Think before you buy: Consumerism warning labels

By Madronna Holden

Updated 5.17.2012

Many of us buy too much for the wrong reasons and throw away too much as well. Even as we gauge the health of our economy by continued “growth” in dollar exchanges, the earth is groaning under the weight of our consumerism.

This is vastly different from the kinds of person to person exchanges that we find to nourish us at local small businesses and farmer’s markets—and a few larger businesses of conscience.

We have some hard-won warning labels outlining the health effects of cigarette smoking and side effects of drugs and pesticides (though the latter may be placed in print so tiny it is virtually unreadable).

But what if we looked at the larger picture?   My student Alyssa Bellamy suggested this warning label be places on all consumer items:

Warning: Consumption of this product means you have been brainwashed. Continued use may lead to your becoming ignorant, ill, and to further degradation of our earth and of the women and children and slave labor used to produce this product. And also, you may be tormented with never being satisfied and always trying to catch up.

My student Amanda MacKenzie suggested the items on this list:

Caution: Think before you buy this product.

  • Are you purchasing an item that supports making a quick buck for someone rather than ensuring the planet’s health for our future and for our children’s future?
  • Do you really need this product?  Do you want to be responsible for the way it was produced?   Continuing to purchase unsafe products produced by laborers working under conditions you would reject for yourself or your family will exaggerate these environmental toxins and labor practices.  If we keep buying such products, there is no incentive for companies to change their ways.
  • When we turn to consumerism, we become desensitized little by little.  We start feeling entitled, which opens up the pathway to competition’s replacing caring in us. This causes other humans to appear as potential threats.  This may manifest itself in small ways, like trying to keep up with the Joneses or starting a rumor so you get promoted instead of your co-worker.  This attitude can fester in a society and become more insidious, leading to war, rape, starvation, poverty, and a general disregard for the well-being of others.

I think Amanda’s analysis of the ways in which consumerism erodes our social fabric are especially astute.

Such “think before you buy” cautions ought to go not only on consumer products, but on the ads that we are liable to see flood the media with every political campaign as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision approving unlimited corporate campaign spending.

I would add the following items to the list above in assessing both purchasing choices and campaign ads:

  • Someone somewhere is paying for this ad.  YOU or your quality of life or that of your children may be part of the cost.
  • All consumer products or ads support particular values. An alert consumer will assess these values and if you don’t want to support these, don’t buy the product—or vote for it.
  • Does this ad speak to your ability to make decisions for yourself or does it attempt to manipulate you?  Don’t support anything that demeans you.
  • Who really benefits if you buy this ad or vote this way? (hint: check out who funded the ad.)
  • Does this ad attempt to scare or threaten you?  There is no reason to support this.
  • What information or support is there to back up the statements in this ad? Beware of fake “experts”.  Do you know, for instance, that many of the supposed “doctors” on tv ads are hired actors?
  • If you see the same ads over and over that you didn’t like the first time, stop watching them. There is a subconscious effect of such ads—even if you consciously feel you are ignoring them.

To keep our shared earth as well as our democracy safe and vital we need more than ever to follow the dictum:  Think before you buy”.  Here are links to websites that share information on consumer choices.

Join us in expanding this list. What warning labels would YOU place on media ads, campaign ads or consumer products?

To lead us off here is Marla Chirstensen‘s think before you buy warning label:

“Have you done your research? Which company is behind this product? How are their products manufactured? What toxins are in the product that will harm your body, the employees that manufacture it and/or the environment? What policies does this company have with regard to employee safety and long term protection for our earth?”

And here are Shawna Canaga‘s warnings:

“WARNING: Purchase of this product will lead to destruction of your self-esteem, your planet, and your voice for change.

WARNING: Families, women, and children world-wide have been displaced, lost farmland, are starving, incur disease, and are being violently oppressed so you may have this item. Is this what you want your dollars to do?

WARNING: This ad contains material which leads to anorexia, bulimia, self mutilation, violence against women, low self esteem, depression, severe personal debt, oppression of minorities, suicide, patriarchal support, increased division between the poor and the rich, addiction, sexual assault, and the continued consumer driven reinforcement of the idea that YOU’RE JUST NOT EVER GOING TO BE GOOD ENOUGH.”

And here is Molly Saranpaa‘s warning label:

“WARNING: We are attempting to distract you from anything and everything that does not concern amassing or consuming material goods. Over the years, we have spent billions trying to figure out how your mind works so we can subconsciously persuade you to buy this product (and countless others). We know that you really don’t NEED this product, but beware; we know how to make you WANT it.

“Be careful, without you being fully aware of it, we can skew YOUR values so that they line up with OURS. We value money and stuff above all else. We don’t care about our planet or the people who live on it. We have no conscience, no feelings and ultimately no remorse for what we do because we are a corporation. We can distort your personal values so much that before you know it, you will equate your own value (and that of those in your world) by the useless material possessions that you will never be able to get enough of. We think you are foolish and naive enough to by whatever it is you are selling.”

And Kirsten Tilleman added this:

“Warning:  Would you want your child to visit the farm where this meat was raised?

And we might add, would we want our child to visit the factory where other products are manufactured?”

From Darcy Meyers here is an additional  reminder of the importance of images in selling (and labeling) c0nsumer products:

“Since people consume goods based on images, I think we should also warn consumers about the effects of this consumption with images. For example, would you want to buy a can of tuna with a dead dolphin or seal on the front of the can? Or, what if a picture of the oil spill in the gulf was on every gas pump?”

And here are some suggestions from Carol Davis:

For media:
WARNING: The intent of this ad is to make you feel bad about your physical appearance in hope that you will buy our product(s) so we can laugh our way to the bank.

For campaign ads:
WARNING: This is part of a huge popularity contest and the purpose of this ad is to tell you exactly what you want to hear so you will vote for me/us. Be advised, I/we will not actually do what I/we said, it’s just for your vote.

On this point I would add,

Warning:  Know who is funding this candidate.

For consumer products:
WARNING: Should you decide to purchase this product, this company will make more from this item than the laborer that assembled it will make in a month, maybe a year, oh, maybe even 10 years. They will continue to struggle to feed their family, while our company president will buy more food than he/she needs.

Here is “warning” from Marissa Dubay  to place on conventional meat products:

WARNING: This product has been factory farmed, prepackaged, and laced with chemicals, hormones and food additives/dyes for your convenience. Ingesting this product can result in health risks that may include cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol. The animal that was slaughtered for your consumption may have been subject to brutal abuse and unsanitary living conditions, denied natural instinct or diet, and raised in an area so small it could not complete a 360 degree rotation for the duration of its short life. The production, processing, and transportation of this product uses large quantities of fossil fuel, depleting finite resources and contributing to global climate change. Your purchase ensures the continuation of these practices and increases demand for them.

And here is a pointed caution from Lindsay Longwell about the ways that modern products supplant our own knowledge and skill:

“ Warning: You did not put the work into growing this product, you did not sew it, ship it, package it, harvest it, you put no effort into this purchase at all, What would you do tomorrow if the world you knew disappeared forever?”

What Labels Really Mean Today

Labels can be very helpful in making healthy and responsible choices.  However, you will also want to avoid “greenwashing”– labels that mean absolutely nothing, such as “natural”, “cage free” or “antibiotic free”.  For what labels really mean, check out this detailed explanation in the March 2011 Audubon

163 Responses

  1. This article reminded me of one of the weblinks I viewed in our past assignments. In researching the website, I found in many lotions that were placing toxins into our bodies. Knowing the companies are required to list the ingredients in the lotions, I thought meant the ingredients had been researched and were safe. However chemicals in lotions are not only difficult to pronounce, but labels are so small, that to read the ingredients you need a magnifying glass! Unfortunately, just because the ingredients are listed does not mean they are safe to put on, or in, our bodies. When you look at a label, many of the ingredients are difficult to pronounce, let alone understanding what the ingredient’s chemistry is. You would need to be a scientist to understand each ingredient and how they all work together to make up the final product.

    A parallel example to understanding what you are buying is looking at how you vote on political measures. When voting I always look to see which groups support arguments and which groups are against the measure. After looking at who supports, or is against in arguments, I then follow the money trail. Who is paying for information materials and advertisements? This should also apply when purchasing goods. I am always interested to see what ads are being played with certain programs. The Super Bowl is a great example. Many people watch the Super Bowl for the ads that provide entertainment, but if you look closer, the ads are to a certain target market. Now watch a show that is female oriented, you will see an entirely different group of ads. Subliminal messages are always being thrown at us. Taking the time to research whose best interest the ads are in helps to understand how that particular product will enhance or take away, from your family’s lives, and the environment.

    One of the warning labels I would suggest is: Have you done your research? Which company is behind the name of this product and what do you know about this company? How are their products manufactured? What toxins are in the product that will harm your body? What toxins are within the manufacturing plant to harm the employees and/or environment? What policies does this plant have in terms of employee safety and long term protection for our earth?

    Possibly after looking at the history, company policies, ingredients, and money trail consumers will be better prepared to make good decisions for themselves, their families and the long-term effects of our environment.

  2. We defiantly need to think before buying our products. We, humans, are not the only creatures who live in this planet. We share the Earth with animals, plants, rivers …etc. Thus, people need to consider other living and non-living organisms in this environment when buying products. The warning labels I would place on ads or consumer products is, CAUTION: this product needs you to rethink before buying it because it may have ingredients that could harm the beauty of the nature. So just think and check the ingredients or toxins carefully to help in having a harmless environment.

  3. Like the ads, I believe that the media and even the news has a way of trying to brainwash and sway the people. It’s amazing how quickly the media can get people in an uproar. Ultimately, it has a way of deciding our state of economy, our health, and much more just by mere suggestion sometimes. It almost sickens me. I believe that this is definitely toxic to our body and minds.

  4. I am beginning to realize more and more with the food that I buy that my dollar is equivalent to dropping a vote into a ballot. The sneaky thing about corporations is that while they are manipulative, they will conform to what society wants. At the moment, the United States want faster, shinier, more efficient, and better and better “stuff”. I agree with one of the comments above that notes that we become “desensitized”. I couldn’t agree more with this description of our consumerized mindsets. It’s horrible. What do we really need? I mean really need??? That question is a difficult one to answer, because the answer is shaped circumstantially. I admit that sometimes I struggle with figuring out this answer. I think these warning are wonderful and accurate. But, unfortunately we are not faced with these warning labels often enough. If we were, I do think we would change our ways!

    Wonderful post, very much appreciated!

    • Thank you, Dana. I would love if it consumers like yourself were the groundswell in a “think before you buy” movement. We are really going to need it with corporate campaign financing unleashed by the new Supreme Court decision: makes the link between voting and spending all the more apparent.

  5. I would think twice very quickly about what I was buying if I saw those warning labels! Sad that without them, and discussions like these, I generally do not. Media, fabricated cultural stereotypes and “norms”, combined with artificial low pricing of consumer products keeps me walking through the local Wal-Marts of Oregon, grabing “cheap” items off shelves like a zombie.

    If I could be a part of a true warning label program aimed at reaching the next generation, like my teenage daughter, my labels would say:

    WARNING: Purchuse of this product will lead to destruction of your self-esteem, your planet, and your voice for change.

    WARNING: Families, women, and children world-wide have been displaced, lost farmland, are starving, incur disease, and are being violently oppressed so you may have this item. Is this what you want your dollars to do?

    WARNING: This add contains matrial which leads to anorexia, bulimia, self mutilation, violence against women, low self esteem, depression, severe personal debt, oppression of minorities, suicide, patriarchal support, increased division between the poor and the rich, addiction, sexual assault, and the continued consumer driven reinforcement that YOU’RE JUST NOT EVER GOING TO BE GOOD ENOUGH.

    Maybe with enough of us sending out messages that combat the multi billion dollar messages being forced upon us every day by the consumer industry and our government, some of us will pause just long enough to say “No! I’m not going to be manipulated by you any more!” God knows I hope my daughter can do better than I.

  6. […] might not buy this stuff. You might: Think before you buy: Consumerism warning labels. Nobody might buy this stuff but it still gets made in the hope that someone might buy […]

  7. Indeed, I think that warning labels should be more forthright and really throw it in the faces of consumers that they should think about where the product they are buying comes from. I think that in our society today, we are so “busy” thinking about other things in our lives (ie: our jobs, social lives, getting the kids to soccer practice) that we go shopping on auto-pilot. A lot of the time I’ll go in to the supermarket just to grab something to make a quick dinner, but I don’t really stop to think about where the product came from or what impact it has on others. Definitely a great essay, thank you.

  8. More and more I am realizing how much my spending habits affect the whole world over. A lot of what I notice is the amount of packaging involved in most products. A bag inside a box inside a bag wrapped in plastic. It is a little absurb.

    I also wish that more companies were exposed in their manufacturing production. I know that there are compainies out there that support healthy manufacturing and some that don’t, but the power of a dollar does a good job of hiding this information from the public. I think that money is more important to most people than sustainability and good labor laws.

    • This kind of knowledge implies responsibility, Hannah. This awareness can be distressing, but since it is true whether we realize it or not, knowledge allows us to make choices that make a difference. Thanks for your comment.

  9. Stopping and thinking before we buy is probably the most difficult thing to overcome. We are a society on the go, fast and convenient. I think many people understand the effects of a product on the earth and what went into that products creation. What we lack is time and the will to choose products that are appropriate. Although I would agree everything is a choice of our own free will, I think it is trumped by convenience.

    • Hi Bernadette, would it make a difference if we knew how much the “convenience” of certain products cost us? Is grabbing something off the shelves (or from a fast food window) for convenience a matter of habit? If so, how would such a habit be changed?

  10. In a society obsessed with achieving and consuming, need has been replaced by want. People put themselves into debt just to look as good or better as the person next to them. We buy from sources without hesitation, too often ignoring where they are coming from and who is affected. What people often never realize is that consumption is empty. We can continue to purchase in hopes that it will somehow satisfy us, but in truth, that never happens. Trends change, competition increases, you can spend your life trying to “keep up.” I agree with the article that this can lead to destruction of the fabric of our society. I think that people begin to be desensitized and that this can lead to violence and an overall disregard for those around us. More than ever, we need to be conscious of the choices we make. Buy local, buy for the right reasons, and help take care of those around you. Thank you for a wonderful article.

    • Thank your classmates for many of the ideas contained here, Dana. I like your last sentence very much: “Buy local, buy for the right reasons, and help take care of those around you.” If products were manufactured with these values in mind, we wouldn’t need warning labels.

  11. I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here and say that not all consumer products are bad. I know that there is a knee jerk reaction to consumerism, but we need to be reminded that there are ways for capitalism and living in harmony with the environment to coexist. The basic principal of capitalism is that if every person in a market does what is in their own best interest, the entire market as a whole benefits. Let’s expand on this idea a little. If a multinational corporation produces a product that cause massive amounts of pollution, waste, and ultimately causes more hunger as a result, are they acting in their own best interest? Well many people will come right out and say yes, and that is why consumerism and capitalism fails. Ultimately a company that kills its consumers through pollution and malnutrition isn’t really acting in its own best interest in the long term, and this is where these businesses fail. It is long term harmony and balance that will ultimately be in the best interest of not only these companies, but also for humanity. It is this short-term to long-term shift in thinking we so desperately need in this World. I certainly won’t be the one to jump on the bandwagon to say down with capitalism and consumerism, they are evil and we should all live in houses made from hemp and eat only food we grow ourselves. These ideals are simply unrealistic with current population levels, and if you think you will change the World’s thinking to go along with these ideals then I’m afraid your life will be full of disappointment. What we need to do is focus on what we CAN accomplish and how we can make changes that will cause others to follow our lead. Perhaps we take certain technology a step further, such as hydrogen vehicles that produce zero emissions. Well let’s say we take this a step further and install an air purification system on the car that cleans air as it drives, thus making emissions on such vehicles negative. The car would actually help the environment the more you drove it. Make the vehicle as close to 100% recyclable as possible and create Government programs that make it more cost effective to fix and maintain older vehicles such as this than to buy new ones every year. Create turbines in the Ocean that create electricity off the tides and power water purification plants along the coast. These plants could clean the Ocean and provide fresh clean water to local residents. The Ocean displaces trillions of gallons of water from the movement of water due to temperature variations? How much free untapped energy is stored in all that water? Factories could convert to electric power and pollute a fraction of what they currently do if we could simply increase our amount of energy. Gaviotas teaches us that we don’t necessarily have to change the way we live if we can manage to change the ways in which we create such comforts. Our society’s true problem is in the statement “The end justifies the means”. We need to start to look at things and find way in which “The means justifies the end.” I personally would have little problem eating a yogurt a day manufactured by a company that produces little to no footprint because their factory is electric and actually filters the air, shipped out by a truck that makes no emissions and then recycled by a plant with no footprint. Why do we keep thinking that such things are impossible? I seem to recall thirty years ago when people talking on Star Trek through little devices far away from each other was considered science fiction, and yet now 12 year olds have cell phones that can talk to people on the other side of the planet. Warehouses with free power could build up instead of out, and reduce their land consumption. We are only limited by that which we can’t imagine. I’m sorry but if all manufacturing came to a stop tomorrow, the genocide that would ensue would make the end of the World seem like a fairy tale. Our end goal as a society now needs to be finding ways to consume with a zero footprint, which really has always been the goal of those who have lived in harmony with the environment.

    My warning label:
    Caution: If you as a consumer fail to take responsibility for the manufacturing and disposal process used in making this good and you do not look for ways to improve these processes, then you are worse than the company that makes it. They want to make a profit and ultimately better the lives of at least some of their workers and current processes are their only financially viable options. What is your excuse in consuming the good and failing to take action to better the technology available to manufacture it? Why do you ask these companies to spend their money to invest in new manufacturing processes when you will not foot the bill either? Why are they evil when they are unwilling to invest money into cleaner processes? Have you written them a letter donating $100 towards new technological improvements? Then why are they held to a double standard in society when you are just as unwilling to spend your money on such things? Let us start to move forward, and rather than living in the past, why don’t we learn from it instead?

    • I don’t see the logic behind consumers’ paying for product development, when in fact US consumers already pay a number of “perverse subsidies” that do things like make it more expensive to purchase organic and locally grown foods rather than foods grown in countries and shipping thousands of miles–and pay millions of dollars annually for oil “exploration” to companies who never actually do anything as a result. Our current lobbying and advertising practices cause consumers to foot huge bills for dangerous products and are responsible for the shift in pharmaceutical funding from research on effectiveness of product to research on marketing strategies. Why not allow consumers to vote with their dollars by choosing products from those companies that are trying to do the right thing? Donating to companies for the right to do this is tantamount to the “poll tax” declared illegal many years ago, since it only allowed those who could pay this tax to vote.
      As your warning label also said, we are responsible for our purchases.
      Thanks for being “devil’s advocate” so I might respond to this idea, Damien.

  12. I feel that this idea of consumerism feeds off of peoples greed and desire to gain more for themselves. Many of the heavily advertised products are “wants” and not “needs”. Things advertised to make you cooler or more popular flood the airwaves and try to entice buyers with the promise of being seen as cool. People can look past this and realize that just becuase they say their product is cool, doesn’t make it so. By realizing this perhaps we can learn to turn away from ads such as these.

  13. I think every label should include a reference to a diagram of the process the product goes through from inception to the landfill, the environmental damage caused by the processing, the socioeconomic impact of the production of the product, the health implications of consuming said product, and the dollars spent cleaning up the mess. For instance, on a posting near bottled water you might see it begin in a plant in a dirty polluted little village that was at one time a thriving, beautiful community of indigenous people in eastern Africa. Then you would see an image of young, elementary school age children assembling the bottle parts, then the dirty waste would feed into the drinking water system while the bottles are shipped in trucks, across the ocean, to the tap that provides the water, out to the truck that takes it to the store, then to the consumer, into the river and there it will sit for millions of years…along with that, the number of the carbon footprint should be included and how many trees it would take to clean the air, along with how many hours those children worked to make thaose bottles and how much their family makes in U.S. dollars for that day’s work. It really wouldn’t take up much space and would simply be stating the facts, allowing consumers to choose for themselves. At least post it where products are sold. Most people either just don’t know or it’s very easy for them to ignore it when they’re standing there taking their 15 seconds to decide whether they’re going to buy the Fair Trade glass bottle of tea or the Nestle green tea that’s full of sugar and costs a 75 cents less.

    • Great information to place on a label, Maria– to know about any product. On such a posting, you might also see antimony from plastic leaking into fruit juices given to children after they have been sold in plastic water bottles– as a new study has just found. Or they might show the floating island of plastic the size of Texas and a mile deep in the ocean. There are some things that I think we can’t justify selling– and beverages (including water) in plastic water bottles seems to be one of these. Thanks for your comment! I’d love to see this kind of information readily accessible to combat the selected picture that advertising entices consumers with.

  14. As a consumer I try to be a wise shopper; however, there are so many influences in each decision. When I go to the grocery store alone I usually buy fruits, veggies, and some snacks from the “hippy” aisles such as whole almonds or “all natural chips”. I usually don’t buy more than four or five days worth of food because I know it will go bad. But when I go with my boyfriend he can’t stop himself from buying packaged cookies, crackers, and lots of everything because he doesn’t want to come back to the store soon.

    If more people had to take classes like this one and others that would bring their attention to the issues of consumerism I think that their shopping cart may look different at the checkout stand.

    I’ve tried to talk to my boyfriend about these issues and our cabinets are becoming less filled with the same “junk” and more with “healthy food”. But these are hard habits to break when you are swamped with commercials, internet ads, peer-pressure and all. While people talk about eating healthy and less “junk” it seems that these major companies are just bullying consumers into buying their products. Brainwashing or bullying you hear consumers with lots of excuses, ” I will just buy one “junk” item, I will start my diet next week, the junk is cheaper and lasts longer or more cost effective.” It’s sad to think that our world has come to this but its very true. Coincidentally I watched the movie, The Informant, last night about such a major company, ADM, bullying the consumers by conspiring price fixes on the markets worldwide.

    When our children and grandchildren look back at this time in the world I wonder what they will say. It seems they may say our society was more concerned with greed than our own health or the environment.

    • I hope we might work toward a different legacy, Kerri– I think this is something very important to think about. I do think that it is hard to buck the trend with all that advertising out there that tells us we are somehow rewarding ourselves with this junk food. But consciosness like yours is the beginning of a change in the right direction.

  15. To me, this article expresses a shift in consciousness that is going on right now. In my youth, in the late Eighties and Nineties, there was very little concern for the outcome of our consumer ways. I was brought up to feel proud of myself and my desire to buy a new comforter for my bed when a new Boyz II Men set came out (I deserve the best from Sears or JCPenny, they’d tell me). I was brought up to feel proud of myself for choosing to go to Subway or McD’s instead of “slaving” in the kitchen for a meal. My mom and grandmother made it very clear to me that there was a better way for me than the way they had been brought up. This better way centered on Walmart and the like. Now, I see that we had all been led astray by people who saw us as an opportunity to make money. Now the word is getting out: There is no better way to live than with the hard work and sustainable lifestyle my grandmother grew up with in Paris, TX. Warning to Big Business: Good hearted people are fighting back against the tide of consumerism. Our weapons are: DIY, repurposing, thrifting, recycling, helping, restoring, creating, and generally keeping it local!

    • I think the change you outline is a hopeful one, Kellie. And I like your switching the warning from consumers to big business about the new breed of conscious consumer.

  16. I wish they would put a sign in the checkout at the supermarket that says,
    “This magazine is a waste of money. You are not going to lose 40lb in 3 weeks. If you do, you will be in the hospital having your gallbladder removed. Don’t waste your money.”
    I could probably get rich selling some ridiculous weight loss fad to all the desperate carb junkies, myself included, who are so easily attracted to those “grand” Golden Arches.
    My book would read, “Eat this book, not that greasy food. Paper has more nutrition and you won’t be craving Starbuck’s giant cookies in 2 hours.”

  17. This is an e-mail that my grandfather recently sent me – I thought that it would be pertinent to this discussion – and might even make you chuckle.

    A list of actual consumer warning labels:

    On Sears hairdryer:
    “Do not use while sleeping. “

    On an electric iron:
    “Do not iron garment while wearing.”

    On a Swedish chainsaw:
    “Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals.”

    On an American Airlines packet of nuts:
    “Instructions: open packet, eat nuts.”

    On a string of Chinese-made Christmas lights:
    “For indoor or outdoor use only.”

    On a bag of Fritos:
    “You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.” (This must be the shoplifter special!)

    Television set’s owner’s manual:
    “Do not pour liquids into your television set.” (And please don’t use your VCR as a toaster.)

    Found on the handle of a hammer:
    “Caution: Do not use this hammer to strike any solid object.”

    Found on a butane lighter:
    “Warning: Flame may cause fire.” (Similarly, the water emitted from squirt guns may cause wetness.)

    Brother Kane’s Peanuts:
    Contains this warning after the ingredients (Peanuts, Peanut Oil, Salt):
    “This product may contain trace amounts of peanuts and other tree nuts.”

    On a bottle of shampoo for dogs:
    “Caution: The contents of this bottle should not be fed to fish.”

    On a package of dice:
    “Not for human consumption.”

    On a shipment of hammers:
    “May be harmful if swallowed.”

    On a remote control for a TV:
    “Not dishwasher safe.”

    On a 6×10 inch inflatable picture frame
    “Not to be used as a personal flotation device.”

    As funny as all of these REAL consumer labels are, they are also insulting and demeaning to consumers buying these products (and some of them just make no sense). After the initial knee-clapping laughter, I realize that this company that I just purchased a product from thinks that I am dim-witted. It goes to show how the producers view the consumers in this country. Do they really think that the majority of the public is this dense? In their defense (just to be fair), I do understand that some of these warnings resulted from lawsuits or customer complaints and the company is trying to ensure that they aren’t legally liable for any damages. For example, the lady that got hot coffee spilled on her lap at the drive up window of McDonalds – sued – and ended up victoriously walking away with a lot of money. Therefore, now they have warning labels on the coffee cups from McDonalds that read: “Caution. Handle with care. I’m HOT!” Then there are those labels that neither warning anyone of anything that they would purposely consider doing with this product – in fact, I think that some of them may give people ideas.

    On a more serious note, the consumer labels must be continually improved upon so to convey any information that consumers may consider pertinent as well as information that relates to the health hazards (or environmental hazards). The companies that are marketing harmful products to consumers without warning labels, are truly only concerned with their own profits. While it really is the moral duty of the corporation to provide this information to its consumers, the government must have a hand in enforcing the disclosure of product ingredients and information. There are so many things that are still left off nutritional information labels – they get away with it because there is a lack of public knowledge about the dangers of some of these chemicals found in their food. There is too much tolerance for corporations from the government, and not enough genuine concern for the health of its people. The government can’t completely solve this problem either though.

    People really need to take this upon themselves to be knowledgeable about what they are buying. Asking questions like: Where is it made; Who is it made by?; What is in it?; Why is it useful to me?; How long will this last me?; How much packaging is included?; etc…. We need to do everything we can do to educate the public and then show these corporations how we feel about their practices – the power of the consumer is majorly underrated. They may seem to be the more powerful opponent in this fight – but they have NO profits without us. They would literally be nothing without all of us consuming their products. How quick do you think that the message would come through that we deem their products as unacceptable if everyone, or even ¼ of everyone, boycotted their products. They would change their tune immediately then. We do have the power to make changes in this society – but they are not going to be easy. Realistically, we need more alternatives to processed foods – and until alternatives are widely available and convenient for consumers, I don’t think that they will change either.

    As for my own warning label: Think before consuming. Think before using. Think before buying. Do you need this? What environmental impacts does this product have during the production, the use, and the disposal of this product? If you are unable to pronounce any ingredients of this product, and understand necessity of having this chemical in this product, then you should not PURCHASE this. Put it back on the shelf. Walk away. Come back and purchase this item after collecting and analyzing more information. It is truly for your own good – and for the good of this planet. Thank you for consuming responsibly!

    • Thanks for your comment, Heather. I think it is important to remember that if government pays so little attention to consumer health, WE should be the government– and need to do what we can to shift emphasis from corporate lobbyists to another kind of priority. Very thoughtful consumer label here!
      A thinking consumer would go a good way toward addressing the environmental crises we face!

  18. The biggest problem I see here is the fact that many Americans don’t THINK. They buy stuff based on advertising, they vote because the ads scare them, they ignore the truth because some fat guy on the radio tells them that the truth is a lie and lies are truth. It’s incredibly sad.

    Unfortunately, I see things getting worse. The changes to our educational system in the past decade alone are doing more harm than good (although I suspect that creating stupid adults may have been part of the plan), and TV/internet ads are getting more and more insidious. It’s hard for anybody to escape consumerism in this day and age, and it’s especially difficult for undereducated individuals to avoid it.

    With that said, there will always be a market for the basic necessities (food, clothing, shelter, health care). Do I think that we could do much better in producing those products? Of course! However, change won’t happen overnight, and all we can do is set an example for our children and do whatever we can to help them (and the people in our communities) see the consequences of their actions. It isn’t always easy.

    As an example, I’ve recently returned to an old hobby of mine: knitting. All of my life, I’ve only used acrylic yarns to knit or crochet. The afghan I crocheted in 1981 still looks brand new, as do all of my other projects, and that’s common for products made with acrylic yarns. However, I discovered the absolute joy of knitting with real wool (sheep and alpaca), and now I have lost all interest in using the acrylic yarns. Along with no longer using the petroleum-based acrylic yarn, I have shopped shopping for yarn at chain stores like Hobby Lobby and Wal-Mart, since they do not carry the good stuff I want to use. I now support local small shops as much as I can, and I also order my yarns from small businesses such as Blue Moon Fiber Arts in Scappoose, Oregon. On Etsy, there are many home-based yarn dyers selling their favorite yarns dyed in every color of the rainbow, so I can always find what I’m looking for and help other women at the same time. My local knitting group meets as a large organic food store each week, so I get to enjoy knitting, socializing, and eating good food all at once. Plus, I will eventually get to wear hand-knit socks on my feet, instead of mass-produced ones!

    In other words, I’ve managed to go from one extreme (artificial yarns sold at huge chain stores) to the other (natural fibers sold by small businesses) in two short months. I get to continue my hobby with less of an ecological footprint, and I love that.

    It’s a challenge to find ways to change our spending habits, especially in today’s society. But we need to remember that even small changes can add up over time, and each step in the right direction is worth the extra effort.

  19. While I thought I had said everything that I had to say on this subject, I have been inspired by my classmates’ suggestions as well. Heather’s ideas especially spoke to me. She wrote that she would encourage people to walk away from a product if they do not understand the ways in which it was made or the chemical makeup of the product. She advises us to do our research before purchasing. This is so very essential to a democracy of all life. All of us are guilty of purchasing things without thinking from time to time. What we need to remember, though, is that this mindlessness is exactly what capitalism and our consumer culture is resting on. Big corporations bank on the fact that you will not think very hard about what you buy, because if you did, you’d be far less likely to purchase most of the items that you buy on a day-to-day basis. I love to prove them wrong!

    In addition to my classmates’ ideas, a few of Madronna’s additions really made me think as well. I never really thought about how we imbue “experts” in ads with credibility, even though they may not have any credibility to speak of. I look at these ads with a healthy amount of skepticism, but I’m sure that many people out there blindly follow the “experts” without really thinking about why they should. This is another example of the mindless purchasing that I wrote about. Another thing that Madronna wrote was that we should try to determine if the ad we are seeing is attempting to manipulate us in any way (i.e.”Does it attempt to scare or threaten you?”) So much of consumer culture is based on this fear. Fear that we won’t fit in. Fear that we won’t have success if we don’t have stuff. Fear that we are depriving ourselves. Etc. Etc. Et-freaking-cetera. It makes me very upset, because it seems that companies think that we can’t think for ourselves. This is something that will change if we really start thinking about what we buy, because then there will be more people to call these companies out on their bull, and make them give us the facts. Just some ideas that I had while reading this essay and the follow ups.

    • I appreciate the thoughtful comments from both you and Heather, Amanda. And I love your idea that certain corporations are hoping we won’t think very critically about our purchases and you would love to prove them wrong. Obviously you and Heather and many of those commenting here have opened the way to doing just that!

  20. This is a great article. I think that such labels should be placed on products and in a font that is readable but a human not an ant. If people think about all those clothing products that say made in China you have to think about who in China made that shirt or pair of shoes for you. Do you really think it was a middle aged man working in a factory or a poor women or child being forced just to make a living for there family.
    Also you have to think about all those cigarette commercials that are out now that talk about all the dangers where were those 20,30,40 years ago when they were making smoking glamorous and fashionable or using a cartoon like Joe Camel to get younger kids interested in smoking. Now all those people who started because of these reasons see all the warnings on TV now but they are already hooked and had polluted there body with the bad toxins for years.

  21. I was astounded one evening when I could not sleep at the number of infomercials that were on every channel on the TV. Lotions, potions nonsensical notions everything from making your hair grow back, hide fat, cleanse your colon, oh yes and sleep better (to name just a very few). . So even in the wee hours of the night…pitch men/women are pushing ridiculous gadgets to our over-consumptive culture. It was funny (tragic) that it seemed like the antithesis of what consumerism is during the day hidden under the veil of darkness….. like a vampire consumerism. Also, this class has really had me thinking about everything we do, purchase, and throw away and the impact that it has on every living thing on this planet. I have become acutely aware of packaging and have found it to be one of the greatest wastes of resources out there. So not only is the toxic chemical that is inside the box bad for us, but the box, ink, plastic etc. is equally as bad. The box often ends up in the trash immediately after the product is removed. It is a vicious cycle that has got to stop. I have made a conscious effort to buy local foods and try to avoid items with packaging, it is impossible to completely avoid it but I have cut it to a fraction. But when you realize just what goes into the box or container something comes in…..that in and of itself needs a warning label. What I have discovered for myself while doing this is that the majority of food items that packaged are not good for you anyway. I believe that somewhere we have to say enough is enough and the only way that will truly happen is if we become smart enough to QUIT buying it!

    • Thoughtful perspective, Stacie. I can see why television itself should have a warning label–and you get to the bottom line at the end: either we support this senseless buying or we stop doing it.

  22. The act of purchasing a product, in my opinion, means you understand, not only the value, but also the risks. If you are purchasing a product without knowing the risks, you should be liable. If you are buying food, there is an understanding that there maybe bugs in it, there may have been other people touching it, it may have fell in the dirt. You limit these things by washing the food before you eat it. Its common knowledge and goes without a warning label. If you are about to purchase a television, it makes sense that you put the time and effort into knowing what television is right for you. One doesn’t simply purchase a television without prior knowledge. If someone goes out to buy clothes, you are spending 130 dollars on jeans knowing that someone may have tried them on before. These jeans may have a defect, and you make sure you know the return policies. These interactions should not be kept discretely to these purchases, but to all purchases. The research should be done or the customer should be liable for the declared or understood risks.
    If the risks outweigh the benefits, it clearly is not a purchase to make. The idea isn’t to buy in fear, but to buy in confidence. It should be the goal of the company to win customer confidence.

    • Interesting point about winning consumer confidence, Anthony. Do you think that the attempts to make the consumer confident in modern consumer society are entirely successful? Why or why not?

  23. I must start off my post by saying that some of the warning labels seem a little extreme to me. Telling people that they are brainwashed or insinuating that they will become rapist and murderers if they buy into consumerists advertisements is aggressive and insulting to my sensibilities. We complain that advertisements and consumerist propaganda are manipulating us by convincing us that we need material wealth to achieve happiness. By turning the blade and using the same techniques we are doing favors to no one. Calling someone brainwashed or implying that they are ignorant will only produce an emotional response where that person will only act to preserve their self esteem. They will not make deliberate and informed decisions, which should be the true aim of these warning labels.
    Having said that, there is some valuable food for thought in this essay. Surely warning labels that serve to counterbalance advertising campaigns with factual information would be beneficial and promote healthier decisions both for people and the planet. Perhaps we could have an eco-fact label, similar to the nutrition fact label on food products, where such things as toxic substances in the product or in the production of the product would be labeled. Also it could contain information about the recyclability of the packaging and other information pertinent to environmentally friendly practices.
    Although, as I said, I feel Amanda stated the stance a little too aggressively for my taste, she makes a valid point. It is intriguing to look at the effects of consumerism as socially eroding. I have my personal complaints about our society but to look at these problems as they relate to consumerism would be very revealing.
    I think the most valuable things that I will take from this were listed above. They were to be skeptical of “experts”, do not buy into scare tactics and other manipulative ads, look at who stands to gain from your purchase of a product, be mindful of the true impact on you and the environment, then judge your true need and act accordingly.

    • I appreciate your balance here, Spencer. If advertising means to share knowledge with the consumer that is one thing. But check out (in your spare time) the work of Stuart Ewen on the manipulation in advertising since the turn of the century. And I am guessing you don’t approve of neuro-marketing– using brain wave technology to gear ads to bypass the forebrain and plant themselves in the unconscious. There is a video documenting this on an ethical business site that disagrees with this approach under our links here. If we were speaking about things like cigarette ads (no longer allowed), I think calling the folks behind them “murderers” would be harsh but not far off, since the reason that the states have won civil suits against the largest tobacco industries is that they have documents that indicate these companies knew their product caused lung cancer and hid it while working to get more and more kids addicted. Their research told them this was the “audience” that would give them the biggest bang for their buck, so they geared numerous ads to kids around the age of eleven.
      One abuse is not all ads– and tobacco is no longer allowed to advertise on tv–but I think the general trend is unsettling, as Jeanne Kilbourne’s work documents. Or the recent book, Born to Buy, about the manipulation of children into consumers first and foremost at the youngest age.
      I think you have an excellent point about investigating the relationship between consumerism and our environmental woes- I would add our economic woes in there as well. It does not to me make good business sense to base an economy that measures success by growth when it relies on limited natural resources. Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins have a different approach (Natural Capitalism): they think we should base our growth on things like human education and less on natural resources. And then there is the work of those who think we should shift our GNP approach to one that measures quality of life indicators instead.
      It will not be easy to make such a shift, but it is beginning already in innovative businesses and responsible consumers. Surely we can’t continue doing what we are doing.

      • I am interested in checking out Stuart Ewan’s work. This topic has been on the front burner lately, as we consider the idea of getting rid of cable. When our children we much younger, we did not allow commercial TV. Now that I have 2 teens, we have allowed certain shows–not prime time types, but kids shows on channels like Nichelodeon and Disney and sports. We have observed the change in behavior and nature of our children and we are extremely distiurbed. There is a greed and want of excess that clearly did not exist before. I have also observed a sense of unhappiness and confusion attached to the new behavior.
        I think my teens, who are pretty analytical and aware of societal conditioning,media and peer influences (because we discuss these topics), would be very interested in neuro-marketing practices. This video link is one I think we will check out as a family!

        • Great, Erin. Congratulations on being conscious parents and good luck. I know these are very difficult issues to deal with the in the context of our current culture. It might be very important to watch this video as a family!

    • Hi Spencer,
      Never let it be said that I wasn’t aggressive enough 🙂 But honestly, I feel that what I stated was not nearly as harsh as it could have been.

      I did, however, want to clarify that I did not mean that people become rapists/murderers as a direct result of consumerism. I don’t think that your iPod makes you a bad person, and I don’t think that my flat screen TV makes me any more prone to raping someone. Rather, my stance is that the attitudes that arise from conspicuous and gluttonous consumerism inspire us to greater and more cutthroat levels of competition. This, in turn, replaces our natural instincts to care for our fellow human beings (and non-human entities as well). When that innate caring is gone, that is when the doors open up for murder, rape, and any number of unsavory and unspeakable crimes toward our fellow persons. I don’t want to get on my soapbox here, but I did want to clarify my position a bit. I hope you’ll re-read my argument with this in mind! I promise it’s not aggressive in the least (I hope), because that was never my intent. On another note, I just wanted to state that not every opinion that you attributed to me was actually mine. I wrote nothing about brainwashing or ignorance, perhaps you meant to call out Alyssa on that particular point?

      I did really enjoy reading your response, however. I appreciate an open dialogue with people who share my views and with people who may think I’m a bit too much! Hope you have a great weekend!

  24. I love this article! It is funny, a little (okay a lot) scary and smart. I had to add my own warning.

    WARNING: We are attempting to distract you from anything and everything that does not concern amassing or consuming material goods. Over the years, we have spent billions trying to figure out how your mind works so we can subconsciously persuade you to buy this product (and countless others). We know that you really don’t NEED this product, but beware; we know how to make you WANT it.

    Be careful, without you being fully aware of it, we can skew YOUR values so that they line up with OURS. We value money and stuff above all else. We don’t care about our planet or the people who live on it. We have no conscience, no feelings and ultimately no remorse for what we do because we are a corporation. We can distort your personal values so much that before you know it, you will equate your own value (and that of those in your world) by the useless material possessions that you will never be able to get enough of. We think you are foolish and naive enough to by whatever it is you are selling.

    Does that make you mad? It should. As Rage Against the Machine reminds us “anger is a gift.” It is just the kind of gift that can motivate us to really think about how our actions impact not only ourselves but so many people also.

    I was just thinking about how Dr. Holden (in Lesson Three discussion) talked about how many indigenous peoples’ worldviews dictate that if one person “takes” and does not reciprocate by giving back, the entire community becomes at risk of natural retribution. Without doubt, we will all end up paying the price for corporate greed and rampant consumerism, just as unquestionably as Newton’s Third Law of Motion stipulates that “every action has an opposite and equal reaction.”

    • Hi Molly: great “warning label”– I like the fact that you got the humor here–as well as they imperative that we think about our consumer choices–as opposed to being manipulatd by them. I am adding your “label” to the body of the article.

  25. I really liked Shawna Canaga’s warning at the end. So many young girls see these ads of what the media thinks beauty should look like. They look nothing like these stick figure models and think they’re not beautiful. It’s a terrible way to grow up. For the rest of their lives they’re trying to fit into this predetermined standard of beauty, buying make up, plastic surgery, buying into the newest diet fad. They’re never satisfied. I would know since I am one of them. As much as I know it’s wrong and I’m never going to be happy this way, it’s very hard to break the cycle. I definitely don’t want any of my future children growing up this way.

    • Hi Jennifer, all the women I know (even those who don’t watch television) are struggling with this– although maybe, just maybe, we can get past it once we reach a certain age.
      It is hopeful when we are able to support one another to break this cycle, as you aptly put it, by thinking so that you don’t allow yourself to be manipulated.

  26. One of the markets I pay particular attention to is the meat industry. In the most direct of ways, through the consumption of meat, we interact with the environment. We take from nature and put into our own bodies. When we recognizes a deep relation of all living things to the rest of creation, there is a sense of kinship among all living things. The idea of family is expanded to include all members of the large biotic community of interconnected, equal parts. We as humans are but one part of this community and hold no place of superiority. Consequently, nourishing our bodies is a way of relating ourselves to our natural place in the ecological web of relationships. When we eat something, it becomes part of us; our relationship to it becomes deeply intimate. To eat from a position of caring is to honor and cherish your meal for sustaining your body and strengthening your relationship to nature. I do not believe we want these relationships to be brutal or painful. However, the treatment of animals in factory farm, commercial agriculture creates an abusive relationship between humans and animals. While I believe not eating any meat at all can be seen as a way of denying and separating ourselves from nature, I believe that we should educate ourselves where our meat comes from so that we eat only “environmentally friendly meat”—that is, local, non-imported, sustainably and humanely raised meat; grazing management does not contribute to habitat destruction, animal nutrition and manure management decreases methane and nitrogen emissions and water pollution, hormones and antibiotics are not used, and wild areas management maintains habitat connections by integrating livestock production and producers into the landscape management. Eating meat raised in such a way would be fostering a more nutritive and sustaining relationship between humans and the animals we eat because our actions would be born of caring and gratitude for that which nourishes our bodies and our deep connections to nature. Because of this, I my warning label for meat would ask questions about where the meat came from and how it was “raised.” For example:

    WARNING: Do you know where this meat came from? Do you know how the animal was treated? What it was fed? If it was free to roam or put in a tiny cage? Was it injected with hormones? Is this from the farmer or through a big corporation? Would you let your child visit the farm it came from?

    I guess I just want people to start to care—and I think more and more are doing so now because I have seen meat in stores with labels describing how the animals were treated and what they were fed (ex: free range, vegetarian fed, humanely treated) The idea is out there, and I hope it continues to spread.

    • You have a powerful point when you stress that most of us don’t wish our relationships to the natural lives that sustain us to be “brutal or painful”, Kirsten. But we have an economic system that too often hides the process of food production from consumers–which is why I like your warning label here. You are obviously modeling your own sense of care –and the movement we so much need that “continues to spread”.
      I especially like the statement on your warning label: “Would you let your child visit the farm where this meat came from?” Something else to add to the warning label list in the post you commented on here.

      • Thank you… This reminded me of a comment made by my writing teacher this morning–that it would be interesting to do a rhetorical analysis of a food label because the terms used are often “cover-up” terms for poor ingredients (ie. think corn syrup instead of sugar…until information about corn syrup was so widely spread, I would have probably considered corn syrup to be healthy…it comes from corn right?) Food labels are supposed to tell us what’s in the food, but often the ingredients are too scientific or what I would term, “food label jargon,” to actually inform a general audience about the content of the food. In this case, an argument can be made that maybe we shouldn’t eat food with ingredients label we don’t understand…

        • Great point, Kirsten. That is one of the points Michael Pollan has on his list or ways to eat healthily– don’t eat anything if you can’t pronounce, must less understand, the ingredients.

  27. Consumerism is such a vital part of the whole green movement yet I feel it is pushed to the back behind recycling and energy efficiency. While people are out buying new environmentally friendly cleaners, they are throwing out their old and barely used products which they didn’t need in the first place. Even though I appreciate people trying to be environmentally cautious, there are limits to purchasing. I find it extremely disgusting how many companies are exploiting this and creating more waste by targeting those who are trying to buy environmentally friendly products and having them throw out unused ones. These producers are not thinking of the Earth while doing this, but how much product they can sell; how much money they can make.
    As for warning labels, it seems sad that this idea is even pondered. The addictive mind-set of Americans has led to the idea of putting warnings on all products describing what they are purchasing and warning them against it. I have an internal struggle with this concept in that half of me sees it as a good idea while the other half sees it as propaganda and an exploitation of free market in our society. I can see how producers would fight this by saying that their products do not have to include such information as “consumption of this product means you have been brainwashed”. I do not agree with consumer warnings being placed on all products in the store, as it seems too radical and stepping onto a slippery slope, but I would support a list of some warnings such as you mentioned above in stores warning consumers to be cautious of what and how much they are buying. All in all, it is important for everyone to be conscious of what they are buying, where it came from and how much they buy.

    • Thanks for this reminder to look at the whole picture in terms of caring for the environment, Cheyanne. We have to change our entire mindset and most of our daily habits–not just a token one or two. There is some irony in these “labels”– meant to be considered rather than actually placed on products. And I agree that we shouldn’t need them–and/or we need a larger context in which we become more conscious of what we buy.
      I do think that certification such as “organically grown” is very important–as are warning labels on toxic chemicals to counteract that fact that these are so blithely sold (as in the case of pesticides) in stores everywhere. I would love it if we didn’t sell such products so we wouldn’t need any warning label. As for the free market, it might be nice if we had one, but I don’t think we do. The market is supposed to express our preferences, for instance, but as Frances Moore Lappe has pointed out, “eating is right up there in terms of human preferences”, but the market isn’t doing a good job of meeting the preferences of so many hungry people (one in four children in the US today)– since the poor don’t have money with which to express their preferences. Obviously we don’t all start even with our consumer vote (amount of money) that is supposed to determine how the market is shaped. And as long as this is the case, I don’t have any trouble with the government stepping in to make a more equal playing field.

    • I agree with your point about buying new green products and creating more waste when you throw away something that’s perfectly functional. I recently bought a used moped for transportation. It has a 2 stroke engine which is not all that great for the environment. I thought quite a bit on this point before I decide whether to buy a used 2 stroke moped or a brand new more environmentally friendly moped. I ended up rationalizing it like this; someone is still going to be using the used moped so it might as well be me. I thought this would be better than ordering a brand new one which probably cost as much energy to build the older moped will use in a year. In addition I found a biodegradable engine oil that I ordered online which makes the bike more “green”. This is not something the previous owner was doing and maybe not something that may have happened had someone else bought the moped.

      • Weighing such issues does not yield any automatic answers, Roman. Congratulations on thinking this out: I think the important point is that we all make conscious choices. And there will be other choices whose outcome is more obvious. Thanks for your comment.

  28. This a good reminder. What do we choose to support when we buy? Who do we choose not to support when we spend our money? I think the bottom line is, as a consumer, we should feel empowered and not think like a consumer. We have the power to use our money to help support the people around us. The things we choose to buy can help support those around us, like the plants and animals. I think it comes down to taking the time to consider. Consider others, consider ourselves. Like reading the labels on the boxes at the market. The longer the label, the more words that I can’t prenounce, the more clear it is that this is farther from the better choice. It does take effort and thought. My sweet teenaged daughter decided to fight for animal rights. So she researched what products were made by companies that do animal testing. We made the list and we do not buy any of their products. But we soon discovered it is not that easy, because we can’t stop there. We have to consider human rights– where were these jeans made–who made them and how are they being treated. Then we considered the earth’s rights, the waters’ rights, etc. It does take a lot more energy and consideration, but it is neccesary–especially when it is in one’s nature. The tricky part comes when she wants me to kill the spider that is frightening her. We have to be conscience all the time of sharing and considering, or we are in danger of placing ourselves above others or as Amanda stated “feeling entitled”.

    • How fortunate you are to have such a thoughtful and caring daughter, Erin. As fortunate as she is to have the same kind of mother. You are obviously making some solid holistic and difficult choices in your lives. I hope that the links under “consumer info” here were of some help to you. About the spider-I catch them in an old plastic yogurt container and place them outside– if I am worried about them.

      • Thank you, Dr. Holden. The links have been very helpful. I am learning that there is much to learn. As for the spiders, we all agree that they have as much right to the earth as we do, but that the spiders would most likely enjoy living outside better. We carry them out and set them on a plant (far from the back door). My daughter is willing to share the backyard, but not her bedroom or the bathroom.

  29. I bought some peanut butter the other day; after all it is my favorite food. After treating myself to some, I came across the ingredients, which weren’t easy to find might I add. I noticed that it contained sugar and about ten other ingredients I wouldn’t even try to pronounce. I wondered what influenced the manufacturer to put into it what they did. It’s peanut butter for heaven sakes all it should need are peanuts and maybe a little oil and salt. I have always been interested in what’s going in my food, but only lately have I taken such a strong interest, even if this means standing in the grocery store looking lost staring at five of the same products comparing which has the most natural and simple ingredients. We are literally poisoning our bodies by not knowing what we are consuming as well as harming our enviornment.

    • Peanut butter certainly doesn’t need all those added ingredients, Angela– except maybe to entice some to buy it because of its sweet (and unlikely) taste–since peanuts aren’t by nature sweet. Good for you in reading all these ingredients– even if you do look a bit like Alice in Wonderland while doing it– I could join you in this as I read all the labels (or try to) myself.

  30. Definitely alot of good points made. The choices we make as consumers effect alot more than just our wallets. As was mentioned in the above article the main incentive for companies is money opposed to the communal good which is unfortunate because many problems can arise when money is your only motivator.
    To me the most concerning of these problems is what is being put into our food. I grew up in a small farming town in the midwest, so its pretty socially unacceptable to be a vegitarian, there were no local markets, and when i was a kid no one even knew what organic meant. After reading about the Monsanto corporation and seeing various other propaganda, I’m very concerned with our food supply and the willingness of people to eat it.
    I liked Amanda MacKenzie’s point that with consumerism we become desensitized. I feel like from consuming we get a safe feel good feeling that can almost act like a security blanket. I feel like consumerism leaves us lazy and content and keeps us in the rat race trying to consume more even if we don’t actually need what we’re consuming.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective here, Benjamin. Things may have changed in the Midwest–but vegetarianism still might not be exactly understood in the midst of beef country. I agree with you on the danger of becoming desensitized (and used to being powerless- as if our decisions don’t really matter enough for us to put our conscience behind them.

  31. I would warn people about watching some of the reality shows on television. A large percentage of the people who watch them are teenagers. Some of the shows promote drinking, promiscuity, and irresponsibility. Things like those shows are part of the reason a lot of our young people can’t think for themselves. They think behavior like that is ok. My label would say:
    Warning: By watching this television show or allowing your children to watch this television show you are contributing to their social ignorance. You are saying it is ok to go out to bars, drink until you can’t stand, and have inappropriate relationships with strangers.

  32. Excellent article and excellent consumer warnings! I think it is so easy to get caught up in consumerism without actually taking the time to consider the actual product that is being purchased, the true costs and impacts of that product, and the type(s) of institution that is being fueled and perpetuated by the purchase of the product. It would be interesting to have a picture that is displayed at the register when the barcode is scanned that showed some of the more displayable impacts created from a specific product and see if this influenced consumption habits. For example when a person purchased beef, a picture of the factory the cow was raised and slaughtered in would appear. Or when a person purchased a new computer a picture of the mine used to extract the materials utilized in the computer was displayed. I think that a lot of the time there is a disconnect between personal action and the consequences of excessive consumption, and that people (including myself) do not always consider the role that they personally play in perpetuating consumer culture.

  33. The media has such a great influence on people. Many people will hear an ad, or one side of a campaign and immediately agree with that side. This ignorance is how companies, and campaign leaders can continue to get away with this propoganda. They not only need to have warning labels printed more boldly, but it is the consumers responsiblitiy to do their research and look at both sides of a campaign, or dig deeper and find out if what they are buying will hurt the environment, or even other people.

  34. I love the examples of “alternative” labeling of products with warnings of the real dangers they contain. I did some research on advertising for a class awhile back, and discovered that some advertising companies use the services of actual psychologists to target people’s insecurities, to better influence people to buy that product. That discovery has led me to deconstruct almost every advertisement I come across–I especially enjoy trying to read that fine print that appears on the bottom of t.v. commercials (like anyone can read all that small light-colored print in such a short period of time). I like the suggestion that we should just stop watching ads over and over, even if we didn’t like them from the first. Since ads are meant to hit us in our weak spots, hearing them repeatedly provoke our insecurities may result in internalized effects. For example, for awhile there I was stressing out about my age until I realized that it was probably due to all the stupid commercials promoting “age-treatment” creams or whatever; then I was just offended that these ads were telling me I’m getting “old” (I’m not even 30 yet!).

    As for true warning labels on products, I don’t know that they would really make most people pause for long (especially not after the first read). Most people already know that the products they buy are made under horrible conditions, with bad effects on people and the environment, but it’s just more convenient to ignore that so we can continue to buy junk we don’t really need. (I once heard a co-worker say she did not want the minimum wage to increase, because then Wal-Mart employees would get a raise and she would have to pay more for the stuff she buys.) I don’t know, maybe it would help if we included a large hard-to-miss picture of the damage being done with the warning (i.e. photos of clear cuts, sweatshops, chopped down mountains, etc.).

    • Interesting response, Crystal. As my recent response to another comment here indicated, the ad folks are going one further now: they are measuring brainwaves to use ads that bypass the decision-making areas of the brain and straight for the emotions. Shows ads to folks in MRIs to get this data:
      I know that there are some who values price above all–and pictures might or might not work for them. I think you have a point about effectiveness of warning labels: look how blatantly most pesticide labels are ignored in their application by homeowners. I (and a few students) were just speculating about what is really behind the manufacture of such things (and what it would be like if our “warning labels” really told the whole truth).

    • Truthfully, your last statement made me think of how some countries have gone as far as putting pictures of people who smoke on cigarette packs. Then I realized, you would physically have to buy a pack to see these images on the pack, thus it doesn’t work. Sadly. Overall, you make some good points especially about the television ads. I just tried to read all the information for this tire ad and it may have been on the screen for 3-5 seconds if that.

  35. This article actually clearly pointed out how far we have gone in the wrong direction, but I think unlike other articles I have read on similar issues it clearly points it is okay to buy foreign products just think before you buy them if your idea is just saving a few dollars.

    I think my two favorite labels probably were Shawna Canaga’s statong “YOU’RE JUST NOT EVER GOING TO BE GOOD ENOUGH,” and Molly Saranpaa’s warning label, which points out, “we know that you really don’t NEED this product, but beware; we know how to make you WANT it.Be careful, without you being fully aware of it, we can skew YOUR values so that they line up with OURS.” Overall, these two comments pointed out how tricky some advertisements truly can be. I thought to myself while yes these companies may be making money but not only are you paying for this product but someone else is. Really, I despise mass consumerism, although often at times I am guilty of it, but I also am smart enough to read the small print to things. Really the article made me think of all the things people I know own yet I don’t, yet I seem to be more happy in life. The article simply clarifies what I expected almost.

  36. First of all, I love the directness of these warnings. I have wanted to say some of these things to people I know who are obviously brainwashed by an outside source. One other source of brainwashing that comes to mind when I read through the advertising warnings that what which is generated when our country goes into its very regular political, mudslinging, name calling, scandal inducing, frenzy come election times. The damage that these advertisements could bring seems to me to almost be worse than that of uncontrolled consumerism. I love the saying I’ve heard more and more which is “with every purchase you make you are casting your vote for that product”. Our consumerism is an every running election with our choices making the selection of one damaging corporation or another. Coming back to the politics, it seems like after all the advertisement and effort to pull our vote one direction or another, it becomes no more informed as the vote we cast with each dollar we spend. On top of that, we are now picking an entity that has way more power to bend society. I don’t want this to sound all down; just as our dollars can cast more votes for local products and merchants, our votes can also produce the social change we seek in our leaders.

    • I think you have a point about elections, Mathew. I am concerned about the Supreme Court decision allowing corporations however much they want on political campaigns– which I think is foolish in the extreme. Fortunately (again, see our links page) there are some working to counterbalance this with legislation that takes away the current laws that imply corporations should be subject to the same bill of rights as human persons are.
      You have a very important point that both our dollars and our votes count in focusing the direction of our future. Thanks for your comment.

  37. Can you really back away from being a consumerist society when the Capitalist government is dependant upon it? I agree that we have become a “want” society as opposed to a “need” society. If you get right down to it, many of the products that companies have to work so hard at making sound important and good for you, actually fall under the “I want” category. Not only would it be financially beneficial, but it would be healthier (mentally, and physically) for man as a whole to focus more on the things we need to sustain our lives, not the things that advertisers urge us to “want.”

    • No matter what we call our economy, we need to make the shift that many are implementing in their daily lives– in creating urban gardens, for instance. And perhaps when this shift is accomplished, we will no longer have something we might call capitalism–and so be it. On the other hand, you have a good point that we are working against the grain in a society based on competitive profit motive– but it is my sense we have to do quite a lot of this to shift things in a sustainable (not to mention just) direction.
      And I hate to think of where we would be now if no good people ever voted with the dollars.
      Thanks for your comment.

  38. The waste in our country is extraordinary. I think a lot of this is due to the quality of materials we tend to purchase. It’s easier and in some cases, cheaper, to purchase an inexpensive, lets say toaster, and replace it a few years later than to purchase a quality toaster and repair it when it breaks. Many times the cost of repair exceeds the cost of the item new. This presents itself in more ways than just appliances. Look at houses. Remodeling can create huge expenses whereas a new house on an empty lot can be readily afforded. Same goes with cars, boats, electronics, furniture, and just about everything.

    If producers were forced to include all costs of manufacturing their products, including environmental damage, products may cost more but it may also lead to better spending choices and reducing our wasteful habits.

    • The waste is extraordinary and sad, Megan. I think we need a new evaluation of “cheaper”, which entails a tally of environment costs of replacing something made of metal– as well as disposing of the old product. Paul Hawken’s idea is that we do not really need to product, but only the service it provides, so we should just “rent” these products and let the manufacturers be responsible for updating, maintaining and recycling them.
      I am heartened by the local community organizations in this area that also recycle–and resell remodeling materials.

  39. It certainly seems that in today’s economy people would reconsider the capitalistic definition of “growth” as healthy. We cannot continue to grow indefinitely; we may as well consider our other, more sustainable, options now. I love the warning labels in this article. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly; our consumerism often leads to our own unhappiness and illness. Who really needs a Shamwow or a magic bullet to complete their infomercial collection? The issue of buyer awareness is a huge one. Personally, I choose to buy only local meat that comes from a farm I trust. The meat processing factories in this company are extremely alarming. I don’t understand why more people don’t choose to go to the farmers market over the supermarket when it’s in season; the produce is better quality, better for you, and often times less expensive. I feel that our country needs to begin to shift its mentality, but people resist change wholeheartedly. I feel discouraged at the prospect of educating so many people.

    • Thanks for your personal response, Allison. We cannot indeed continue to grow by this definition which means that the more resources we use up, the better! As “ecosystem services” decline so will our quality of life and even our potential for survival.
      Recognizing the intersection between our self-interest and that of the other lives with which we share our world is a strategy for success in an interdependent world.

  40. All of the warning labels above are very thought provoking but I think they lack one major component: images. When I googled international cigarette warning labels many of them contained (sometimes graphic) images of the effects of smoking on our bodies. My guess is that many of these images are better at keeping people from smoking than a warning that consumers can chose not to read.

    Since people consume goods based on images, I think we should also warn consumers about the effects of this consumption with images. For example, would you want to buy a can of tuna with a deal dolphin or seal on the front of the can? Or, what if a picture of the oil spill in the gulf was on every gas pump?

    • Great point, Darcy! I’d like to add this point to the body of this post with other ideas for warning labels.

    • Good idea Darcy. People tend to just buy products almost in their sleep, without any consideration for where these items come from or who makes them. We need to educate ourselves on the manufacturing techniques taking place all around the world and get involved in passing more strict legislation that protects the innocent victims in these situations.

      • I agree that we should level the playing field (and inhibit those who move shops overseas) by having minimum (as opposed to the WTO’s maximum) social and environmental standards globally. In a civilized society, it is the least we can do to protect the most vulnerable among us, as you indicate, Jamie.

  41. I hate to bring pop culture in to this discussion, but I was watching an episode of Simpsons with my family last week and the opening montage was fitting to this discussion. It showed Simpsons products and memorabilia being massed produced in sweatshops in what appeared to be China. The children were using dead and dying animals to produce the products; it was quite disturbing. I think this was the point however, to put a face on the despicable acts that take place around the world and address the issues of child labor, sweatshops, animal cruelty, etc., in mainstream media. These acts happen every day and people are ignorant to the damage being done; perhaps this cartoon awakened some people to the atrocities taking place and might make them think twice about where their products come from.

  42. Amanda Mackenzie’s consumer warning was really excellent. I really enjoyed this part in particular:

    “Do you really need this product? Do you want to be responsible for the way it was produced? Continuing to purchase unsafe products produced by laborers working under conditions you would reject for yourself or your family will exaggerate these environmental toxins and labor practices. If we keep buying such products, there is no incentive for companies to change their ways.”

    I will admit, I love clothes, I love shopping for clothes, I love fashion. I do. I will sheepishly admit it. However, I try to keep my purchases to consignment stores and Goodwill or eBay. I would rather buy second-hand and get something awesome for half the price of it new, and know that I am not further contributing to conspicuous consumption. When someone does some homework and researches what companies’ ethics are and how they handle production of goods, so often we are disappointed and dismayed by what we learn. But being ethical and conscious consumers, we can change these things.

    Designer handbags are the “cool” thing these days, so a lot of people seek out knock-offs to get the look without the price associated with a $1200 Louis Vuitton or Chanel bag. Most of them don’t care to know how those counterfeit items were made:

    It just evidences further that knowledge really is power and to know these things and take action is to prevent the atrocities from continuing. We really do speak with our dollars here in America. I like to think that if people knew better, then they’d change, but I think that might be a little idealistic. I’m far from an optimist, but I like to think in the face of things like children having their legs broken to sew a crappy replica handbag, people might change their consumerist ways.

    • Hi Crystal, thanks for your comment. Buying second hand is a great way to reuse–and stretch the life of– clothing and other goods we buy. I am really out of the loop on designer handbags– I would hope children having their legs broken to force them into making designer knock-offs would stir someone’s consumerist heart to another place. Perhaps they might even take a look at the fact that chocolate is harvested by child slave labor in Africa– one of the reasons fair trade (especially from Central American chocolate) is a better alternative.

  43. At the heart of the problem is that we are a consumer based economy which will collapse if we do not continue to buy buy buy. During this recession, it’s interesting to constantly hear the U.S. economic status in the media being evaluated based on consumer spending habits. They make it seem like economic collapse is imminent if not enough ipods are sold in the fourth quarter. I think maybe when the economy is dragging and our wallets are tight, then we can get a better understanding of what it is we actually need to buy to live comfortably. I’m sure we’ll find that it’s a lot less than what we buy when we have “expendable” income.

    • Thoughtful point about what we can learn about our real needs when “the economy is tight”, Roman. The irony of the “buy, buy, buy” approach is that it may look good in the short term but will collapse the economy at some point– since we cannot continue to used limited resources as if they are unlimited in a thriving economy.

    • It seems that what is at the root of the problem is how individual people define “comfortable”. To one person a bed, a roof, and a blanket is what is comfortable. To another, a mansion, 4 cars, and millions of dollars in the bank is. Our society is setup to have different types of people. The only way to “level the playing field” would be to have a socialist type government and economy which wouldn’t necessarily solve the (or any for that matter) problem. It is all about perspective I suppose.

      • I think we have been barraged with a good deal of media that tells us “comfortable” in the US is more like your latter example. In a society in which there is such increasing disparity between rich and poor, being “secure” might well be defined in this way– since so many on the lower end of things are losing their jobs and homes.
        And it does not seem to be a matter of all or nothing: there are some European governments who offer more security to their populace, put up with less income disparity–and this practice democracy. Think of our own country in 1960 (in the wake of the Eisenhower administration). The salary ratio between CEOs and their workers was 10-1 (today is it over 200-1); the rich paid 90 per cent of our taxes–and our economy was thriving.
        Thanks for bringing up issues that warrant much consideration, Andrew.

    • I think you are right when you say that our economy is a consumer based economy. We depend on people to make money, and spend money in order for our economy to balance itself. I agree that maybe during this recession we will be able to better understand what we need and what we want.

  44. It seems that several of these proposed “warnings’ are extremely pessimistic and don’t serve a true purpose. The same type of warning could just as well be placed on EVERY thing in this world. This would have a counter-productive result and the end product would be a further disregard for what you are warning against. Warning of a problem is one thing, but being entirely and wholly negative is another.

    • You are right, Andrew. These are meant to be “extreme”, since they are not meant to actually be placed on all products– but to make a point about the stories that we do not know–and show be finding out– about the products we use.
      Unfortunately, there are some pretty negative stories out there about our current consumer products that I think, merit the kind of points made by these students. Perhaps the kind of actual labeling you yourself would prefer is that which certifies a product as “organic”–or tells the consumer that it is humanely raised or does not contain gmo products. Perhaps you would also like the “fair trade” label, which certifies a product grown without exploiting the community that produced it.
      Thoughtful point– wouldn’t we wish to encourage businesses to produce something whose method of production they are proud to proclaim?

    • I felt exactly the same way when i read through this. Yes, advertisements can sway you. But what is the difference between an ad and this warning label? Both are meant to tell you what to do, just different sides of the argument.

      I would find them a bit offensive if I saw them on a warning label, but isn’t that the point? So you will NOT buy the product.

  45. It saddens me how uneducated so many consumers are on how detrimental consumerism is to this planet.

    With that said, I guess i am a bit of a hypocrit because reading these ads is not going to stop me from buying something I want. We all have some intrinsic values, and we all have the ability to change.

    If I want to buy a product, I am going to buy it, and I myself AM an informed consumer. I definitely try and do my part in other ways that are green, and do not destroy the planet. There are just some parts of my lifestyle I am not willing to change.

    I just feel like I can’t win. However, that is not going to stop me from doing things that help the planet that i have incorporated into my daily lifestyle, but there are just some things I am not willing to give up.

    • Thanks for your personal assessment here, Sarah. There are many challenges with making decisions as to what to consume in the current day. I see the issue not as laying out rules for others, but as telling the stories of such products which then allow us to live more in line with our values and ideas. I do think there are alternatives–but also much consumer pressure, and habits or convenience are hard to change. I think this calls for creative thinking and personal authenticity (and honesty as you exhibit it here) as we each make our personal decisions that so powerfully influence this world we share.

  46. It’s difficult not to have a strong reaction to each ‘warning label’ suggested in this article. I feel that some of these warning were dead on and resonate with me on both an individual and political level, where as others were greatly lacking a broader political and systems based understanding.

    I think that if I were personally to choose warning labels to be added to products, I’d fully support what Tilleman has suggested – “Would you want your child to visit the farm where this meat was raised?” and even better, the question of wanting your child present in the factory where other goods are produced. Warning labels that state the dangers of the products (as we know many don’t – such as the lead in lipstick fiasco a couple years ago) – both to the consumer, the employees who manufacturer the products, and the environment should be very helpful and eye opening. Chirstensen’s warning also touched on this theme quite well and was one of the best labels listed, in my opinion.

    However, I felt that Bellamy’s warning, while correct, would never get through to the average consumer. It speaks to the choir, yes, but people without adequate background knowledge of consumerism and its real harm on the environment would only be offended by the accusatory language her warning label uses. If we can acknowledge that folks like Industrial Psychologists get entire degrees for the mere sake of manipulating consumers with the right combination of language, images, and emotional provocation – then we should be able to employ the same tactics and knowledge in order to help our cause, rather than merely letting our emotional responses take charge and slinging around charged words like “brainwashed.”

    • Thoughtful balance in this response, Lauren. Thanks. The responses here take two different tacts: expressing how you personally feel about a consumer product (how you look at its “story”) and the ways in which labels might share info with others.

  47. Good points here. I think everyone should know how to read labels for products. With economic times being tough I think people just read the price. Some people are not willing to pay a little more for greener items or locally grown/made goods. I read labels and analyze things I buy at times. I also get attracted to the advertising or displays when I buy too. Impulsive buyers like me do analyze but we also get caught up in the moment buying what looks good. Label reading is a way of life that should be taught at a young age so people can use that tool and do what is right when shopping for goods.

    • Thanks for sharing your own experience, Bob. I am also pleased by all the information on particular consumer websites that go beyond what is found on labels.

    • I think that you have a point. But if we read every product and refused to buy certain products then where will we look to buy say all of our clothing, makeup, etc. Not everything is organic. It should be though.

      • Our choices do have the ability to swing the economy of this country– if even a small percentage of us choose not to buy particular products and this cuts into profit margins. The explosion in organic foods in the last two decades, for instance, is very much consumer driven.

      • I still think you might be surprised on what is really organic and what isn’t even if it says it is. I also wonder why organic things are not cheeper since all those chemicals are not being used in the production of it.

        • Organics should be cheaper if it were not for “perverse subsidies”. There is labeling on produce now that indicates whether it is USDA organic: a five digit number that starts with 9 means organic; four digit number means commercial; and- I just learned this– gmo produce should have a label on it starting with 8.

    • I have found that if I research ahead of time, I can find whatever product I am looking for that has been produced sweatshop free and environmentally friendly. It does eliminate impulse buying but I see that as a good thing. Not only do we need to shop responsibly, we also need to shop less. Buying less balances out the higher cost of green products.

  48. I love the common sense described in this article… yet I am so frustrated by the inability of many to take it to the next level. For example, several folks have mentioned how consumers are growing more aware of how they have been manipulated by advertisers and marketers to purchase. Every Christmas season we hear more and more people groaning about the commercialism of the holiday season. But the very same folks are laughing at me because my cell phone only makes telephone calls! We cant have it both ways. We must be willing to give up the latest and greatest gadgets, cars, clothes if we want to make a small dent in the consumerism frenzy.

    • Hi Sheryl, thanks for your comments. I’m not clear about your point with the cell phone. It is certainly true that we need to make choices -and sometimes that may mean giving up the latest cars, etc. We must evaluate what we really need as well as how purchasing it effects our shared world.

      • My point was that we need to not just give lip service to the need to lower commercialism. We are the driving force in the marketplace. If we continue to be persuaded by peer pressure to have the newest fanciest things to keep up with our friends, then the circle will continue.

        If a humorous label helps draw our attention to the fact that there is more to consider than the end product then let’s label! Education and discussion goes a long way to help consumers make better choices.

        • Great follow up points, Sheryl. It is important to give more than lip service (as you indicated).
          I like your point about humorous labels. I think that humor can be effectively used in many ways to help us think creatively and clearly–and to bring us out of a habitual mindset.

  49. How about some graphics to go along with warning labels? A picture of an oil soaked pelican on top of the gas pump, a roomful of child-laborers sewing your clothes in Liberia (means “country of the free”) on video in the changing room at The Gap might get your attention. Perhaps a nice picture of a child choking to death in Bhopal from DuPont’s chemical nightmare on your bottle of Sevin dust or a clip from a slaughterhouse taken before the unfortunate animal is “humanely” killed.
    I think the U.K. is going the right direction with their graphics added to warnings on cigarette labels, I’d like to see more of the consequences of our actions in graphic detail placed where we couldn’t avoid the truth.

    • Great ideas, Rebecca. I think there is at least one other comment that concurs with this idea. It speaks to our need to visualize the results of our actions.
      And as for Sevin, I thought it was being phased out– or at least I hope it is, since it is a dangerous neurotoxin. I understand that there are some indications its use in lawn care might be linked to the current rise of hip dysplasia in pet dogs. In any event, I heard of one experiment that shows changes in brain wave patterns in ten year old children that persisted for a full year after Sevin powder was placed on roses in a neighboring yard!

  50. Gosh, I am an impulsive buyer. I shop when I am down in the dumps because it makes me happy, hence the over spending I always end up doing EVERYWHERE I go. I think that warning labels need to be made bigger and for everything. I don’t want to buy clothes from people that get paid a penny a day to make them for us. But, on most labels it doesn’t tell us that. I prefer organic as long as I can afford it. I think that if this were implicated more that more and more people would become aware of what they are purchasing and they may not even buy it anymore.

    • Thoughtful points, Jennifer. In some ways it is still up to us to choose what we buy and to buy things that do not cause distress to the environment or their makers.
      I know much of this is hidden from consumers, but there are some examples of websites under the consumer info “links” here that show how volunteer organizations are lending their energy and expertise to sharing information about the history of consumer products.

    • Jennifer –
      I appreciate your honesty, and I too am guilty of impulsive buying. I am on a very strict health diet now that forces me to buy organic and absolutely no packaged food. I wouldn’t be able to afford it, although I am getting assistance from my parents. In the past I would only buy local and organic when I could afford to – let’s face it, college is expensive. Now that I am forced to do so I do feel better, health wise, but I also know I am doing better for my community. I can say it is a significant change in my wallet. I just wish I was able to afford to do it in other aspects of my life too.

      • It is only because of “perverse subsidies” that healthy food raised in a way that is good for the planet costs more than processed, unhealthy and unsustainable food. That is one thing we need to work to change (not so easy when big corporations have lobby power plus big bucks behind them– but this is a democracy and if we all bought as you do, unhealthy food would cease to be made, since no one would buy it.

  51. I really enjoyed the article and it’s message. We are bombarded with advertisements in our daily lives which often steers our consumption. Labels and packaging should be a lot more realistic. Advertising targeting young people is what I find annoys me the most. Self image is important at that age and often leads to being ridiculed by peers if not dressed in the latest fashions. I remember when my boys were young and shopping with them. I had to ask them often, “do you really need this or do you just want it?” It was sometimes difficult to get them to differentiate between wants and needs.
    The advertising even sucks in adults. When summer comes along, the ads pushing men to have the “greenest” lawn on the block begins. I wonder if people look at the labels on the pesticides and fertilizers that they are putting onto those green lawns and consider that those chemicals will eventually get into their groundwater. And grass itself is not even a native plant. Maybe one way of curbing our consumerism more would be if we grew more of our own food. If more people converted those unnaturally green lawns into backyard vegetable gardens, it would save money, and you’d know exactly what went in to what you are eating. You could also share your extra food with your family or neighbors, the local food pantry or even sell it at the farmers market.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Dawn. I am especially distressed, as you are, with the ads (and store displays) for pesticides everywhere. Evidently someone buys them– sadly so. The Eugene Water and Electric Board just sent out their newsletter asking that people not use pesticides in order to protect our water systems–and the pollinators necessary to our crops. Pretty irrational when we are poisoning ourselves and destroying the crops that sustain us. Perhaps some of us thing there will be a magical fix– to which view there may well be a rude awakening sooner rather than later.
      Your idea of cultivating closeness to the sources of our food– including growing our own– is a solid response to the separation from the dynamics of what feeds us that allows us to be so careless with life’s systems.

  52. I really enjoyed this essay – I like the directness of what we are truly buying. Unfortunately, I don’t think people really think about the product, where it came from, and what purchasing it really symbolizes. It comes down to wants and needs. In our society there is little distinction between the two. With all of the ads on the television, internet and radio, it is hard to ignore all of the ‘needs’ or so they tell us. They have sales so we can have the latest technology, because we are good enough to have it. I think people in the Western World can’t see past the idea of not having the newest and best things. We are easily persuadable.

    • And if we are so easily persuadable, we are not living authentic lives: bad for us and for this earth that cannot bear the weight of all this manufacture, consuming and waste. Thanks for your comment, Ellie.

    • I think the blurring of the distinction between needs and wants is a good point. We are trained to believe we need all the things we see ads for when we really probably don’t need any of it. These needs create a sense of worthlessness in us that pervades all aspects of our lives.

  53. I certainly agree that some people will never be satisfied. They will always want bigger and better toys.
    However, in regards to the warning about children going to the farms and factories, I would absolutely take my children. I want my children to be completely informed and be able to think for themselves. I don’t want them to just take some one’s word about the quality of what they are consuming.

  54. I like the idea of a warning label showing the negative impacts consumerism has on society. It is true that our overpowering need for things has turned our world into an ugly, brutal place. We have replaced care and compassion for our fellow man with things. Our need to consume has overshadowed our need to feel union with the planet and its inhabitants. I wonder if a warning label would be effective in opening people’s eyes? Or could it be too late?

    • Great point about the “need” to consume overtaking our compassion for others, Melissa. We can neither continue to consume at this rate nor to act without compassion in our interdependent world.

  55. In response to the question in the essay asking what I would put on various warning labels, I offer the following:

    For media:
    WARNING: The intent of this ad is to make you feel bad about your physical appearance in hope that you will buy our product(s) so we can laugh our way to the bank.

    For campaign ads:
    WARNING: This is part of a huge popularity contest and the purpose of this ad is to tell you exactly what you want to hear so you will vote for me/us. Be advised, I/we will not actually do what I/we said, it’s just for your vote.

    For consumer products:
    WARNING: Should you decide to purchase this product, this company will make more off of this item than the laborer that assembled it will make in a month, maybe a year, oh, maybe even 10 years. They will continue to struggle to feed their family, while our company president will buy more food that he/she needs.

    • Very nice points, Carol. I think I will add them to the list in this post AND I will add something about the campaign ads being secretly funded by large corporations who will then “own” the candidate once s/he gets into office!

  56. So I too am going to play the devil’s advocate. While I agree there needs to be more thought in our purchases I think that label’s like “natural”, “cage free” or “antibiotic free” are more effective than the opinionated ones given. I have a friend who comes from a family that is about as conservative as can be (when Bush ran for president the second time Chaney’s wife stayed at his house) who has become more liberal after leaving West Point for the University of Oregon. If he read a warning label that assumes consumers don’t know they are being pandered too and that isn’t scientific he would be more likely to buy that product out of spite at the alterior motives of the warning label producers and their superiority complexes. Personally, I think that instead of creating warning labels that assume consumers don’t know about a product we should teach consumers about the personal effects those details (such as unethical workplaces) effect them and other REAL people. I think this teaching needs to be done at home and in classrooms where the preacher is someone they know and so have a real reason to listen to. I am worried that the joy of creating these warning labels wouldn’t just be for the self-satisfaction of the people, who already know these details. I would assume that people who take the time to read warning labels are more likely to be the people that have already read up on products.
    I really did enjoy this essay and I hope my different view doesn’t come across too harsh. Thanks for the great read that got my brain churning!

    • These are of course intentionally “opinionated”– since they are meant to make us consider the real consequences of our choices. It is a literary and consciousness raising device to consider how we might label consumer products if we could say all we might about this issue.
      And check out the Audubon article on what labeling real means at the end of this essay. “Antibiotic free” tends not to mean much– since it is often placed on meats which are not allowed to have antibiotics by federal law and “natural” means nothing at all. In order for labels to mean something, they have to be standardized.
      I am glad you enjoyed the essay– though I think you may have missed the thrust I explained above.

  57. What a great thought…BUT because of the society WE have made we still must consume products that degrade women, keep sweat shops open, hurt and punish animals for our material ‘wants and needs’. As great as it would be to put such labels on products, I think so many people already know what they are doing when buying such products; they are aware of the fact that they are able to wear their Nike shoes because a child or women is in a sweat shop working their little heart away under terrible conditions, and yet they still purchase the product. Our ‘need’ as a society to have the biggest and the best continues to work against us in so many ways, adn how wonderful it would be to have such labels on products I don’t think would do much just because we acutally need some of these items to live because we have make ourselves dependent on those brands and products to supply us with clothing and food. What we really need is a way to produce such things ourselves as with teh farmers markets and closer communities that work together to benefit everyone.

    • Cyria,

      I really like your thoughts. I agree 100% that we have made our society dependent on all these products. We can’t just simply walk away from consumerism now. I think we have 2 choices. Learn to live more simply or realize that if we want all we have we need to treat those who make the items better and recreate our methods so they don’t hurt the environment. I also agree that these labels would be useless because most people don’t read labels now and no one is going to read a whole page of warnings. We all have tendencies for instant gratification.

      • Your comment brings up the idea that “instant gratification” may not really serve us in the way we assume it does. And the dependency on these products is a great point: our society and economy could certainly said to be addicted to consumerism.

    • It is interesting that you feel consumers largely understand the conditions under which the products they purchase as produced– does that then mean that they are in a state of radical denial that allows them to continue to buy them– or do you feel they are just apathetic.
      I would prefer to think that educated consumers would make better choices. I agree that close personal connections to the production of our food would be a win win all around. Thanks for your comment.

  58. I have mixed feelings about some of these warnings. I would not argue that they are untrue but that every object is made to degrade your self-esteem or women may be a tad extreme. I think the best approach is to be knowledgeable. As mentioned in the essay; know what the company that your buying from stands for, how they make things and treat their employees. Of course buy locally and support our own businesses.

    Truly I think this is the best approach. I know my mom will go to the grocery store and ask if salmon is wild or farm grown and where produce is from. Then people in the store look in amazement when she refuses to buy certain items because she does not want to support far off companies, or lesser chemical infused products.

    It is going to be hard battle because the majority of people are blinded by mass production and the ease of buying because of commercialism. There are some companies though that are starting to make changes. Tom’s shoes i know send a pair of shoes to children across the world who are need for every pair bought. Apple is making efforts to make less environmental impact by making better products and there are all the local farmers who help by employing and supplying locally. The challenge to us all is to take a stand and only support companies and products that are willing to make changes for the better.

    • I agree. Technology can be a huge help to us, but if not used wisely and conservatively, it can become a beast, like consumerism. My mom told me recently of when my grandfather finally purchased a washing machine for my grandmother; she was in tears due to the relief she felt at not having to wring the clothes by hand. Like the other topics we’ve discussed in class, there really should be a balance, and the more informed we are, the better our choices become.

      Now with respect to farm raised fish versus wild, there is a lot of varying information out there, depending on who you ask (and who they work for or prefer!). At this point, I simply see that a fish is a fish, and a fish in a hatchery has the same biological make up as a fish from the wild. If both fish come from the US, or even the same region, who are you benefiting or slighting over your grocery choice? I would logically choose the cheaper of the two fish. However, I am happy to have additional research presented to me.

      • You have an essential point about the sense of balance needed in use of technology, Susan. One problem with farm raised salmon is that they are NOT genetically the same as wild fish and in fact are in some places overwhelming wild fish stocks: they have a different live experience and do not have particular survival skills of wild salmon. Further, they are fed food that makes them much higher in toxins than wild salmon, which are among the “cleanest” fish in the ocean because of their largely vegetarian habits.
        Note that these problems of wild versus farmed salmon do not apply to some other farmed fish, but it is a complex issue and not so easily analyzed by stating a fish is a fish no matter how it is raised.

    • This labels are not proposed to be actually placed on consumer products: just an exercise in awareness of things we possibly don’t think about–and those who replied appear to have enjoyed the exercise. I agree with your mother’s tactic: making stores aware of consumer consciousness is a great way to create change.
      Growing locally and supporting local farmers as well as standing by ethical companies are other great strategies. Though we obviously need to know which companies are ethical– which is why I appreciate volunteer websites that are ferreting out this information and making it public.

  59. A label for some general conventional animal meat products:

    WARNING: This product has been factory farmed, prepackaged, and laced with chemicals, hormones and food additives/dyes for your convenience. Ingesting this product can result in health risks that may include cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol. The animal that was slaughtered for your consumption may have been subject to brutal abuse and unsanitary living conditions, denied natural instinct or diet, and raised in an area so small it could not complete a 360 degree rotation for the duration of its short life. The production, processing, and transportation of this product uses large quantities of fossil fuel, depleting finite resources and contributing to global climate change. Your purchase ensures the continuation of these practices and increases demand for them.

  60. I feel that even if we had a huge warning sign printed on anything, that consumers will still go ahead and purchase it. It really comes down to just thinking about the item more than anything! Everyone always seems like their in a race to check-out the fastest! Life is not a race! I miss going to the farmers market in San Luis Opisbo, they had some of the best homegrown crops there and for a reasonable price. I have yet to make it to one up here, but I am planning on doing so before I leave.

    • I think you are right, I’m not sure that even if there were labels like that it would stop consumers from buying them. I think the packaging would have to completely change AND the television and print advertising would have to be abolished. There is so much money in advertising, I unfortunately do not see that happening. This essay reminds of the news how cigarette companies are going to be mandated to put pictures of smoking risks on the packages next year. I don’t think this will really stop anything.

      • Do you have any suggestions to make consumers more aware and responsible. Note perhaps in the detail here– which is a class exercise in understanding what buying a product might mean– but do producers have any responsibility to share information with consumers regarding the production of their products?

  61. This article was a particularly thought-provoking one for me. I found myself torn because instinctively I thought that anyone who thought it appropriate or necessary to buy products that cause such mass destruction should be condemned (that is actually a little harsh of a word for my feeling but I cannot think of a word that would better describe my feeling) and socially ridiculed. But then I thought about the fact that I am in no place to judge someone else’s perspective and reasoning and the fact that I have been a very active proponent of being open-minded and accepting of all views. This is where I really started to struggle. These ideas for warning labels are great, and I PERSONALLY believe in the messages that they provide. On the other hand however, I feel that the way in which we are considering going about their application is a bit intrusive. A lot of individuals, especially in Western societies, do not know anything other than consumerism, and to blatantly attack that worldview and understanding of reality is the same thing that has been happening to the elders who speak out for their tribes. I came to the realization as I read this article that some realities need to be brought to the attention of the global community, but this needs to be done in a respectful way.

    • Thoughtful considerations here, Amber. Communication is the point here– and doing it in a way that it gets across (which, is, of course, dependent on one’s audience) is an important consideration.

  62. I think this potential warning label was my favorite:

    “Warning: Would you want your child to visit the farm where this meat was raised?”

    Anyone who cares about what their children experience would never want them to see a factory farm. They are disgusting, vile places, disease-ridden infestations…and somehow, we’ve been convinced to eat food they produce. If I drop an apple on the floor of my own home, I still rinse it off before I eat it – why in the world would I ever consider eating anything that came from those cesspools? I actually feel betrayed, in a way – like I’ve been lied to my whole life, told that these products were ‘safe’ and good for me, and that I should chow down with no fear. That’s nowhere near the truth, but people don’t seem to want to hear it.

    ‘In another one of the warning labels, someone wrote “We know that you really don’t NEED this product, but beware; we know how to make you WANT it.

    “Be careful, without you being fully aware of it, we can skew YOUR values so that they line up with OURS. We value money and stuff above all else. We don’t care about our planet or the people who live on it. We have no conscience, no feelings and ultimately no remorse for what we do because we are a corporation.’

    It seems like a parody but…how else do you explain people eating fast food 5 nights a week? Isn’t it all just salted cardboard? When did we as a people stop caring about the quality of our food so much so that factory farming even exists?

    • I like that warning as well, Kim. Perhaps you heard recently that certain farm states in the Midwest made it illegal to take picture of farms and pass them around. Fortunately, there was a public outcry that changed this. If farms don’t want to share their activities, there is something wrong.
      Parody and irony is sometimes what it takes to get a point across. Thanks for your comment.

  63. It is of my opinion that we generally don’t educate our youth at home or at school in critical thinking skills, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, or the ability to understand other cultures and worldviews. It is in this dominant social ignorance that the media can manipulate and condition the general populace to listen to the propaganda.

    I don’t think a WARNING: label is enough for people. It isn’t until a person is challenged at a fundamental level that they may be even remotely willing to see reason.

    It is not impossible however, and we should all celebrate the fact that many people are becoming more aware of their actions and the impact they have on the planet, themselves and the future.

    • And then there is the recent and unfortunate statement of Jose Fernandez, the current State Department’s assistant secretary for economic, energy and business affairs, who said that labeling genetically engineered food would scare consumers away. “If you label something, there’s an implication there’s something wrong with it.” He neglected to notice that labeling something “organic” does not scare anyone away; there is very particular reason why labeling something GMO might scare consumers, and it is not the fact of labeling per se.
      Perhaps labeling does not make a difference, but there is a reason that Monsanto has so ardently fought it for decades now: and at the very least (perhaps not “warning”) but informational labels allow consumers just a bit of information on the history of production and ingredients of products whose stories they are no longer intimate with (whose producers they do not know personally).
      Thanks for your comment. I think it is indeed true that the modern industrial worldview predisposes its holders to respond to emergencies rather than proactively to “warnings”.

      • Very good point about about GMO’s. I believe they have either been banned, or at least required to be labeled in Europe. It would be for the best of human health if the U.S. required GMO’s to be labeled this way. Maybe more people would pay attention and realize the potential dangers.

        • Well, gmos have been banned for a long time in EU countries, until the World Trade Organization found against the EUs decision in refusing to accept them. Now in order to be part of these world trading partners, they have been told they MUST accept GMOS, but are trying frantically to label them– unlike the secrecy around these products in the US. As long as they can them properly labeled (there are lawsuits against that as well), I doubt if there will be much of European market for them.

  64. I really enjoyed this article. It has some great “warning labels” that I hope more people would see. It brings out some insights not always thought about when consumption seems to dominate. I particularly like the first label about being brainwashed, so true.

  65. Avoid anything that is just going to exaggerate how skinny she is. Anything that shows a lot skin or anything involving a lot of fabric.

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