Buy Organic, Buy Local, Buyer Beware

6 04 2008

By Derek Beres

Whenever possible, I buy organic. This is not just confined to food, but extends to any materials, clothing and household products I can purchase. Yet like many consumers, I am often confused by the available choices, as it has become harder and harder not to buy organic. Like many important terms, once the economics of the idea prospered, it became a vague and often meaningless adjective.

This is not to say that there isn’t integrity in adopting a lifestyle by which you know that the least possible environmental damage is being done in the manufacturing and growing of your purchase. I’ve worked and been around enough people and companies in the natural foods and sustainable living world to know that good intentions abound, and ecological promises are oftentimes followed through. There are a lot of people fusing philosophy and economics in creating a sustainable environment. The hard part is deciding which companies are doing so when two dozen choices stare at you from supermarket shelves.

In general, I adhere to one of Michael Pollan’s golden rules: buy locally. Just this morning I walked through the Union Square Farmer’s Market, which not only informs me of what marketers are gearing up for Spring, but also of what crops are actually available at the moment–not imported internationally or trucked from California. Granted, I too enjoy eating strawberries in March, but knowing the real cost of those berries (including transportation fees, read: gasoline), I often seek out another sweet. When I see “locally produced” signs in Whole Foods, I tend to pick up that product over another, if the product seems of worth.

To read the full article on Reality Sandwich click here


Oh Gaud

20 07 2007


By Jill Ettinger

Growing up in a family of four children, we generated a lot of trash. Drink boxes, cereal boxes, cans of soup and raviolis, egg cartons, milk gallons – and that was just kitchen trash. There were also old shoestrings, broken toys, empty shampoo bottles and dust-filled vacuum bags. It was a sight indeed. Garbage went outside every night, if not before. What can a family do? Unless you are living on a farm, eating fresh every night, avoiding the cumbersome grocery store excess and playing shoeless with rocks and dirt outside, there is going to be waste.

We face issues with landfills around the world. Piles and piles of homeless trash need to slim up in order for us to have room for the piles and piles of people we keep making. Energy conservation and a conscious relationship with our purchasing choices becoming the battle cry of folks like Al Gore. And rightfully so. It’s easy to find ways to reuse things with little thought. I stopped buying drinking glasses years ago, for example. I still use mugs with handles for hot stuff, but all else goes into an empty jar. I don’t put  produce into a plastic bag at the store, and am often amazed at people buying something already in a ‘wrapper,’ like a grapefruit or an avocado, and then placing it into yet another plastic bag before checking out at the counter.

San Francisco recently issued a ban on using city funds to purchase water bottles, as the number of bottles in landfills in California is over a billion annually. Cities like Minneapolis, Salt Lake and even ol’ Gotham are looking to adopt this rule as well. Score one for forward-thinking politicians. It’s all about the steps and stages of progress, like the good old fashioned tote bag. They’ve been a staple in co-ops and neighborhood health food stores since they opened doors; and dare a tie-dyed-birkenstock-wearing customer shop without it.

As the business of organic environmentally friendly choices has hit Wall Street, so grows the abundance of Whole Foods plastic bags. I’m amazed at how many I see in a day, versus a D’Agostino’s or Gristedes. They’ve become the Louis Vuitton of plastic grocery bags. But that is until these hideous Anya Hindmarch “I am not a plastic bag” bags arrived.  Please. Whole Foods sold 20,000 of them like they were Pope tickets. The other night I was standing next to a woman clutching it like it was worth the $1500 that Hindmarch handbags are famous for. I’m all for reusable, but this is just horribly ridiculous.

Why not consider reusing the Whole Foods plastic bags? As I’ve cut down on my waste output, I find one of those bags will last me at least a weeks worth of trash! As a result I’m not buying many giant plastic “garbage bags” and the boxes they come in. I still use canvas totes too, but wait in line to buy one? Maybe if this one read: “I am not an identity statement written on a bag.” And even then, probably not.

So yeah yeah yeah, green is the new black or whatever. It’s great that America is getting conscious about getting conscious, but are we really get ting it? Or will this important movement just be victim to our trend-minute attention span? (Oh and by the way, now that 3rd ave is shut down due to the explosion, I hear you can catch a red-flyer wagon ride up 2nd. It’s free, but you’re supposed to make a donation to the kids pulling them. They were flown in just to do this from Chile. They’re raising money to buy Ralph Lauren farming gloves – organic cotton of course.)

I’m Not A Charity

19 07 2007

 Not a Bag

By Derek Beres

While my first call of duty was avoiding the incessant rain tumbling from July skies, I had a slight break between thunderstorms to rush into Whole Foods before a morning class at Jivamukti. I walk up the stairs at the Union Square station, met by a line that wrapped around the corner, down Broadway to 13th St, around that corner to University, and snaking back up – almost an entire NYC block as it encroached upon 14th via University. An admitted Whole Foods junkie, I’m stunned; I’m there every morning and have never seen anything like this, much less during the worst thunderstorm this summer. All I wanted was a bottle of water.

I walk up to the front door.  An early twenty-something is standing guard.

“Um, what’s going on?”

He laughs. I’m sure he’s been asked this question numerous times in the past hour. “If you’re just shopping, go on in.”

I enter. The sign is prominent near the entrance – this was the day when designer Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m Not A Plastic Bag” went on sale. For a woman whose bags normally sell from $700 to the thousands, the $15 price point was meant to become an accessible entry point to her product, and make an environmentally progressive message to people across the planet. (The bag launched in London, and has hit other global cities.) The idea: reuse your bag; don’t rely on plastic.

Like many “messages,” this one is completely mixed. There are obvious good points, along with questionable aspects to the sale. Whole Foods Union Square and Bowery were stocked with 3,000 bags, which sold out in under two hours. Some people had been waiting on line since six p.m. the previous night for the eight a.m. opening. In the midst of the shower that started after I left the store, most people were laughing it off. “It’s all for the love of the bag,” I’m guessing was their point. But let’s check out a few other points, and let the reader decide the intention.

1. The bag is god-awful ugly. Because you’re hitting a low price point does not give anyone he right to create something that hideous, unless, of course, that is part of the joke. The font, apparently meant to look “cute” and “eco,” is a mess of a children’s script – and that is more a discredit to the penmanship of children than anything.

2. The bags were produced, according to her site, in China, by workers paid double minimum wage. They purchased carbon offset points in the global shipping of them.

3. Number Two is their answer to the question of “How environmentally friendly is this bag?” What that means, essentially, is that the bag itself is probably not made from organic material, and to reach that price point for a designer charging that much for her wares, most likely as cheaply as possible. If you’ve seen the bag, that’s an obvious statement.

4. In the question “What changes has this bag led to?,” the answer is that some overseas stores took out full-page adverts to promote them. Wonderful. What does that have to do with the question? Well, nothing. It goes on to say that a few of the stores now offer credits for people who reuse bags they bring from home – something that Whole Foods and other organic grocers have been doing for years.

5. Most of the press on this have interviewed consumers that planned on flipping a profit on the bag. Previous posts started at $300 for a bag that was bought for $15 – the same day. Anya says that this is beyond their control, which is totally true. In fact, it is this very thinking which led to the creation of such an initiative in the first place. Let’s flesh that out a little.

As someone that does not work in fashion, I cannot justify any comments on the worth of this designer’s work, and value. But what I do notice – and this is applicable to numerous peoples and industries – is the complete lack of responsibility in producing any handbag for thousands of dollars. In some ways, this entire project reeks of Victorian arrogance, the idea being that the rich and powerful are bending down to appease the lowly that cannot afford their products otherwise. The reality is that well beyond any environmental impact this may have, which I’m guessing is not much, is that it did serve as a great PR stunt. The people that buy her bags and shoes feel justified that their designer is “helping the environment,” and the press will latch onto her as being a big-timer looking out for the earth. This trend has been executed with a shark-like brilliance from numerous campaigns in the oil and textiles industry – why not advertise Green everywhere, but not really do much about it? That’s exactly what’s happening.

She flat-out states that there is no charitable component, so people selling them on eBay are not harming any charity. The question remains: What are you really doing for the environment? There are endless companies actively using organic and fair trade fabrics and foods in every aspect of their production, that donate a percent of everything they earn to amazing charities, that go into disparate regions of the world and economically and socially lend a hand. Out of the 6,000 bags sold in NYC, I’m pretty certain that most all of them will not be used, at least not in public, after the new three weeks when every other fashion dies out anyway – for whatever fashion statement carrying such a monstrosity around is. But great job Anya, you got what you wanted in the first place: a lot of press, and your name on the tip of a number of tongues. Like any poison, the remedy will be quick, and effective.

We could only hope to be so lucky.