Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This Week In Greenwashing

One thing we’re always told to do is shop at farmer’s markets, which supposedly support local growers and give consumers a sustainable option when grocery shopping. I’ve been to plenty which are fabulous (my hands-down favorite is the one in downtown Santa Monica, California. The vegetables they sell there are quite literally works of art.) But I also know that not all farmer’s markets are created equal.

And now we learn that supermarket chains are trying to profit from the local food movement by setting up fake farmer’s markets to hawk their non-local produce. Another issue is vendors selling produce which they purchased at wholesale produce warehouses.

I caught wind of this practice right here in Nashville when I went to one of Johnny Howell’s red and white tents and saw the exact same packages of Chilean-grown red grapes, complete with UPC code, that I had seen at Kroger. And a lot of that is the same as what I see at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. So I knew right then that at least some of their produce comes from a wholesaler like Angelo Formosa.

This doesn’t necessarily mean they are a “fake” farmer’s market but it does mean that just because produce is merchandised in a rustic basket and sold out of a red tent by the side of the road we should assume it’s somehow better or different from the stuff you get at the grocery store. I mean, last I checked we don't grow avocados around here, and I'm not sure I've ever seen anything labeled "organic" at one of Howell's red tents.

And here’s another pet peeve: when I go to Whole Foods, why do I have to choose between organic or local/regional? Seems like most of the produce they label local or regional is never organic; the stuff that is organic is shipped up from South America. I’d rather have organic and I’d rather it hadn’t spent a week in transit from Peru.

Anyway, the point is: buyer beware. Consumers have increasingly been sending the message that they want "green" and sustainable options in everything from their household cleaning products to what they put on the dinner table. Instead of listening to consumers and adjusting their behavior accordingly, some factions of corporate America are cravenly trying to exploit consumers' green instincts to make a buck by selling the same ol' shit as something it's not.