On marketing, consumerism, and self reliance

Rhonda Hetzel at Down To Earth Forum has an interesting essay examining the idea that unwarranted concern over food safety has made us all dependent on pre-packaged foods. I think there is something to that.

For one thing, marketing has long focused on showing how a product fills your needs, and they’re not above creating a need where there is none, even if it means scaring you to death. I remember a friend of mine years ago trying to sell me on a vitamin program based on this apocalyptic presentation that did its best to convince us that we would all die terrible, awful deaths without their vitamins. I didn’t buy it, or the vitamins.

For another, though it may have gotten its start in marketing, the anti-germ crusade has taken on a life of its own. We are so concerned about germs that we are using stronger and stronger products whose only real effect is to force-evolve more potent germs while simultaneously weakening our own natural defenses.

Now, I’m not an un-hygenic person, but I often observed at work how many people would take their paper towel they had just dried their hands on and use it to open the door out of the restroom so they wouldn’t have to expose themselves to the germs on the door handle. I don’t know if this helped them any, but I suspect all it did was make the door handle moist, thus extending the life expectancy of any germs that were there. In any case, I didn’t do that, and I was, if not sick less often, not sick any more frequently than they were.

At the same company we had executives who would spend months at a time at our India office, living amid conditions that would make most of us shudder. Invariably they would all get terribly sick within a few weeks of arriving there. Yet they all observed that the Indians themselves were very seldom sick–and they (the executives) seldom got sick again.

Now I’m not recommending we all start living in squalor or abandon basic hygiene in order to start building up immunity to common germs, but I do think we could relax a bit and not insist on surgical-theater cleanliness for every room in our house.

What are your thoughts?


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