are committed to it, you can do it.  You will have to make sacrifices though.  Here are some suggestions:
Give up coffee, soda, refined sugar and alcohol
Reduce your meat intake (meat is expensive)
Cancel cable
Use the library
Eat at home
Keep a spending journal to track your habits and maintain accountability
Route some of your direct deposit into a bank account at a different bank so that you never see it
Prioritize your debt and start paying it off
It might take a few years, but anything is possible. Anything is possible. This over used expression is likely to be met with such snark as "Well I want to fly but I can't do that, can I?". Obviously.  It is so easy to sneer and commiserate with other bottom feeders who are just as frustrated, jaded and scared.  This is where hard work comes in handy.  Determined people don't have time for naysayers. They have a job to do, goals to accomplish.  Hard workers don't look at problems as deterrents, but rather as opportunities.  They are solution oriented.  They earn the respect of their bosses and business partners.
Your crappy job now, whether you like it or not, is the vehicle to your next opportunity.  This could mean what you have to do to earn a  promotion, or may be paying the bills while your other goals fall into place.  Stop busying yourself with feeling dejected and start thinking about working your ass off to get where you want to be.
It is time, Gen Y, to wake up.  There is no easy way up, only the easy way out.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

When to Complicate Things

We have a tendency in American culture to over simplify things. In politics, we see things very straightforward and we tend not to look at multiple sides of an issue. This is not always a bad thing.  It helps us make quick decisions, keeps us solid on platforms we stand for, and reduces our distractions.  We seem to glorify this idea of simplicity, even dedicating a week to it.  I myself have been known to spread the mantra, "Keep it simple Stupid!"
I do believe, however, that there is a time to complicate things, especially when it comes to energy and plastics.  Right now what concerns me about the replacing oil discussion is that it seems like we want one alternative plastic to solve all the problems.  Corn plastics are gaining ground, but this also perpetuates corn production growth, an industry which still relies heavily on petroleum for fuel, fertilizer and processing.  It does have its upsides though, especially since so much plastic ends up in the ocean, if it is biodegradable that may help (although who really knows, right?) reduce contamination.
We are making plastics out of various vegetables, and today I read an article on a new plastic made from fish scraps. These are innovative and good solutions, but my hope is that we don't pick one and run with it. We need to diversify our energy needs, so that we aren't relying on one or two resources to try and sustain us.
How do we shift from these monocultural tendencies? The same way our food system is going back to diverse solutions, by buying a variety of energy sources. Don't let one win. Instead, buy products that are powered in different ways, and reduce your energy consumption.  If you are a homeowner, you have a lot of options. A few solar panels can heat your water tank. A white roof can reduce your cooling costs.  Try some hand powered appliances.  Invest in wind, solar and hydro power.
With plastics, reusable is the key. Try and use washable containers, bags and water bottles whenever possible.  When you do buy plastic, look for alternative materials. A combination of recycled post consumer plastic, bioplastics and other cleaner materials will help send the right message.  Good luck in complicating your plastics!