Friday, September 12, 2008

Boycott Corporate America!

It's probably not possible now, but someday I'd like to see a massive boycott of all the big corporations. Corporate capitalism tears at the fabric of community.

A couple of years ago I discovered that Lightlife, a little company that I remembered as fondly as the TempehWorks from the days when I lived in Greenfield, MA, was now a division of ConAgra, which is one of the largest food companies in the US with a record of health code and worker safety violations. Before that, I was horrified when the major distributor to food coops in New England, Northeast Cooperatives, sold itself (with a lot of angst), to United Natural Foods, Inc, "the largest publicly traded wholesale distributor to the natural and organic foods industry". As someone who was involved in a buying club at the times, we soon learned that UNFI was more interested in supplying the major chains (Whole Foods and Wild Oats--which have since merged) than little co-ops.

What about all the save-the-planet businesses of the '80s and '90s? Most of those hip capitalist, change-the-world-by-buying-our-product, organic/all-natural, alternative businesses have been bought out by the big megacorporations (although they seldom advertise it): Ben & Jerry's is owned by Unilever, Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, The Body Shop is owned by L'Oréal, Stonyfield Farm is owned by Groupe Danone (who also make Dannon Yogurt), Cascadian Farm organic foods is owned by General Mills (which is probably why they have so much sugar in their products), and Kashi is owned by Kelloggs. Some of the 'alternatives' not taken over by the mainstream, such as the Hain-Celestial group and Whole Foods, act like very much like the other big corporations--and have to, in order to survive in the corporate world. And then there's Trader Joe's, owned by the family trust of a German merchant associated with the Aldi worldwide chain of stores.

Most of the medium size supermarket chains that once covered the US are gone--though some still keep the old names. When I look at the supermarket situation in New England (where I live) I find: Shaws and Star Market are owned by SuperValu, which owns over 2500 food (or food and drug) stores around the US and is primary distributor for another couple of thousand; Stop & Shop is owned by Ahold, a Dutch giant supermarket operator; and Hannaford is owned by the Belgium food group, Delhaize. I'm sure it's the same in most parts of the US--or the world.

But there are alternatives. My post on 'Feeding Ourselves in the Future' (7/24/08) talks about CSAs and farmer's markets and community gardens--not to mention producer co-ops such as Organic Valley and Cabot Creamery, and food co-ops and family run markets. These are some real alternatives (at least in the food industry--the Lappés also discuss these and more alternatives--see my last three posts).

Meanwhile, as much as possible I try to buy stuff from co-ops and little businesses--or make it myself. I make my own toothpaste from a recipe I got off the internet--basically baking soda, salt, and glycerin, with a little flavoring. (But I do use a commercial/new age toothpaste for my last brushing of the day, so I get a little flouride on my teeth.) I use a deodorant powder that I make from baking soda and corn starch (and little bits of coriander and other spices). (Yeah, I'm probably keeping Arm & Hammer in business, but at least they use cardboard packaging.)

I buy most of my food from the local food co-op. When I don't get it from there I try to buy from Mom-and-Pop stores--and I try to patronize our local farmer's market. (Plus, we are growing a teeny bit of our own food. I hope to have a bigger garden next year.)

(Outside of food stuff, I try to get things at thrift shops, so they are not newly manufactured. I particularly like thrift stores that support good causes.)

Above all, I try to think of how I can support small, local businesses. My little bit is hardly noticed by any major corporations, but it does support little companies that I think make a difference. And that is, I think, the best we can do right now. Everytime you buy something at a co-op, farmer's market, small business, etc, you keep real alternatives going--alternatives that may be quite useful when the global corporations encounter peak oil...

Quote of the day: "Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility." - Ambrose Bierce
Word (or phrase) of the day: Coevolution
Hero(es) of the day: Rachel Carson

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