“These are the bad guys,” I whispered to myself in dismay as I exited the Natural Products Expo East at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Hall. I felt disappointed and ‘empty’, even though my bag was completely full of free food and beverage product samples. I came to this three day exhibition with high expectations. I envisioned a room full of like-minded entrepreneurs and retailers, dedicated to selling and promoting organic and environmentally sustainable products. Though businesses and their respective products were cannily marketed in this manner, they seemed anything but. It was a clear exhibition, rather, of how industry is undermining the true mission of the organic movement.
As I roamed past the 1,500 some booths, most of the products on display seemed identical. In addition to most food samples being distributed with plastic cutlery (with no recycling bin in close proximity most of the times), ‘organic cookies’ followed by ‘organic ready-made dinners’ and ‘organic electrolyte filled’ beverages seemed to be the major trend within the food section. It all seemed like one big fast food and sugar-albeit organic- loaded event wrapped up in a convenient microwavable plastic package. Sadly, only a few businesses seemed to market genuinely sustainable and natural products.
Disheartened, I traveled a few hours north to attend Maine’s annual Common Ground Country Fair, organized by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. It was a breath of fresh air. Family owned farms and businesses offering a unique assortment of organic food, fiber, cosmetics, and wisdom reminded me that local economics is the most natural and environmentally sound production and distribution practice. With no bottled plastic water beverages in site, I happily drank the ‘naturally’ electrolyte filled local tap water while celebrating local culture and traditions. I was forced to question my consumption habits rather than convincing myself that the most difficult change I would have to make was buying organic or natural at the nearby supermarket giant.
In retrospect, my mistake was simple; I falsely equated organic and/or natural foods and other consumer products to being sustainable and healthy. But to really go natural, we must be able to look past the shiny packaging and see the true product inside along with the people who helped produce it. For many of us who are busy and work full-time, the shrewd industrial marketing schemes are indeed dangerous. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to follow this simple rhyme: anything that may appease our conscious about going ‘green’, while conveniently requiring minimal changes to our daily routine, is naturally, naturally wrong (how’s that for true and effective marketing!)