In my talks and workshops I do an activity called True Price in which we examine a product, food, or article of clothing and ask a few questions about it. The questions include:
1. Is this product a want or a need? The purpose of this question isn’t to condemn the satisfaction of our desires but to become aware of what are wants and needs so that we make choices accordingly.
2. What are the effects, both positive and negative, from production, use, and disposal of this item on ourselves, other people, animals, and the environment?
3. What systems perpetuate the existence of this item?
4. What are MOGO alternatives to this item?
During my MOGO talks, I usually bring three items: a conventional cotton T-shirt, a fast food cheeseburger (well, a plastic version that can travel!), and a Fiji brand water bottle. Often I invite the audience to vote for the item they’d like to analyze, and often they pick the Fiji water bottle. I’ve gathered some statistics on bottled water in general (and Fiji in particular) which I share, encouraging the audience to seek out the validity of these statistics on their own.
This week, Mother Jones published an article on Fiji water written by Anna Lenzer.
I’m quite critical of bottled water in general, and Fiji water (transported halfway across the globe to get to Maine, where I live) in particular, and I think that bottled water is only a MOGO choice in certain situations (e.g., when traveling overseas where local water may be contaminated, during emergencies and power outages, etc.). So I was prepared to find this article reinforcing my already formed beliefs. Yet I was surprised by how much I hadn’t known and how much worse the situation is than I’d realized, and I urge readers of this blog to read the Mother Jones article.
What shocked me most was how deeply entrenched the Fiji brand has become — how fully it has forged its celebrity status, and how easily we are all duped by greenwashing and promises of health and goodness. I remember feeling similarly when Ben and Jerry’s ice cream became a paragon of virtue simply because it was more socially responsible than other companies that were also producing frozen dessert. That an ice cream company, producing a high fat, high cholesterol, energy-intensive dessert that also contributes to animal suffering would ever receive such accolades and become the dessert of choice for every good cause and socially conscious consumer, dumbfounded me. Same with the Body Shop, which was lauded for not testing on animals and for using fair trade ingredients, while it produced more and more expensive and unnecessary personal care products (foot cream?) in small plastic containers that mostly wind up in landfills and incinerators. But I digress.
Fiji water, it seems, is the water of the stars, and the hype around it — including that buying it helps the environment — defies common sense. Meanwhile, actual Fijians don’t have access to their own aquifer that the American company uses exclusively to bottle expensive water that Fijians can’t afford. Instead, Fijians often lack clean, accessible water at all.
As always, I come back to humane education. We must raise a generation that can think. That can evaluate critically and not be so susceptible to advertising and hype. That relies on a combination of common sense, pursuit of knowledge, and an abiding value to do the most good and the least harm in relation to everyone.
I will continue to bring my Fiji water bottle to talks and schools, armed now with more information from this expose in Mother Jones, and I’ll continue to invite my audiences to become critical thinkers and creative solutionaries for a better world.
Image courtesy of mariettaki via Creative Commons.
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Filed under: critical thinking, humane education, marketing, media literacy, MOGO (Most Good) Tagged: | bottled water, branding, consumerism, critical thinking, Fiji water, greenwashing, humane education, marketing, media literacy, MOGO choices, multinational corporations