As a vegan and someone who tries to also avoid gluten, I find it exciting and helpful to see mainstream grocery stores highlighting gluten free and vegan options. However, as someone who cares about others and has a general disdain for the large multi-national food companies, it drives me crazy and makes me mad.
Back during the low carb craze I saw a sign for an oil change that said “low carb oil change”. It was obviously tongue in cheek but hit the nail on the head with the way low carb, gluten free, vegan, or any other flavor of the week type food is marketed. The two main grocery chains near me now have gluten free signs and stickers all over the place. Some are on rice or quinoa pasta, cookies, flours and other foods that should be marked gluten free, but some are on ridiculous items like potato chips and other obviously gluten free products.
As we’ve seen in cases of greenwashing we are now seeing cases of…..um…food washing? (unless you have a better name for it) With this we are seeing companies getting swallowed up by the very companies many were trying to avoid, Kelloggs owns Kashi, Colgate owns Tom’s of Maine and others are happening on a regular basis. On top of that you have stores now developing their own house brand; Safeway for example has its O organics line.
Yes, this is helping to drive down the price of many products, but at what real cost? One of the reasons the smaller companies did so well is that people were fed up with the practices of some companies. Now many people are now supporting the companies they were trying to avoid unknowingly. Not only that, cheaper organics come at a price. Many companies are now sourcing their product from China, the largest provider of organic food. Between questionable labour practices and lax safety standards, I do not want Chinese products, organic or not.
Now I know that this may not seem like a big deal to many, but for those of us that watch what goes in our body and what kind of products we use, this matters. Especially for those that have restrictive diets because of health reasons. The brands we have grown to trust and use are being bought out without a whisper of information. Corners get cut, homemade certification gets slapped on the box, prices drop and nobody knows it happened or that it is because it is now a multi-national owned, Chinese ingredient sourced shell of what it once was. A popular chart passed around the web shows some interesting acquisitions.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against profit, I’m not against large companies (in theory) I’m not even against companies selling their souls for profit. I just want it up front. I want to know that the ingredients have changed, I want to know that products are now produced using questionable labour practices. I want to know that it no longer supports local farms and farmers. Not only do I want to know, I have the right to know, and so do you. We are people, not science experiments.
I know some of you may see this all as hyperbole and exaggeration, but I know I can’t be the only one that walks through the grocery store and wants to kick over the display of “nutritionally balanced” cookies that are half fat and half sugar. Though I guess that is balanced.
I don’t have the answers, but I do know that we can vote with our dollar. Continue to support the companies we have come to support and drop them a line. I am known to go online in a fit of rage and email Unilever or McCain. (I’ll proudly say I helped get a pizza commercial pulled because of the garbage claim of no preservatives.) My wife though encourages me to then go online and leave comments that are positive for the companies we love. This way we get a chance to encourage those companies to stay the course.
Image Source: Joy/Flickr