Greenwashing and the Veil of American Consumerism

As stated eloquently in the documentary Food Inc., the American food industry casts a veil over  the public perception of how our food and other products are grown, engineered, and transported for our consumption.  Although this veil may be comprehensible to individuals who are well informed on these common practices of the American food industry, most “green-washing” eludes the comprehension of even the most informed consumer.

To view an example green-washing relative to our lives in and around downtown Charleston,  I have decided to examine Harris Teeter, a popular grocery store to measure the presence of any green-washing in their public image.

As far as the local selection of grocery stores is concerned,  Harris Teeter sticks out as a popular, upscale supermarket with prime locations throughout the city (including the only grocery store with a close proximity to downtown).  While other local competitors like Earthfare and Whole Foods curb the market for green/organic shopping, Harris Teeters’ public image is one of diverse food choices, both conventional and organic, as well as a standard selection of common groceries that are easily attainable at any supermarket.  However, with this well-rounded image, there are still instances of green-washing the image of the chain as a whole:

In the article above, the EPA has recognized Harris Teeter for it sustainability practices by cutting the emissions output of its commercial services, transport, and refrigeration.  While this is a step forward for both the environment, as well as Harris Teeter’s image, many of the products they sell may tell a different story:

As cited by the World Wildlife Federation, Harris Teeter, along with many other grocery chains (including many other chains which have a local presence in Charleston) have received criticism for their carrying of toilet tissues which have led to the destruction of rain forests and other ecosystems which are home to many endangered species throughout the world.  While this revelation is certainly not limited to Harris Teeter alone, the manner in which they build a public image on certain environmental aspects while selling a product which does otherwise can be viewed with due criticism.  With this insight, it can be concluded that while many brands can be accused of green-washing individual products with misleading packaging and other perceived ecological benefits, the image of the business selling the products can be just as susceptible to these practices.

How A Meat-Eater Tries to Eat Right

I have never been one for jumping on a bandwagon, and I am not one to change my lifestyle based upon what I saw in a biased documentary.  I, like most of you, am a pragmatic and educated individual; who makes decisions based on fact, status quo, and what I would deem as being the most logical choice for living a life a true as possible.  So when we began to watch the documentary Food Inc., I knew deep down I wasn’t going to like what I saw, but I figured that I would shrug it off and continue on… Not the case.

After watching this documentary in class (in two stretches, both on empty stomachs and right before lunchtime), I began to think a little harder about the food that I ingest.  Walking through the meat department at every supermarket since then, I am reminded about how this industry skewed to fundamental concepts of food production; maybe out of necessity, but certainly out of greed.  It began to feel uneasy looking at all the meat that I would normally cook in second; and although I cannot say I am even close to giving up meat, the idea of eating most of what is offered to me by the food industry grosses me out.

With this, I think about the optimistic organic farmer who believes he is fulfilling his duty to the highest standard, and I think about the small price differences in his products.. It feels good to say now that I would seek his product before the mass-produced, standardized product, and I do my best each time to do that, but I will not stop eating meat.  What Food Inc. did for me was inform me that those around me who push for organic food are not pompous urbanites who try to find reasons to critique the lifestyles of others, but rather people who understand the established system which most of us have subscribed to, and what it would take to change that system.


Because of all of this information and the ideas that it has developed, I have now begun to filter my fresh-food (juices, meats, dairy, etc) to organic products only. the quote: “people freak out when organic eggs are $3 while they sip on a $1.75 coke” resonated with me.  Why wouldn’t I support organic farmers anyways? The food is almost as good as their character!

Local and National Superfund Sites

Any student who has taken any introductory geology (especially at the College of Charleston) have heard of and have studied the environmental impacts of our society over the last several thousand years.  However, in reference to American legislation and the regulation of locations which are deemed by the federal government to be  places of extreme pollution and environmental risk, we have also studied these “Superfund Sites” as location which were so polluted that the federal government had to intervene.  Perhaps the most popular and tragic of these instances is the Love Canal story, which a lower income neighborhood was developed directly over a recent toxic waste dump.  One interesting aspect about these locations which I have realized is that they do not exist only in some far-off neighborhood 30 years ago, or in movies like Erin Brockovich; there are two Superfund sites within 2 miles of our downtown.


The link above provides an interactive national map of all the current Superfund sites in the United States.  Each dot the map represents  a location with various information including a history, threat index number (1-100 sale) and a list of toxins which are/were present there.  Both locations (The area better know as the bridge to nowhere, and the Macalloy Superfund site rank at  a cautionary 50 and are located both around and between residential neighborhoods in the area between Charleston and North Charleston.  I found this information to be both alarming and eye opening, and led me to find more site like this in areas I have lived in in the past.

Jet Travel in “The Great Acceleration”

When you look up into the sky and you see a jet flying overhead, what do you think?  I guess it depends on your state of mind, your imagination, or even your view on the environment.  Our conceptions of the little glimmering tube floating silently across the sky at 33,000 feet may vary, but anyone studying environmental sustainability cannot help but to notice the soft white streak trailing behind it, and the implications that that streak has on our environment.  Although it is a clear fact that air travel has an immense carbon footprint, and that most of the developed world has some degree of access to it, most aircraft flying today have modern engines that are significantly cleaner than their older counterparts.  As I would assume nearly everyone in our class is under the age of 40, I wonder how this jet travel looked like 50 years ago during the great acceleration….  Spoiler alert: It was bad…

If you fast forward past the shirtless ground crew and the long preparation process to about 5:50 in the video below, you will see what was once a common sight in the skies of America in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, enter the Convair CV-880.  A flintstone era jetliner made for the likes of the American military complex, Delta, TWA, and Elvis Pressley (He had his own Convair).  The 4 high-output engines of its era poured out an immense exhaust trail which would seriously concern any modern passenger, whether environmentalist or not.  As someone who enjoys mechanics and old technology, I cannot say that I enjoy watching the Convair  taking flight in any regard, but the following scene puts into context the amount of apathy American industry had to it environmental impacts during this era.  The video below takes place in the early 1990’s as the aircraft was cleared to fly east to a scrapyard thousands of miles away.  You can hear spectators commenting on the ground that they had to get a special permit in order to make this single flight to the scrapyard.  It is both amazing and sad that although these aircraft are now long gone, their effects and even the effects of their cleaner counterparts still remain