In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyperprocessed foods in ways precisely geared to most appeal to our tastes… with the goal of maximizing profits, regardless of the effects on consumer health, natural resources, the environment or anything else.
– Mark Bittman, The New York Times, Feb. 26, 2014
Really, Mark Bittman? Increasingly clear to whom? (I’m going to answer my own question with “the media”, because I don’t think the average consumer sees this clearly. I believe that if consumers really understood the collateral damage from the advertising wars, they would be boycotting these large corporations en masse.)
In any case, read the whole piece – it’s very encouraging to see media giant The New York Times take on the issue of corporate culture. Corporations, more specifically the food moguls, are being accused of having little regard for consumers’ health or safety. Profits over people. It’s the status quo these days, or so it seems, and I’m still amazed that we allow this to continue. The comments under the piece feature a wide range of reactions, from “that’s just capitalism at work, stop whining“, to the more cynical “they’re killing us, stop the madness.” A few wise guys point out the obvious – “It’s our choice, to buy or not buy, don’t blame the companies.”
The big picture
It’s been over a century since corporations in the USA were granted the same rights as individuals – this happened in 1886, when the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (the same one used to free individuals from slavery) was extended to include private corporations, giving them the same rights as a natural person. In hindsight, it reads as a knee-jerk reaction to the economic success that some corporations were enjoying. Government saw an opportunity to access big money for their electoral campaigns, and they were right! Corporations are only too happy to invest in massive lobbying and use their bullying influence, as long as it results in regulations that work to their advantage.
So, for the past century, corporations have enjoyed the right to dominate government regulatory decision-makers. They can claim that they are entitled to privacy, and not share any of their information. No longer banned from mergers and acquisitions, they can conquer and divide at will – and we’ve seen where that has brought us, with monopolies and industry giants emerging as corporate control freaks. Immense greed, for both power and profit, has been the ultimate result. We unleashed a monster, and now we have to figure out how to get it back into its cage.
The solution proposed in my book is just one that is being talked about – consumers have more power than we realize, because the money spent by corporations comes directly out of your pockets. Your dollars are being used to finance politicians, bribe corrupt officials, destroy the rain-forests, strip-mine the hills, and pay off the world’s richest CEOs. Of course, we can keep whining about how unfair all of this is, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference. We can use our votes to ensure more responsible government, but voters have become justifiably cynical about trusting the people at the top or the results from the polling stations. Or we can use our collective power to boycott products and companies until they simply go out of business.
For starters, let’s just be aware of what’s going on. I don’t think it’s “increasingly clear” to the average Canadian that companies are getting away with murder; I think we still have too much blind trust in institutions, including our own government, and it’s time to start asking questions. Never mind “Just do it.” Nike is making a fortune selling ridiculously expensive sneakers to kids who can’t really afford them and don’t need them. Just DON’T do it.