Push & Pull, America

23 01 2007

By Jill Ettinger

There is a growing need in America to be relieved of guilt or responsibility about how the way we live affects other parts of this planet. I came across a chocolate company this morning that donates a percentage of every sale of their decadent treats to feed impoverished Africans . While I spend a good bit of my time exploring and supporting ways to decrease this number (roughly 790 million hungry on this planet), both as an individual and part of a company in the food business, something just doesn’t sit right with me about this project. There are a number of amazing companies that support non-profit efforts like hunger relief, women’s shelters, education programs, etc.; many are vertically integrated to ensure quality of life for communities they work with are constantly upgraded. It’s a humble responsibility, often incorporated as part of a triple bottom line – an ethos that all companies should make an effort to consider the effects of their business on everyone. But here this chocolate project seems a bit more bitter than bittersweet. The effects are more visual: I’m supposed to enjoy a chocolate nougat truffle because this indulgence will feed someone a bowl of millet in North Africa! The proportions of genuine good will (and marketing) blatantly designed to cushion the bottomless pit of America’s need for greed relief lack a consistency of grace. All I can think is: how is this program explained to those it’s designed to support? The wealthy American gets to eat all this yummy chocolate, and if they don’t mindlessly throw out the wrapper in their cacao-sugar high, they enter a code onto the website for your country and you might get some food and water for your family! Sounds more like a kitschy scratch-and-win lottery ticket than actual relief.

Ah, America.

Not only has greed outgrown our borders, but our influence is prominent in the most undeserving places. A trip to Mexico last spring took me to remote villages, hours away from any major city, yet Coca-Cola billboards platered the otherwise pristine forests and deserts. Convinced I could learn to read Spanish just by rolling my eyes over everything they came across, I was able to actually make out the words on a flyer posted on a telephone poll, inviting the community to come out and support an “Osteoporosis Awareness Walk.” I could see the irony in the distance, the culprit to this crippling disease, as the lights of the local mini-market shone on stacks of sodas. (High in phosphorous, soda deprives the body of calcium, one of the leading causes of osteoporosis.) Mexico is the number one soda-consuming nation in the world, and the connection it has to one of this planet’s richest agricultural history is now dwindling – no thanks to President Calderon’s loose grip on corn prices. As the economy bends to support US ethanol demands, their staple food may soon be unavailable to the people, the nation’s poor now seeking imports of corn and hopes that those hoarding grain don’t drive the price up even further. All this amidst death threats to a Texas pizza restaurant chain willing to accept pesos. Apparently US businesses are only supposed to infiltrate and exploit the world market, not be a part of it.

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