After I finished reading Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (by Martin Lindstrom) it really got me thinking about how we are being manipulated by advertisers and corporations, and in combination with Don’t Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America (by Morgan Spurlock, he of Supersize Me fame) it has given me a double whammy of food for thought – pun intended. It’s not just the consumerism that bugs me – it’s the impact it has on the planet and on our mental and physical health.

This is a huge topic, and far too much to go into here. I feel the need to rant, but I’ll try and confine myself to a mini-rant and leave it to you to take it and run with it if you feel the urge.

Martin Lindstrom describes how, as you walk past a fast food joint, that fantastic aroma of frying bacon or burgers or fries that tickles your nostrils isn’t what they’re cooking – it’s a synthetic aroma dispensed specifically with the goal of luring you in. No wonder the food never tastes as good as it smells (not that I would know – I have many weaknesses, but fast food is not among them, my last visit to a McDonalds being circa 1983). How blatantly phoney.

Then there’s the food itself. So much “food” is barely worthy of the name, being highly processed, denatured, and almost nutrient-free. And I’m not just talking about fast food here. A lot of food in supermarkets, even some food in health food stores, is just not good for you, containing nasties like trans fats and high fructose corn syrup that can lead to diabetes, heart disease, ADHD etc. A lot of it isn’t good for the environment either. Want to do some research to find out how healthy your food is? Be careful – check who sponsored those scientists. They may not be as impartial as you think.

Moving on from food to consumer goods, there are adverts specifically designed to engender fear – fear of being left out, left behind, left on the shelf, fear of being unattractive, uncool, or – heaven forbid – old. Or fear of germs, fear of not being a good parent, fear of what the neighbours might think. But buy their product, and banish the fear! Except, of course, that it is a very temporary fix at best. The thing I am really fearful of is that Martin Lindstrom sees fear-based advertising as the way of the future. As if we don’t have enough real issues to worry ourselves about.

Advertisers have enormous budgets and cutting-edge neuroscience behind them, but even so, surely we are smart enough to see through their attempts to manipulate us – or are we? So many of us get suckered into buying stuff we don’t need, and it is the planet that pays the real price. I sometimes picture “consumers” as little Pacman munchy monsters, munching away at the Earth until there is nothing left beneath our feet.

Films like Food Inc, and the book Fast Food Nation are a good start, but I suspect they largely preach to the converted. How can we spread the message that happiness is more likely to come from good relationships and a meaningful life than from a new washing powder or an extra-large portion of fries? How can we get more people to wise up, before “consumers” (horrible word) end up consuming us all to death in a misguided search for happiness in the shopping malls and online stores of the world?

Other Stuff:

Today was a pleasant day out on the big blue, with a useful forty nauties (nautical miles) under my hull by bedtime. I am listening to Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon, and indulging my infatuation with the fictional but irresistibly attractive Jamie Fraser. I just wish they would stop sipping at single malt whisky all the time. I wouldn’t want any here, but I wouldn’t mind teleporting myself to a Scottish fireside and having a wee dram of the good stuff.

The wheel on my main iPod has stopped working. I can still fast forward through books by pressing the “forward” button, but I can’t scroll through lists or adjust the volume by running my finger around the wheel. Bummer.

For some reason I kept looking out for a sailboat today. I don’t know why. In all my time at sea, the only sailboats I have ever seen were Aurora, the support yacht for the Atlantic Rowing Race, and the JUNK Raft on the Pacific. I have never, in over 400 days, accidentally happened across a sailboat. I think it is just my mind playing tricks on me. It is bored of seeing nothing but sea, sky, and storm petrels so has decided to start making stuff up.

Quote for today: Only when the last tree has died and the last river been polluted and the last fish been caught will we realise we can’t eat money. Cree Indian saying

Photo: that unlikely encounter with the JUNK Raft and Dr Marcus Eriksen (now of the 5Gyres Institute – see: http://5gyres.org/)

Sponsored Miles: Today’s thanks go to: Curtis Zingg, Shannon Fogg, James Borleis and Doug Grandt.

18 Comments

  • Roz ~ I was at the store yesterday and this feeling came over that I needed to get out fast! ( as my boyfriend was buying $50 Levi jeans- 4 of them and $160 workboots and his kids were wanting everything they saw)  Something felt “OFF-full” and it was exactly what you wrote today – consumerism is just pulling people out of themselves. We want more and more – the external fix on an internal problem. Then I thought of how the majority of these products are made in sweat shops – we as Americans are contributing – maybe we are the largest contributors to this problem – and it IS  ruining our environment!!! 

    Keep rowing – believing – being so real and sharing your soul with so many people <3 You are loved tons !!!!

  • Hi Roz – interviewed Martin a couple of times and great guy. But just listened to your podcast about how people are feeling…and I have one of my little theories!
    With the unrest in the middle east, it has made people think much more about what freedom really means…and actually whether our democracies are good or bad…our democracy or the style of it is several hundred years old, is it still relevant today? Social media etc has given the citizens more of a voice…..
    For me the West needs to take these middle eastern uprisings as a spur to modernise democracy before the westerners realise in a sense these are just as autocratic in a sense – at least for the term of the government.
    I have been thinking that it is maybe a return to what Aristotle called the ‘good life’ and that in order for the states protection you have a citizens responsibility to look after each other….a two way contract which maybe now should be triangular…i.e including the planet as well. Umair Haque has written a good book on this….
    Anyway – know times are tough but you are not and never will be alone, we are all here with you…..and I have the beer on ice for chewing the cud when you get home!
    So here is what you can design whilst you are out there…not a question a solution, what does ‘social democracy’ look like in 2020?

    • Anna, have you read Gus Speth’s “The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability”?
      I recommend it highly.  For a short version, this lecture delivered January 21, 2010 is a quick read: “A New American Environmentalism and the New Economy” — a mere 23 pages. Download at http://bit.ly/GusNewEco ;-D

    • Re: democracy and freedom. Did you listen to Aung San Suu Kyi’s Reith Lecture on Radio 4 this morning?

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b012402s

      There was also a debate afterwards. There were some really interesting points about social freedom and dissent. Inspirational woman and, bizarrely, a big Radio 2 and Dave Lee Travis fan.

  • First an update on the young penguin in NZ,,,now undergoing blood tests to determine its gender.  Poor Happy Feet…was eating sticks and sand ! More successful treatment and responding well so far.

    There is a pretty good TV program in NZ which investigates the question: What is in our food…?  Truly amazing what is added to these productions of ‘so-called food.’  Like chicken nuggets…whoa!  And where was I when there was a clarion call for Pringles Chips? Lesson in how to ruin a perfectly good inexpensive potato.   Another scary video is: The World According to Monsanto …which makes pesticides, and genetically engineers soy and corn seed productions…and forces farms around the world to use these products, and creates vast mono-culture industrial farms.
    Also, since when did indigestion-relief products become part of the food-groups, being on sale along side salsa, hot sauces, and picante at grocery stores?

    I personally purchase as little as possible from mega-markets, and bicycle all around town to local shops, for fish, bread, veges, fine wine, fair trade aid products…espresso, farmers markets, sushi.  Ha…! I am always amazed at where these daily Roz topics emerge from and lead to somewhere….the treasure trove of oceanic rowing archives….!  

    End with quote of the day:  “Adventure is worthwhile in its self”
    Amelia Earhart 

  • I was pleasantly surprised, on a recent trip to Hong Kong/China, to see EcoEd books (books that teach kids about how/why to be Eco wise etc) and games available for our younger generation. Since then I’ve taken the time to seek out locally produced material – with mixed success. I don’t recall anything remotely EcoEd availble when I was a child which makes me think we’ve come a long way – both good & bad!

    Good blog topic today Roz! Yes, you may be preaching to the converted though!  KFC would be the biggest turn off for me – what a horrible industry. If anyone wants to know what the poor chickens go through check out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall website…   http://www.rivercottage.net/about/projects/chicken-out/ 

  • Hi Roz – How about a bit of news from the land-bound world of Africa? A friend of mine (from San Francisco) is working with MSF in southern Sudan, about to become South Sudan, a new independent state on July 9th. There has a been a lot of fighting over the official separation. They are in the part of the year when there is a normal food gap, but fighting and evacuating whole towns is making it much worse. MSF supports feeding centers and medical clinics, largely through its national staff and with support of the World Food Program. Last week there was an eclipse with the yellow-orange moon dominating the dark sky. Despite everything going wrong in their world, people stayed up all night drumming and singing, in hopes they could influence the bad spirits.  Somehow, I connected your rowing out there in the Indian Ocean to the necklace of small scale human efforts to influence the bad spirits. Even though this must seem about as far away from what you are doing as can be, maybe it is not after all, because like my friend writing short updates from South Sudan after her 16 hr days, your experiences are also connecting us to things we really can’t experience directly, but still need to hear and care about.

    take care,

    Kathy
    Berkeley

  • “How can we get more people to wise up?” My answer? Our KIDS!

    Roz – you know I am a dedicated educator and teacher-trainer. While I was still in the classroom, I was committed to teaching kids about environmental issues and how each of us can become a steward of the earth. I am convinced (and know from personal experiences) that when you can help a young child or teen have an “Aha!” moment about an issue, a cause, an environmental concern – or even an inside look at advertising tricks! – they wise up very quickly and you have a new inspired (often life-long) activist! Many teachers are finding it exceedingly difficult to “work in” environmental and outdoor education experiences into the rigid curriculum programs created by misguided/underfunded mandates such as the “No Child Left Behind” act. How can we expect young consumers to understand how their daily actions and purchases may have far-reaching consequences – when many kids haven’t spent much time playing outdoors and haven’t developed a connection with their planet???  (As mentioned before – Richard Louv’s books “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle” are great resources.)

    In the U.S. many elementary classrooms are minimizing Science lessons – because “Science” (in many states) isn’t “tested.” Testing scores are what often determine funding. So only the subjects tested get emphasized. This is also the case for Physical Education! So while our intentions were to improve education – we often end up with physically unfit kids who know little about their planet, don’t know how to make choices, and don’t have a clue how to create change!

    Here’s a quote from Louv:
    “The future will
    belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and
    political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the
    transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual
    with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

    Thanks for letting me rant a bit! BTW – Still thinking of my own “Sentence.” xo

  • You’ll see lots of sailboats. Just row near Maldives when near 😀 Good luck dear. Your rowing efforts are an inspiration to me. Keep rowing 🙂 – Yafaau’s dad, Maldives

  • I just came from a port and rail cargo handling equipment pollution emission reduction workshop in which ocean cargo terminal operators are saying the economic recovery forecast two years ago is not happening at the ports, and a flat future “growth” is what they are planning for. That is predominantly about imports, and about exports to lesser degree. Bad news and good news, depending … Indications of lower consumerism offset by bad news of continued slowdown of economy which will hurt jobs in the business-as-usual markets and all thing related to the recession, but could be turned into good news for new green economy jobs creation.  Personally, I am preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best.

    CRISIS = DANGER + OPPORTUNITY (sort of)
    more in depth here http://bit.ly/lrzacy

  • Right on! AND someone’s suggestion that we educate our children………. and then we must force healthy eating to be taught in schools.  But perhaps we are fighting a wealthier advertizing bunch than the plastic making oil companies! Fast  and nasty fast food industry and sugar industry are powerful brainwashing and also addicting.

  • I just started Dragonfly in Amber (again) last night. I need to purchase Drums of Autumn, but am putting it off until we fly home next week – 18 hours on an airplane with 3 children is going to take some serious Jamie/Claire distraction.

  • Fear is so totally a control mechanism-I swear our gov and all big corps(specially fossil fuel industry-who try to scare folks into thinking that there is no life for us without fossil fuels) totally get into the fear card. It’s totally everywhere-it’s a bigger problem than greed, if you ask me. Unca Doug’s reading suggestions are spot on. Speth’s book is totally a must read-kinda where we’re heading-a “fortress nation” governed by fear…. Am starting to realize that most mainstream media, which is beholden to major big corps (including fossil fuels), will continually give little to no air time to those who proclaim that shedding our fear and living a purposeful, meaningful life will be the wave of the future. Consumerism does not buy one happiness and freedom. Focusing on friends, family, experiences/adventure, and helping to make the world a better place for everyone (and I totally count environmental activism in this category) for the short time we are here does the trick. Now, looking around my house, how does a relative non-buyer of stuff amass so much clutter???? Awesome mileage today!!! Woohoo!! You are one tough lady!!

  • Along the lines of today’s thoughts is Morgan Spurlock’s latest, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, about product placement. Something to watch when you’re back on dry land, Roz. It features a fan of yours, Mr. Nader.
    http://www.sonyclassics.com/pomwonderfulpresentsthegreatestmovieeversold/

    Also, for the 5Gyres fans, Marcus Erikson will be doing a webinar on July 5th about the gyre where he and Roz crossed paths: http://www.greenbuildermag.com/impactseries

    Team BFC

  • Yes, our kids are the answer. But everything starts from our homes. Too much is expected from the schools, although they have a big role to play in educating our children. Funny how my 14 and 16 year daughters don’t ever notice fast food restaurant  aromas. They’ve been to McDonalds less than 10 times during their lives. It does not mean that we don’t visit fast food places, we do, but only when we’re on a longer trip. And even then we try to choose something healthier. Of course it is harder for you to stop for a snack. As far as I know there are no restaurants nearby where you are just now 😀
     I love your blog. I’ve been following you for quite a while and I’ve also read your book! You’re just a fantastic person! Best wishes from Canada.

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