You Have Been Consumed

I try to blog weekly, but last week my project turned out to be a tad too ambitious. I had planned to continue to lay out the horrible truths of how we’ve all been tricked into consuming more of the same thing despite ourselves. It turns out that the horrible truths I was going to shed light on are far too numerous for one blog post.

I have become increasingly aware as to how much we DON’T know about the products we purchase. Hopefully, this would have become apparent last year with the e. coli spinach, or at least this year with the melamine infused cat food from China. The problem is far greater than our food supply. Try doing your normal shopping and ONLY buying products stating “Made in the USA” — food included? Then, see how many of your commonly purchased items come from China and consider what your dollars might be going into, such as prison labor (political prisoners, even!), sweatshop conditions and toxic waste in the Chinese countryside. The whole task gets even more difficult when you’re looking at items that have more than one major ingredient. This is what makes supplements and body care so hard to digest into the two words, “good” and “bad.” It’s not just about the end product, where it’s made or how far it’s shipped. Nor is it as simple as the labels, vegan, biodegradable, not tested on animals, organic and natural.

The first thing I learned while working at Whole Foods in the Whole Body (supplements and body care) department was that “organic and natural don’t necessarily mean either.” There are no FDA standards to labeling supplements and body care. This means that you can slap “organic” on a 85% inorganic product that has a lavendin floral water for the remaining 15%. Another thing that I marvel at is the vegan label. One thing that I wasn’t aware of until I was asked the question was that not all condoms are vegan. (Vegan condoms, you say?) Yes. It turns out that the Kimono brand condoms found in most Whole Foods Markets are vegan because they, unlike other latex condoms, do not use caseine (a milk protein) in the condom. Caseine is used in a variety of plastic making. This made me wonder as I looked through the department at these plastic bottles of supplements and body care, many labeled vegan, were the packages ALSO vegan?

Then there’s the ingredients — vitamins and minerals from sources all over the world, many from China. I remember being told years ago that the price of CoQ10 was based on there being only two manufacturers of the product in the entire world, and one of them had been closed. Perhaps that’s not total truth, but it sounds plausible.

It’s truly dizzying when you try to nail down the origins of all the things you consume, and there is no clear alternative offered to casual consumers with budding consciences. The true alternative is shaking off this desire to consume and cutting ourselves out of the capitolist industry that we’re so wrapped in. The problem is that it’s like going on a diet in America — they’ve done nothing but shove down our throats that it’s not how much we’re eating, it’s what we’re eating, and if we eat product X instead of product Y, we’ll be thin and live longer. We don’t end up consuming anything less, and may even end up consuming more.

The magazines and ads would have us believe that if we just trade our consumption, instead of ceasing it, all will be well, but it’s a lie that has perpetuated our obese nation, continued to fill our landfills and poison our water. Where is the call for us to just simply stop consuming — not EVERYTHING — but something. Just the little changes that make a huge difference, from bringing your own bags to the grocery store, never buying bottled water, cutting back on soda, buying local, fresh and eating in season.

So what about beauty? This is a big one, because it’s also the ads and magazines that seek to convince us that we’re not good enough, and need potions to enhance us. Perhaps what Dr. Bronner’s bottles have said all this time is the truth: “Enjoy only 2 cosmetics, enough sleep & Dr. Bronner’s ‘Magic Soap’ to clean body-mind-soul-spirit instantly uniting One!” Though, in all due respect to Dr. Bronner, I’ve gotten hooked on Ballard Organics castile soap, which can be purchased locally from the co-op grocery stores and farmers markets.

As for me, I think I’m a long way from Dr. Bronner’s ideal, but at least (I say to myself) I’m thinking about it and making efforts to be a deliberate consumer.

As for my own consumption of beauty products, here’s my ideal shopping list to replace my current products when I run out: Kiss My Face facial and body care products and Monave Mineral Make-Up. (This is an example of bargaining (wait, isn’t that a stage of grief?!) where I’m trading my consumption of one thing for another in the hopes of eventually scaling down.) Kiss My Face is on the list because as far as I can tell, it’s a private company that seems to espouse some solid ethics, and puts out a decent product. I consider it a lesser of all the evils. Monave I found through the internet, and is a Baltimore based mineral make-up company, that even offers to sell you the materials to make your own makeup. I really liked Bare Minerals, and I went to using other brands, but have gotten back to liking the mineral make-up, but I don’t like how hard it is to track down what the company is about.

And finally, I thought I would leave you a note on Burt’s Bees products, the only beauty product that I’ve ever tasted. Trying to find the root of Burt’s Bees was challenging, but probably the most enlightening of the natural beauty world.

Burt’s Bees is now available at discount stores and drug stores all over the US. Their draw for many people was how enviro-friendly and non-toxic the products were, so non-toxic in fact, that the representatives that would do store trainings would encourage people to taste some of their products. The packaging was minimal and recyclable, with aluminum tubes and salve containers, glass bottles and paper packaging. A few years ago, devotees to Burt’s Bees products noticed a shortage in some of their best loved products. This coincided with the news of a buy-out by another company. Sure enough, when the products came back to the shelves, gone was the old packaging and increased was the availability of many of the products. Who owns most of Burt’s Bees now? AEA Investors. Their other investments include packaging companies, industrial manufacturing of synthetic outdoor trim products, manufacturers of flavors, fragrances and aroma chemicals, roofing materials and aerosol products to name a few.

“Natural” choices don’t mean that you’re actually making a positive difference. That’s a lie they sell you to continue your consumption.

Consuming isn’t inherently bad, but it can be bad if you do it blindly. Next time you shop, think about where your products came from, and if you need it, or if it’s a part of your desire. Consumption isn’t about value or even right or wrong, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, it’s about our emotional well being. We consume because we’re emotionally tied to the task. So tied that we’ll even consume products of lifestyle companies that promise to make us feel better! (Gaiam is the big one that comes to mind!) What’s up with us, and what continues our emotional indebtedness to consumerism?

Ask yourself that question — I know I’ll continue to ask it of myself.