A few days ago I wrote about eco-leadership; now I want to talk about eco-followership.
With green products becoming a trend in marketing, the line seems thinner and thinner between earth-friendly consumerism and consumer green-washing (that slimy brand brainwashing that makes money by pretending to be green).
(Whether consumers are followers or leaders or both is a slippery question. It seems sometimes that we imagine ourselves to be leading trends, and buy accordingly. Or, like lemmings, we follow the trends, and buy what everyone else is buying.)
Clever branding tries to harness each of these purchasing impulses, making it harder to resist by tying into our fantasies about ourselves, our identities, our hopes and dreams. And green has become a staple – in reality or the imaginary sales-pitch — of nearly every brand on the shelf.
Whether that brand identity is sincere is ours to judge — and lead (or follow) accordingly.
I don’t know about you, but I get really earnest about my organic, local choices. I might even have bought the real-life version of (gluten free) organic twinkies in a delusional PMS moment! It’s so hard to connect our core values to our purchasing when life gets the least bit complex. And I’m not the only one who pays more for something that isn’t necessarily healthier or worth the price, and less for something that’s obviously less healthy, but more affordable.
It’s easy to talk about being a good earth-loving leader or follower, based on internal values and external goals. But the heart of consumerism-as-we-know-it is an unconscious commitment to convenience and habit. In the end, being an effective eco-consumer means changing the patterns that make us choose convenience and apparent affordability over healthy choices and long-term or hidden costs.
Affordability: the slippery slope of consumer consciousness, the double bind of recession reality…
I know, I know — we’re all torn between survival and the search for fast food to feed a faster lifestyle. Who has time to plan organic? Who has time to read the labels, to change our habits, to save enough to spend more to do the right thing!? I know! I have the same problem.
And it’s pissing me off!
I mean, here I have all these great values, and I’m having a hard time living up to them, because I’m so busy making a living in a world dominated by fast food values. Slow food seems impossible on a bad day, even if fast food makes me feel kind of queasy.
Is it only the rich and privileged who can afford to be eco-followers? No — just ask the Slow Food Movement!
If we give in to the branding of organic and healthy as more expensive, then the answer has to be yes! But if we look to more affordable local farmers’ markets and other resources outside the grocery store’s specialty aisles, then we don’t have to be rich to eat healthier for ourselves and the planet.
Ultimately, it’s about our willingness to break the habit of consumer convenience — in a nutshell, to plan ahead and cook for ourselves, because packaged food is always going to contradict its green labeling. And there’s where the eco-follower has to become a leader in their household, breaking the cardinal myth of time equals money, and enlisting the whole family (extended or in-house) to support a new way of feeding ourselves.
There’s hope! Slow Food, USA has proven that organic, local eating can be both more affordable and time efficient.
“The secret is out: Good quality, high-flavor ingredients make for satisfying meals that don’t cost a lot. Not a lot at all, in fact. So, as I have a tendency to say from time to time – to myself, or whoever else might be listening – take THAT, five-dollar fast food value meals – we have our own slow food value meals over here. For $5 or less, besides.” (Amy McCoy’s Slow Food Blog Post about feeding her family well on a budget after she became unemployed.)
The $5 Challenge is a Slow Food original, a response to Michelle Obama’s “Right now, we have policies that make it harder to feed our children fruit than Froot Loops. But everyday, against the odds, people find ways to cook real food on a budget. We need to make cooking and eating that way a possibility for everyone,” added Viertel. “If you know how to cook slow food on a budget, The $5 Challenge is a chance to teach someone. If you want to learn, it is a chance to get started. And it is a chance for us all to unite and begin pushing for the change we need.”