One of my classes focuses on Marketing and the Public Purpose. Essentially, how can we address the world’s problems with effective marketing. And no, this isn’t about monetizing starving children or anything, but think about how you know we have an issue to address: marketing. Public service announcements and anything regarding social change require marketing.
We are reviewing all kinds of issues, one of which is food production. Between my own readings of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, I already know there’s a lot we really don’t want to know about how our food gets on our tables. Everything from the conditions the animals are bred in, to the ammonia used to kill E. coli.
Being in business school, there is a struggle to understand how a business, which is supposed to add value, manages to stay on top when all signs point to the fact that there’s more harm being done than good. In Food Inc., there’s an interview with a representative about Kevin’s Law. Essentially, he says you would think that people would be willing to pay a little more for a guarantee in food safety. This is classic more-for-more, but with a hope that the value of that more safety is a better deal than whatever higher cost you are paying. But do we really believe that? Do businesses even want to risk trying it out?
Instead, the answer is ammonia to keep costs down, instead of modifying how E. coli gets there in the first place.
At some point, economies of scale really hurt business. You aren’t flexible enough to modify the whole system when there’s a major issue. If anything, we have learned that you can be huge and still fail.
What do you do with information, though? When you are exposed by journalists and filmmakers? Do you argue and say, “This is just the price of business”?
Or do you make change?
Forget your individual responsibility as a buyer. We do not think we have enough power to change the way “big industry” does things. However, you should think of your individual responsibility as a business person. Do you have the power to start a company that does things differently? Look at Polyface Farms. Look at Whole Foods. You may think there’s a “yuppie” culture that goes into organic markets, but aren’t these also people trying to get back to what farming and food had been about?
There is still a lot to be critical of, but at least this is start. It is a start because someone is doing something with information. What are you doing?