Before the eyesore invasion of ’98, when Starbucks frothed its way into the neighborhood, leading to its ultimate demise, Westport was the kind of 'hood I still yearn for. It was saturated with historically preserved, hip and funky, mom-and-pop-type establishments, delivering their goods people to people.
I was surprised more recently when I saw Burt's Bees products everywhere -- in grocery stores, drug stores, corner bodegas and big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart. I thought to myself, fantastic; the marketplace is working, and good for Burt. He has made his mark, and the demand for his products is on the rise.
Needless to say, I was shocked when I recently found out that Burt's Bees is now owned by Clorox, a massive corporate company that has historically cared very little about the environment, but whose main industry is directly associated with harmful chemicals, some of which require warning labels for legal sale.
Clorox; yes, that's right -- the bleach company with an estimated revenue of $ 4.8 billion that employs nearly 7,600 workers (now bees) and sells products like Liquid-Plumr, Pine-Sol and Armor All, a far cry from the origins of Burt.
I now understood. The reason Burt's Bees products were everywhere was precisely because they now had a powerful corporation in the driver's seat, with big marketing budgets and existing distribution systems.
Burt's Bees is not the only you-thought-it-was-green product to have gone corporate lately.
Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, a massive, tanklike company with an estimated 36,000 employees and revenue of approximately $11.4 billion. Its big products include: Ajax, Anbesol and Speedstick.
Over in the breakfast aisle, my friend was a bit apoplectic when we learned that the "super healthy" Kashi cereals, the favorites of millions of healthy breakfast eaters, was bought in July 2000 for an "undisclosed sum" by Kellogg's, the 12th-largest company in North American food sales, according to Food Processing. I picked up a box of Kashi's "Go Lean Crunch" and searched every word; not one mention of the fact that Kellogg's owns them. That change was rally below the radar. In 2004, Kraft Foods, known for processed cheeses and Kool-Aid, bought the natural cereal maker Back to Nature. Kraft is a subsidiary of Altria, which also owns Philip Morris USA, one of the world's largest producers of cigarettes.
According to the New York Times, "Many of the alternative cereal brands are owned by larger companies, including Kellogg and General Mills."
I didn't have to go any further than the organic chocolate aisle of my favorite deli to find Green and Black's organic chocolate was taken over in 2005 by Schweppes, the 10th-largest company in North American packaged-food sales.
And on it goes.
Now I'm not surprised that the corporate giants are getting into the supposedly sustainable foods game since there is huge market demand for it. Which, as Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle and other writers on the subject of food politics have emphasized, defeats the purpose of this new movement which is all about getting away from the evils of mass production, long distance transportation and factory organic farming and producing healthy food in ways that don't rape the environment or exploit people.
But i am shocked to discover that I could be supporting many of the same corporations that got us in this mess in the first place.