As social and health issues become more mainstream and more frequently discussed, misinformation also spreads quickly. Part of being an ethical and healthy person is knowing exactly what labels and trends mean, and being able to separate fact from fiction. People are becoming more aware of the effects of consumption on ourselves and our world. But corporations have been quick to catch on, presenting themselves as an ethical or caring choice in advertisements and on labels.
Companies use different tactics to appeal to the concerns and values of their customers, like putting a “gluten-free” stamp on products containing no grains, or body positivity and same-sex families in advertisements for clothing made in sweatshops. Sometimes these tactics are misleading, making it more important than ever for consumers to be vigilant and well-informed, to take a critical approach to these trends.
Here are some lies you’ve been told about ethical consumption, and some alternatives.
Fair Trade Coffee Doesn’t Guarantee Growers A Good Income
The idea behind Fair Trade coffee is that coffee growers make up collectives, who negotiate with the roasters through a third party, FLOCERT which has some ethical, pay and sustainability checks. Unfortunately this system has proven to have several flaws. It turns out “free trade” is an unreliable label that does not positively impact the poorest coffee growers, and actually decreases the quality of the product. The cost of fair trade certification hits the poorest farmers the hardest, and encourages farmers to sell lower-quality beans.
One alternative is buying Direct Trade coffee, which goes directly from the grower to the distributer, cutting out the middleman. It’s not a perfect system either, and some growers can’t afford to go Direct Trade, but it does allow the farmers to set their prices without buying into a system that would squeeze them dry.
Organic Standards Are Very Strict, And Sometimes Arbitrary
Buying organic sounds like a good idea, but most people can’t tell you why. Getting the “organic” stamp is a complex process that not all small-scale farmers can follow. So let’s separate truth from fearmongering. First, organic foods contain no more nutrients than non-organic foods, no matter what people doubling the prices of organic strawberries would have you believe. Organic foods are always non-GMO in the USA and Canada, but foods with a non-GMO stamp aren’t always organic. An important distinction if you are concerned with either man-made chemicals, or corporate control of seeds, but maybe not both. So far the list is pretty standard, maybe not too shocking to people who have done their research and not blindly jumped on the bandwagon. But here’s where being certified organic gets more complicated. Organic foods can be treated with pesticides as long as they are approved by the accrediting organization. In America, that’s the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Treating sick or infected animals with necessary medications like antibiotics can cause a farmer to lose organic status. Antibiotics are often misused or abused in factory farming, with the goal of counteracting unsanitary conditions of boosting animal growth, but should a local farmer who cares for their animals be punished for giving them sometimes necessary medication? Maybe not. Lastly there’s the environmental angle. Organic farms produce 20%-50% less crops fit for sale than conventional farms for the same amount of land. If more or larger farms go organic, this means globally there will be less room for forests, animal habitats, and human populations if everyone ate organic. This may sound like a list of reasons to not buy organic foods, but that isn’t the whole story. If people bought local, we could save the environment by reducing transportation costs. If we reduced our meat and dairy intake, factory farming and the antibiotic overuse that goes with it would be a thing of the past. And if we’re going to be concerned with nutritional value, well maybe a GMO orange still ranks better than certified organic chocolate ice cream. The lesson we need to learn is that labels don’t tell the whole story. If it’s where your food comes from and how it’s grown that concerns you, buy it from somewhere closer to home.
Detox Diets Are Nothing New, And Have Never Been A Good Idea
The idea of purging the body of bad things seems to just be part of the human condition. From balancing the humors with leeches and vomiting, to the crimes of Linda Hazzard, the fake doctor who “detoxed” her victims to death in order to steal their money, we’ve looked for many ways throughout history to feel clean on the inside. And they have never worked. The main reason why, is that the human body has a way of removing harmful or unwanted materials: the kidney and the liver. If these organs aren’t working properly, well, there’s a reason why hospitals have a dialysis unit and not a “miso soup and lemon water for 30 days” unit. Some argue that the presence of metals and chemicals in the skin, fat, blood and muscle that can be removed by ingesting spirulina or zinc, means they should be removed. The fact is our bodies are more intricate than we give them credit for. We are amazing machines, that require complex fuel to survive, and have a way of dealing with anything else we put into them. Maybe if we put more effort into understanding how our bodies work, we wouldn’t need to invent new things to label as “toxins” or ways of making our waste not smell, or whatever the endgame is here.
Free-Range Eggs Aren’t From Chicken Heaven
“Free Range” conjures up a lot of powerful imagery. Rolling hills, chickens happily running around, pecking at seeds tossed by a kindly old farmer, and peacefully popping out an egg at their own convenience. It feels good to picture a free range chicken farm, and it feels good to buy free range eggs. But maybe it shouldn’t. In Canada, unlike the United States, there is no set definition for Free Range. So unlike with Fair Trade and Organic, there aren’t any standards to meet except, maybe, that the chickens aren’t in battery cages. In some countries, the animals must have at least some access to the outdoors. What this usually means is that instead of stacked in small cages, chickens live on a flat warehouse floor. This actually means their conditions are more dangerous, as they are exposed to the faeces of other chickens, causing E. coli and parasitic infections, and even cannibalize each other. Furnished cages are a step up from battery cages, although still not ideal for the chickens’ behaviour and physical condition.
So what’s the best option for chickens? It’s actually the simplest answer: maybe we shouldn’t keep as many of them. If we used less eggs, we wouldn’t need to keep the birds on such a large scale, and have all the complex problems that go with it.
You Can’t Live on Juice Cleanses Alone
Drinking nothing but a liquid diet makes people feel skinny, the simple reason being that your body isn’t getting everything it needs. When you juice a fruit or vegetable, you’re simply not getting the whole plant. What gets thrown out is the fibre, and everything that makes people feel full. What you keep? Many of the vitamins, and all of the sugar. A juice cleanse can give you serious issues in regulating your blood sugar levels. Not taking in enough protein can cause your body to break down your own muscle to provide what’s missing. So that juice cleanse weight loss? Surprise, it’s not all fat that you’re burning! You also won’t be getting the fat, protein, and some vitamins and minerals your body needs, and you may be getting way too much of some vitamins, like potassium. So what should you do instead of juicing? Try eating less processed foods, making a smoothie instead of juicing, or maybe just eat a fruit or vegetable.
There are a lot of people wanting to profit from the good intentions of others. Unfortunately there’s just as much money to be made from misinformation. Being able to separate fact from fiction is the first step in living a healthier and more thoughtful existence. The second step is to find alternatives that work for you. There’s a lot of blogs out there telling people exactly the right way to live your best life, but the answers can be much more simple than that. For some people it’s cooking from scratch, for others it’s buying local, or going vegan. No matter what, if you’re well informed chances are you’ll be much happier with the choices you make, and the future you’ll create for yourself, your community, and your planet.