Wading Through the Bullshit


My blog is called The Skeptical Environmentalist not because I am skeptical that our world is in the midst of an environmental crisis. The crisis is certainly real and serious. No, I am skeptical of people and companies who claim to support the environment’s best interests. I’ve learned (during my 22 short years on this planet) that people will generally support their own interests above all else. And if companies are considered people–very large, wealthy, and powerful people–then the furthering of their interests can have a widespread impact.

I do firmly believe that some people and companies do a lot of good. But for a budding environmentalist like myself, it’s difficult to wade through all of the bullshit and find things that I, as a consumer, feel comfortable supporting.

For example, let’s look at Aveda. The company was started by Horst Rechelbacher in 1978, and was one of the first green companies in the body care industry. Then, in 1997, Aveda was sold to Estee Lauder, a company that isn’t known for being “clean.” There was some legal misunderstanding between Rechelbacher and Estee involving a non-compete clause, and some quibbling over product ingredients.  After working for Aveda for a few years and fighting to reformulate their more mainstream lines, Rechelbacher gave up and went on to start a much greener company.

Now you, as the consumer, probably weren’t aware that Aveda is owned by Estee Lauder. You see their earth-toned packaging and read their botanical-filled copy and think you’re buying a product that is effective and also ethical. Well congratulations, because you’ve just been subjected to Greenwashing. I did a quick look at the products on Aveda’s website (the subtitle of which is “the art and science of pure flower and plant essences.” Here’s a good example of some greenwashing: their Damage Remedy Restructuring Conditioner extolls the merits of their plant-based ingredients while conveniently leaving out the full ingredient list. You can call Aveda to find the ingredients, but I think it’s pretty shady to leave them off of the website, especially when you can purchase products through it directly. I found the full ingredient list here, and, just as I had expected, the product contains some questionable synthetics. And Aveda isn’t even that bad when compared to other companies! They’re way better than Clinique, which is also owned by Estee Lauder.

So, how can you trust your own instincts? The plain and simple truth is that if you want to find food that is healthy, or products that are safe for your body and the environment, you have to do your own research. There are a plethora of diets and regimens that purport to be healthy, and safe, and they all assert that they’re the best. There are a thousand products that claim to make your life better. But, since the desire for your consumer dollars is always lurking in the shadows, you have to be a skeptic.

In order to have an informed opinion, you have to read scientific studies and know how to interpret them. You have to Wikipedia every chemical. You have to know your own body well enough to identify possible allergies and sensitivities. These things take time, and it’s not easy to do what is ethical, convenient, good for the environment, good for your body, and good for your budget. It’s a daunting and even impossible task when media outlets release headlines that are designed to shock instead of inform, and when they probably don’t have science writers who can accurately interpret scientific data. In addition, there’s always some celebrity shilling for some company (that’s probably parented by Proctor and Gamble) or some doctor selling a cure-all on Oprah. It’s confusing, and it makes skeptics of us all.

I’m here to help.

As someone who has faced many health and skin issues, I’m well-versed in wading through media bullshit. Whenever I read about a new miracle emollient or antioxidant-rich superfood, I try to find objective information. I love to try new things, but I hate feeling like I’m being harassed by an Avon representative when I walk down an aisle in Whole Foods. And as a recently graduated twenty-something with student loan payments, I know what it’s like to be on a budget. I’ve also worked in a natural foods store for the last five years, and I’m familiar with many foods and products marketed to our earthy-crunchy (myself included) clientele.

What works for me won’t work for everyone, and I understand that few people are comparably strict about the chemicals that go on or inside their bodies. Some even believe that cancer is highly likely or even inevitable at some point in their lives, and to hinder its progress through dietary change or elimination of unnecessary chemicals is futile. I think that’s incredibly sad. I’ll never stop trying to improve my quality of life, and part of that is seeking to feel good about the food I buy and the products I use on my body.

I can’t speak for everyone. I’m not a doctor, a dietitian, a chemist, or a cultural anthropologist. I’m just someone with a natural curiosity and predilection for honest discourse. This blog is going to be loosely organized; I’ll post about particular products, diet fads, miracle ingredients, or even controversial medical studies that I come across. I’ll post personal stories about my own dietary and product experiments. I’ll research the shit out of everything and try to make sense of the contradictions I come across. I’ll try to make the information easy to access and I’ll allow you, the reader, to formulate your own opinions based on the evidence I present. Ask me anything, and I’ll do my best to help.

The only universal truth is that there are no universal truths. Or something.

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