Pennsylvania, United States: The popularity of whole foods and a sustainable lifestyle among the wealthy elite and their subsequent commoditization of the movement are a destructive force within environmentalist circles. Since the beginnings of U.S. environmentalism in the 60s and 70s, popular sentiment held that it was a hobby only for wealthy whites. Subjugated groups like people of color and the working poor could not see themselves as part of the culture. It’s not that they couldn’t understand the urgency of environmental collapse, but they had more urgent problems in their lives. Yes, someone’s shoes may have been made in slave-like conditions, but they have no alternatives. They may not compost, but they don’t even have a yard to do so in. Instead of putting the impetus on those without power to take up yet another crest to fight under, it is the duty of those within the environmental community to create lasting changes to environmental policy and democratize the process. The problem with Silicon Valley’s wellness kick is that it does just the opposite – advocating for making the movement more exclusive with expensive tech and bogus trends that absolutely are just hobbies for the richest people in the world.
The healthy, raw, and whole food movements, for example, become self-parody in the hands of the ultra-wealthy, mostly white Silicon Valley tech lords looking to profit off and revel in the new culture. A perfect case study for this is raw water. Raw water is unfiltered, unsanitized spring and rain water that is bottled and sold as a new health movement for the ultra-rich. In one New York Times piece they found that a 2.5 gallon bottle of Live Water (a brand of raw water) costs $36.99. This is no surprise given the popularity of “natural” foods, and the notion that anything from nature is necessarily healthy, and that anything synthetic or processed is bad; it’s an oversimplification of the truth, and for some a profitable one. Proponents of the natural lifestyle have claimed that raw water, which could contain pesticides, dangerous bacteria, or faeces, is a panacea for several illnesses and fatigue. None of their claims have been supported and the medical community frowns on their practice.
The culture around raw water shows a few things. First, that those lucky enough to be able to afford this kind of water are so disconnected from lethal diseases that they no longer fear them. They have access to excellent healthcare; ironically, in their search for eternal vitality, they counteract some of the benefits of that privilege. Furthermore, it has a shadow of reactionary, anti-modern, conspiratorial attitudes that are usually relegated to far-right groups. In the Times piece, Live Water founder Mukhande Singh (ne Christopher Sanborn, the Racheal Dolezal of name changes) said of tap water that “You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them… On top of that, they’re putting in fluoride. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.” While the medical community and basic science would disagree, Alex Jones of the right-wing website Infowars, ardently agrees. Fluoride is key to preventing tooth decay, particularly in low-income households, the people who most need assistance in creating healthy lifestyles. This is not of any concern for either of Sanborn or Jones.
The wealthy version of healthy living sees the world as an inverse feudalism, in which the pastoral, healthy lifestyle is exclusive while the poor are relegated to GMO, pre-packaged, and processed unhealthy food. They distrust common sources of health (fluorinated water) because they are provided by the government for everyone, the common folk. They resist modernity and its benefits, despite many of them profiting off modern technology, and wish for a simpler time. This is parallel to the ideology of the far right, a yearning to go back to a time before political correctness, before civil rights, before advocacy for marginalized groups became the norm. A healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be something one can buy into in the ideal culture. True advocates for health and longevity should wish them for everyone, not just a small selection of people who already have access to the best healthcare.
One of the core beliefs of sustainability is to unplug from consumerism — buy less, save more, grow your own food, repair rather than replace, and so on. These are humble solutions, and usually the best ones. However, the new, capitalist version of environmentalism suggests that one can buy into the movement without making major lifestyle changes. Continue buying the same amount, they say, just buy my sustainable or new age version of that thing. This is not a critique of sustainable businesses that subvert toxic supply chains. Instead, this is a critique of those who cash in on the lifestyle with overpriced – even for typically expensive ethical goods – with sometimes bogus claims. Companies like this are either insincere and use practices like greenwashing or are out of touch, like Goop. The assumption for many of these companies is that their core customer is white and affluent, and the founders cannot, or choose not, to think of any other way of life.'The core beliefs of sustainability is to unplug from consumerism— buy less, grow your own food, repair rather than replace. However the new, capitalist version suggests that one can buy into the movement without making major lifestyle changes...'Click To Tweet
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Where does that leave us? The first step to putting environmentalist values into practice is in one’s own life, the next step is making that change accessible to those without the means to change their own lifestyles. This is the environmental justice movement, which, like social justice and racial justice, fights inequity from an environmentalist perspective. Environmental justice advocates for urban gardens, clean waterways, and green spaces. It considers those whose lives are made worse by environmental degradation and pollution and finds solutions to help both the people and their local ecosystems. This is the kind of environmentalism we need to adopt to keep the movement from falling entirely into the hands of the privileged, something which undermines the entire ideology, turning it into a frivolous hobby instead of the real, boots on the ground, activism it could be.
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