Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Finding Hope in Corporations?

Practically every minute of every day, we are inundated with depressing statistics about the state of America's health, the environment, and numerous related topics. The film Food, Inc. left me feeling small and helpless. However, there were a few sparks of hope in the film that should be brought into greater light. The positive message that really stuck with me was Vote With Your Dollars.
What if corporations can be seen as the solution, not as the enemy? What if we use the giant institutions currently in place to reverse all the damage they've done? In some ways, this has already been proven to be true.
Gary Hirshberg, "CE-Yo" of Stonyfield Farm, the world's largest organic yogurt company, attributes his success to the fact that nature is the best business model. He has even written a book "proving that it's profitable to be green." Organic farming is only one small aspect of the sustainable practices this company employs. Through the Stonyfield Greener Cow Project, their dairy cows are fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like alfalfa, flax, and grasses. This significantly reduces their methane production, and even makes the milk more nutritious - greater omega-3 content (without adding any unnatural supplements) and lower levels of saturated fats. Here's an optimistic statistic: "If every US dairy were to adopt this approach, in less than one year, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we could reduce would be the equivalent of taking more than half a million cars off the road!" Stonyfield has taken it further than just caring about its own company. They began ClimateCounts.org, which believes that "business is the most powerful institution on the planet and can be a potent force for good." They evaluate the eco-friendliness of major corporations to educate consumers so that they are better able to make smart choices with their purchases. What about the McDonald's problem? Gary has a solution for that one too. He has founded O'Naturals, a fast-food chain based on healthy, natural foods produced by sustainable means. They also sell their menu items in a marketplace, and even have take-out. 
Jamie Oliver, a British chef well-known for his cookbooks and TV shows, is now using the power of his popularity to fight obesity in America. Jamie was presented with a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Award last month for his efforts in West Virginia that were documented by his latest show.  He sums up his goals in this long, but powerful speech:  
The Sustainable Food Laboratory helps corporations work together toward sustainable practices to fight climate, poverty, and resource-related issues. They have developed new business models, studied carbon impact, and worked to "re-regionalize" food production and distribution. 
We can easily become overwhelmed by the extensive amount of  negativity produced by the media. This hides the fact that there is actually a lot of good being done as well. Janet Poppendieck argues in Sweet Charity? that government should be taking the reigns in fighting these issues, not charities and other organizations. But sometimes government is not as efficient as the institutions already in place. We can make a bigger difference than we think, every day, with every penny that we spend. By choosing to support companies that follow healthy business and food practices, change can happen.

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