Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Nestle Wars (Or Why I Buy My Chocolate Chips at Trader Joe's)

Until recently, I didn't follow any blogs.  In fact, I didn't think of blogs as anything more than a family newsletter of sorts, a way to keep tabs on the people in my life without ever having to pick up the phone.

But I've discovered that, while I was busy semi-stalking my friends and family, there was a whole blogosphere world that was exploding without me.  As I've admitted before, I initially felt a lot of disdain for mommy bloggers, and didn't see much of a point in following the ramblings of a strange woman with whom I had no personal relationship. 

However . . .   

I now think I've found my tribe.

I'm not talking about the millions of moms out there who are using blogs as personal family newsletters (which, by the way, I love to read if they're written by someone I know).  I am talking about a small but growing group of moms who are using their blogs as a platform to raise awareness about a wide variety of issues related to motherhood and raising children.  These blogging moms are sharing a lot more than personal experience; they're also sharing accurate, well-researched information and some very intelligent thinking.  They've created a community where women from across the country can voice their opinions, share what they know, and dialogue with one another about some very important issues.

This, in fact, is going on right now.  At this very moment, these women are out there posting, and commenting on each other's posts, and then commenting on the comments.  The mommy blogs are very, very busy.

The issue on the table:  the Nestle boycott.

As a breastfeeding mom, I've been aware of the Nestle boycott for a long time.  It's literally been going on for decades and, in fact, there's even a Wikipedia page about it.  The boycott began in 1977 as a protest to the company's unethical practice of marketing baby formula by undermining breastfeeding, and escalated in 1981 when the World Health Organization published an International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.  Nestle has yet to comply with this Code, and as a result, the boycott is still in full swing over thirty years later.

Why the outrage?

Because babies die from formula

Yes, in the United States where we have clean water and access to high-quality medical, formula is a relatively safe (albeit still inferior) option.  But in third-world countries where breastfeeding can mean life or death for an infant, a company that provides free samples of formula is playing with fire.  When a breastfeeding mother in the third-world repeatedly feeds her baby "free" formula samples, her own body will gradually stop producing the milk she needs to feed her baby on her own.  She'll end up having to pay for more formula (which is what the savvy marketers at Nestle are counting on).  She's very likely to mix that formula with dirty, contaminated water, and since she's unable to protect that baby through breastfeeding, the odds are way too high that her baby might die.   

So what does all of this have to do with chocolate chips and mommy bloggers?

Well, the chocolate chips are my small (and, yes, most likely pointless) contribution to the Nestle boycott.  I recognize that there are situations where formula is necessary and that, in certain cases, babies do benefit from it's existence.  I understand that mothers choose formula for a variety of reasons, and that those reasons are not mine to judge.  But I also know that there are quantities of women out there who desperately wanted to breastfeed but failed because of all of those "free" formula samples that Nestle gives to the hospitals and the pediatricians and any pregnant woman whose name they can get a hold of.  They know what they're doing, those marketing people at Nestle, and they're doing it on purpose, and that's why so many people don't like them.

That's why so many people have chosen not to buy any Nestle products.  That's why I refuse to buy their chocolate chips.

One of those people who doesn't like Nestle is a popular blogger named Annie who has written some really great and very informative posts about the issue at her blog PhD in Parenting.  She avidly supports the boycott of Nestle, but is scheduled to speak at the BlogHer '10 Conference, where it has recently been announced that more than one Nestle subsidiary will be a sponsor.

So now Annie and many other bloggers are struggling to decide the best course of action.  Do they still attend and loudly voice their opposition to Nestle's involvement?  Or do they stay home and participate in a boycott in the fullest sense of the word? 

To say that there is a lot of disagreement about this would be the understatement of the year.  Bloggers who don't boycott Nestle (and there are many who aren't interested in the issue at all) were called out and reprimanded last year for attending a different Nestle sponsored event.  And now they are very vocally questioning any one who criticized them but still chooses to attend BlogHer's conference.  Everyone seems to have an opinion about the right course of action, and many seem to feel free to openly judge the choices made by others. 

In one way, this is the ugly side of mommy blogging -- the catty comments, the imaginary battle lines drawn in the sand, the fear of saying anything at all because you never know when it's going to come back and bite you in the ass.  Personally, I wish that the conversation was a little more civil, and I don't like the way so many bloggers feel free to judge each other, but that doesn't change the fact that this heated exchange is raising public awareness of Nestle's questionable marketing practices.

The bloggers involved, as well as their readers and commenters, are discussing Nestle as a company, and getting into issues of personal ethics, and sharing some incredibly nuanced positions on what the term boycott truly means.  Their methods might be unconventional and their comments might sometimes be unprofessional, but as I've said before, mommy bloggers are a force to be reckoned with.  Check out some of the links that I've included.  You'll learn a lot.  Much of it will be the things that Nestle doesn't want you to know.

If I were Nestle, I wouldn't like these mommy bloggers one bit.  

No comments: