Sunday, January 30, 2011

Natural $$$

Just recently, we've been reading about the sell-out of the big natural and organic corporations to Monsanto and genetically modified crops.
I wish it were just a little bit more surprising. I wish that just once big money and truly natural and organic products could honestly swim in the same pool, but it doesn't seem likely. Oh, sure... there are wonderful companies where the people running them do well, but there is a division, and once we start talking "corporation" and "stock options" the numbers fall off quickly. In all seriousness, we should all know better by now.
We've watched this game for a good long while. Not as long as some, but the last 20 years have told a weary tale of hope and deceit. Hopeful, exuberant people learning to use plants for healthier lives, and deceitful business people seeing dollar signs in those glowing faces.
For me, it started in *I think* 1992, when my sister and I trekked to what I believe was the first Natural Products Expo East and found an entire wholesale show that catered to exactly what we were looking to add to our shops. We were beside ourselves with excitement! Row upon row of booths run by family businesses making and selling their wares, and we were able to talk to the people who blended the teas, made the tinctures, or wrote the book. We found incredible, innovative natural and organic products.
Imagine our surprise when the very next year the whole thing changed, and instead of long-haired hippies in jeans and tie-dye, we found chrome and glass, suits, and booth bunnies selling things like glandulars, body-building formulas, and weight-loss capsules. We were devastated. The big boys had followed the scent of money to be made.
I distinctly remember having a drawn-out argument with some "suit" who stopped us in the aisle offering an "herbal cure for herpes". Really. To begin with, you rarely find the people who actually make things standing in the middle of the aisles hawking and blocking the way - just sayin'... But we took a look at the ingredients and noticed there were no herbs in the list (nevermind the whole CURE thing). It contained vitamins and some amino acids. So we asked him to please point out which of the ingredients he considered to be herbal. He couldn't believe we were being so petty because, you know, what's the diff? You see, he assumed that as shop owners we would be just as interested in pulling the wool over someone's eyes to get their cash as he was. He really couldn't understand how he was insulting our whole industry, and besides, he was just hired for the show to work the booth. He didn't actually know about the product or care if it worked.
About that time, the pharmacist from a large drugstore came in to our shop and really gave us a ribbing for all the HILARIOUS products we carried. Can I tell you how highly amused we were to find that within another month or two, we found that they were carrying many of the same products? Or that from then on, we always saw his boss at the Expo? And of course the CVS that opened a block away from our main shop did the same thing.
And then we took a series of classes covering the various forms of alternative medicine. During one of the classes, we were told about a new chain of grocery stores, where you could walk in and buy anything, sure that it was healthy and natural. Every eye in the room got misty at the mere thought of such a foodie Nirvana. However we were told, they wouldn't be opening in our area because surveys showed we were "not a highly-educated area". Even at that moment, I knew it couldn't be about education. You can scarcely swing a cat without hitting an institution of higher learning around here. It was about money. I'm glad Whole Foods never came to our area because that has meant that we have honest, family-run establishments run by knowledgeable people who have managed to stay in business here! Whole Mart destroys small business the same way WalMart does, except they manage to cost a WHOLE lot more. We have CSA's, herb shops, herb farms, and our grocery stores carry local produce. We have an amazing array of farm markets. We were way better off without the expensive chain, and learned how to shop for ourselves.
In the meantime, I like to think that a lot of people have been learning what they need to know for themselves. Every day I get to converse with readers of The Essential Herbal who are in the process of learning to make their own herbal products - or purchase them from our advertisers who are not big money corporations. I'm proud of spending the last 10 years helping to share that information and getting people together to teach and learn.
That's where it's at, folks. It really is up to the individual.


nestforawren said...

Were you up all night writing this poignant article Tina??? I see you posted it at 5:30 am! Thanks for writing this and as usual, you managed to get out in an eloquent and meaningful way, all the snippets of angered thoughts flapping about in my head all night, whilst I dreamed of betrayal, grape "herb" gum made with no herbs at all, tall houses with stairs that were rungs of a ladder that collapsed when you stepped on them and none of us could get out. You've a gift for putting words to the tough emotional subjects. Thank you for giving this all some order.

Tina Sams said...

:-) - it was actually around 8:30, but it's been on my mind a lot. Thanks - I know we're all worrying about it a lot. The problem is that half of the populaton (or more) thinks, "what's the big deal?" By the time they figure it out, it will be too late.

TS Hendrik said...

That's depressing news. It's hard enough to find good food and herbs in the area I live in (there are two whole foods close by). I've seen several of the small honest shops I loved go under in the past few years.

Tina Sams said...

Take heart! If we don't buy from the big boys anymore, it will clear the way and encourage good shops to open again.

petermanbrookherbfarm said...

There is nothing quite like an article written with a little "fire in the belly"!

Aisha said...

ive only been in whole food once, now Im never going again I mean really WTF. what happened to organic actually meaning organic?? I have been debating and now i really think it's time to leave, Monsanto doesn't have this hold in the UK or France, these people really don't care how they amass the money, I wonder if they realize when they die they can't take it with the,? because this whole sale greed is just ridiculous.

Sharon B said...

I love you, Tina. I loved your article and the things you put into words that we can all understand. In our humble town of Eugene, we have a lot of down home food stores. Whole Foods decided they wanted to come in and take over. Our city government was all for it and even made a place for them, deciding to move some businesses out or into other areas. Then the stink came from the people. A lot of controversy and Birkenstock people and good ol' hippies. Of which I am proud to be one of, but I must admit, at the time, I thought Whole Foods would be great. They backed off. Said they didn't like the atmosphere. Decided to go away. Lots of people were unhappy, but its really okay. We all survived, including the locally owned stores. And if I need to stop by a Whole Foods to get some kind of a yuppie fix, I just have to travel about 80 miles north. Its okay with me.

Tina Sams said...

Having sold our shops years ago and going in other directions, we still feel that the personality of our town is built upon the small businesses and unique shops. I'm so glad we were too un-educated for WF.

Patricia said...

My friend's father calls the store, "Whole Paycheck". I remember once going in there to buy organic bell peppers and leaving empty-handed after their "conventionally grown" green peppers were more than $8 a pound! So grateful for local stuff.


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