I’m so due for a little bit of light-hearted fun in the midst of the current food-related doom and gloom! I just found it, courtesy of organic dairy firm Stonyfield Farm’s CEO Gary Hirshberg. He launched a year-long organic education campaign with a YouTube rap video designed to spread the word on the havoc created by industrial farming (“The really scary stuff is what we cannot see/Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, drugs and herbicides”), the health challenges caused by junk, processed food (“Cut out unnecessary chemicals is what they prescribe/So to avoid getting sick, just change the stuff you imbibe!”), and the benefits of choosing organics (“Organic tastes better cause nature got it right/You don’t need chemicals to keep a drink tight”).
As he admits it himself, Hirshberg is no rapper, yet I gladly give him five for his effort to reach out to the mainstream in a playful fashion.
The initiative comes with a video contest opened to the public, as well as a web platform where people can share their personal stories–in text, pictures or video–about organic food, what it means to them and their loved ones, how it may have changed their lives.
“The recent USDA decision to allow the growing of genetically engineered alfalfa dealt a blow to organic, but it has also brought about an impassioned focus on the benefits of organic foods,” said Hirshberg. “Now, more than ever, is the time for organic consumers to choose the foods they eat and feed their families. It is also the time to share our reasons and stories with others, and to inspire others to do the same.”
Stonyfield Farm, one of the largest American players in organic dairy, boasts an “Excellent” score in the Organic Dairy Report and Scorecard that is continually updated by the independent watchdog Cornucopia Institute. To its credit, what separates it from the “Outstanding” category is not the pasture time and acreage provided to cows (100/100 points) nor the health and longevity of the animals (100/100), but mostly its ownership structure. Stonyfield Farm, that started out as a farmstead biodynamic/organic yogurt producer, is now 80%-owned by the French dairy giant Groupe Danone. This being said, an unusual purchase/management agreement was negotiated: as long as certain performance benchmarks are maintained, the company is still managed and controlled by the Hirshberg family.
Despite its well-deserved reputation as a decent player in the organic food industry, its initiative is bound to raise some suspicion. For one, some critics have denounced the racial bias of the video, remarking that the three “Stonyfield Moms” who rap the chorus are white. An unfortunate move when one considers the stigma of social and economical elitism that weigh on organic food. In fact, it was most likely an unfortunate oversight: Stonyfield Farm, based out of Londonderry, New Hampshire, tapped its non-ethnically-diversified staff for singing talent–they may have wanted to think indeed about inviting an outsider to the party.
Second, a message as simplistic as “Just Eat Organic!” will make many people smirk. After all, many of us are aware that “organic” has come to signify very little, given the USDA’s submission to Big Ag. In too many cases, “organic” tells the consumer nothing about how the food in her basket was grown–in fact, for all we know, it may have been produced by an ag giant whose monocultures and appalling labor practices make a farce of the imagery and price premium that its organic-certified products command.
All true… and yet one needs to start somewhere. It actually makes sense to pick a simple starting point to get the conversation going, and more people involved. Soon enough, increased awareness about related issues will follow as consumer education deepens.
Finally, isn’t this just all a branding scheme designed to raise the profile of the company and grow its market share? No doubt the campaign can only do good to Stonyfield Farm’s bottom line. But to be honest, I don’t mind its using its clout and reputation to stir and spread a message that 1/ is perfectly aligned with its business practices 2/ desperately needs to be told, sung, repeated, heard by as many people as possible, in as many forms as possible.
So let’s drop the cynicism, for once, and join in the party. After all, this movement does need all of us and more.