Erin Petersen

Culture Jamming the cereal aisle

By - Apr 24th, 2010 04:00 am
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On my last trip to the grocery store, I found this card on the floor in the breakfast aisle. It mimicked a box of Cheerios, with its cheery bright yellow background and a heart in the middle, except inside the heart was a very grim photo of a clear-cut forest. The General Mills’ signature “G” had been transformed into a chainsaw.

A caption that read: “Rainforest destruction in every spoonful.” Say whaaaat? Evidence of culture jamming — at the Metro Market?

It came from the Rainforest Action Network, a non-violent environmental activism group based out of San Francisco with volunteers and ancillary offices scattered around the country. RAN  targets some of the foremost ecological issues— oil dependence, the industrialization of agriculture and corporate funding environmentally destructive operations. But they take a less-than-conventional approach.

Instead of writing letters to the CEOs of the aforementioned corporate entities, they show up to media engagements en masse with punchy signs and ruin the photo op. Or in this case, they play brand subversion in grocery stores across the nation. The Lucky Charms design is even better. There was even a “Leprechaun flash mob” in the Twin Cities ( although the photos lead me to believe that they’re playing fast and loose with the term “flashmob'”).

This particular campaign focuses on General Mills’  use of  palm oil from in their products. Palm oil is in everything from candy to crackers, soaps to cosmetics and is a major component in biofuel production. In the U.S., it’s found in nearly all processed foods. Ever wonder why that bag of chips boasts zero trans-fat? A few years ago the U.S. started putting more regulations on trans fats (unsaturated fat that your body can’t metabolize) in processed food. Manufacturers replaced the partially hydrogenated oil with palm oil, and voila! No trans fat! Just loads and loads of saturated fat, enough to send your cholesterol through the roof.

Anyhow, that’s not the point. The palm oil that General Mills uses comes from Cargill, which is more or less like buying palm oil from Satan.

Burned rain forest. Photo courtesy of RAN website

Besides Cargill’s endless amount of accusations about human rights violations, illegal slave workers and all those mercury and E. Coli poisoning deaths, Cargill’s massive oil palm plantations have been carved out lowland rainforests in Indonesia . The food magnate contracts conglomerates like Sinar Mas to burn down hundreds of acres of tropical rain forest to make way for palm oil expansion and meet the rising demand. The deforestation put Sumatran orangutans on the critically endangered list, along with several other species. Then there are the hundreds of displaced indigenous people that are robbed of their communities and, in some cases, forced into indentured labor on the plantations.

Not surprisingly, Indonesia also has the third largest greenhouse gas emissions, right behind the U.S. (#2) and China (#1), because of agribusiness.

And that’s only the short list. Maybe I’m just nerding out because its Earth Week, or because I found subversive literature at my uptight grocer, but I spent a significant amount of time researching Cargill’s brands this week — so as to conscientiously boycott them.

RAN has been hitting General Mills pretty hard since the beginning of year, organizing groups across the nation to tag General Mills products with caution labels or postcards like the one I found. General Mills’ made a statement in January saying that they would “continue sourcing palm oil in a socially and economically responsible manner,” even though they only a “modest” user of palm oil. But they continue to purchase from Cargill-owned suppliers.

The unspeakable terrors of the global food industry are especially easy to ignore. We all have to eat. Food is expensive and often inconvenient and frankly, no one wants to think about whether or not the ingredients in their breakfast may or may not be killing off exotic tigers and orangutans. And when the reality is that in this country, you can feed a family of four more cheaply with processed crap than with whole food, the quality of our food, consumer intellect and environmental impact takes a back seat to saving money. But lately Mother Earth seems to be talking — er, yelling — back, so maybe we should start thinking about those uncomfortable things. In the meantime, I’ll be obsessively checking the ingredients of everything in my pantry.

Categories: ADversary, Environment

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