Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sustainable fish sticks? I think not.

Earlier this week I received a truly perplexing email. Rather than describe it to you, I think I really just need to give it to you whole:
Hi Melissa,

I would like to invite you to join a group of food writers, bloggers and chefs for a Food Revolution Roundtable next Tuesday, 12/14. With your passion for food and your influential talent for writing/blogging about food, you would be the perfect addition to this group!

The details are listed below. Please say yes!

An invitation to a Food Revolution Roundtable

Bird’s Eye, in partnership with their Ad Agency Chiat/Day, is hosting a 2-hour Food Revolution Roundtable in NYC on Tuesday, 12/14. They want explore the edges of the Food Revolution among people who are really passionate about food -- chefs and/or writers like you. Bird’s Eye wants to bring revolutionary thinking to their brand at every step, from sourcing to prep to recipes to packaging. The roundtable will be approximately 10-12 influential people (including you, we hope) and will be really energizing and fun… full of projective exercises and invigorating chat.

For your time, you will be paid $350.

Also, if you would like to recommend a friend or two who fits this description, and would enjoy participating, let us know!

WHERE: Wine Shop, NYC, NY
WHEN: Tuesday 12/14, from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
WHAT: 2 hours of ideation, and yummy food!

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, please email me back, or call me at 555-555-5555.

I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Best,
Sarah
I swear to you, I have only changed this to take out identifying details. "explore the edges of the Food Revolution", "ideation", and "yummy food" are all straight from the horse's mouth. When I first skimmed the email, I assumed that I'd just gotten stuck on some mailing list, and that it was a workshop that I'd have to pay through the nose to attend. Upon more thorough reading, I realized that they were actually offering to pay me. That's when I got really suspicious.

So I turned to tha internets. I know who Bird's Eye is - who doesn't? Frozen corn, right? Ah yes, but also major players in many frozen meats - particularly in the fish stick market, apparently. Who knew. What about Chiat\Day? A positively ENORMOUS advertising agency. We'll call that strike two - anyone know why I don't own a television?

And then, exactly what I'd been suspecting: I started finding articles like this one. Since July, Bird's Eye has been working on an initiative it is calling "Forever Food". Supposedly the company's effort to make its food production more "sustainable", this push is pretty much entirely focused on reducing energy usage during production. They're quite proud of figuring out how to use less energy while flash freezing their fish sticks, for instance.

Uh huh.

So, after a day or so of careful consideration, I sent the following reply:
Dear Sarah,

Your offer is both flattering and intriguing. However, I must decline for two reasons. The first is logistical: I work a 9 to 5 and am not available mid day on a Tuesday. The second, though, outweighs the first: I do not feel comfortable contributing to "ideation" with a company that sells a proliferation of animal products.

Honestly, it strikes me that this "Food Revolution Roundtable" is part of the company's ongoing effort to engage in greenwashing - via the so called "Forever Food" initiative. While cutting resource use is of course necessary for all, from my perspective the project is essentially wrong-minded. Personally I'm far more interested in supporting the small, independently owned vegan businesses already in existence than helping to create more fake "natural" brands or products. Encouraging "sustainable fish sticks" is simply not something I will do.

If Bird's Eye truly wants to bring "revolutionary thinking to their brand at every step", it should take this revolutionary step: Consider the number of animals it currently kills; the environmental destruction caused by raising (or "harvesting") those animals; the conditions of the workers who raise, harvest, and slaughter them; and the dozens of other ramifications easily avoided by simply not selling meat. And please note, fish and marine invertebrates are animals too.

Sincerely,
Melissa Bastian
I hope you're not wondering why I'm referring to "Forever Food" as greenwashing. But in case you are, I will briefly explain my problem(s) with it. First of all, there's the name. Forever Food? Really? We'll have food forever and ever because you're putting your damn fish sticks in a smaller box, and meanwhile still pillaging the oceans dry to produce overprocessed junk? Second, there is no such thing as good aquaculture. Even putting animal ethics aside, the environmental ramifications of even the best run captive fish operations are just obscene. Wild harvesting poses completely different problems that are just as awful. Third, why would we put animal ethics aside? And all of that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Before sending my response and ever since, I've been plagued with the feeling that I'm passing up an opportunity to be heard. But I have a strong sense that Bird's Eye and Chiat\Day do not want to hear me. Or rather, they do want to hear me, but only just enough so that they can figure out how to defeat or defend against the arguments of me and those like me, and/or to exploit the lot of us. (By exploit, I of course mean more effectively market to.)

If they were interested in genuine change, they would be consulting with environmental engineers - not bloggers and chefs. They would be rethinking their factories and processes from the ground up - not asking me what I think about their packaging. They know damn well what they need to do to make genuine change. It's just that that's not what they're interested in. What they want is what all the big food companies want: to appeal to the growing market of people on the "edge of the food revolution" - or those who think they are. The pescatarians, the locavores, the "happy meat" people. Well they can go right ahead and try, but I sure as hell am not going to help them.

And so, while it is my nature to doubt myself, I do believe that I made the right decision by turning the offer down. (Incidentally, I make WAY less than $350 a day at my job! So it would have been a nice little monetary gain 'round x-mas time. But so it goes.)

Surprisingly, Sarah did write back:
Hi Melissa,

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I am sorry you won't be able to weigh in on the panel discussion this Tuesday. Believe it or not, I believe your arguments are points that the Bird's Eye folks would be interested to hear during this session. Feel free to send us any references of vegan bloggers or chefs you know who might be interested in participating in Tuesday's group.

Thank you,
Sarah
I'm sure they would be interested too, but for all the wrong reasons. And that's pretty much the point.

P.S. - If any of my vegan friends also received this offer and have chosen to go, I respect that - and I hope they hear you.

2 comments:

Seitan Said Dance said...

Great response! Had I received that, I wouldn't have been able to come up with anything more coherent than "WTF? Seriously?"

Tamonster said...

Really good response!