If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, it’s big corporations trying to take advantage of people’s desires to live healthy and sustainable lives. In the last ten years or so, the general public has become much more aware of the importance of “being green,” which in and of itself is not a bad thing. It means that many people (who have the money and the ability) are searching for organic and fresh food, recycled products, and energy-efficient appliances. This, in turn, raises demand for such products, and they become cheaper and more readily available.
But, this being corporate America, many companies are taking advantage of people’s noble consciences, and trying to make a quick buck off of them. Everywhere you look these days, you can find dozens of products that are labeled “green” or “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” or whatever the current buzzword happens to be. Most of the time, these products are no more environmentally friendly or healthy than their unlabeled counterparts. Someone I was with bought a Snapple last week, and it was proudly labeled “gluten-free.” I’m relatively certain that Snapple was never made with wheat products, but “gluten-free” is a current buzzword and makes their product sound healthier. Similarly, McDonald’s boasts that their smoothies are “made with real fruit!” but they still contain 44 grams of sugar (twice the recommended daily value). Freakonomics has an interesting podcast on “conspicuous conservation,” in which they discuss people’s willingness to pay for products that make them look environmentally conscious.
But my favorite example of trying to make money off of the latest health craze: organic water. Water, which is in no way alive and therefore could never be grown organically or otherwise, is currently being sold in bottles that brag about its lack of growth hormones and genetic modification. We should avoid buying bottled water in any case, since virtually everywhere in the U.S. tap water is safe to drink, but we should especially avoid paying $4 a bottle for organic water!
There’s nothing wrong with looking for keywords that will indicate a healthier food or product choice. Fruit that is labeled organic will have fewer pesticides and probably taste better. Paper that is 100% recycled will kill fewer trees. And so on. But there are hundreds of products out there that are inaccurately disguised as something healthy. Take a closer look at the nutrition label, the product history, or the company itself before you purchase.