Learning How to Heckle

I am socially inept. This is neither condemnation nor boast. You can confirm it with anyone who knows me. On most days, I am completely at peace with this fact, but there are times in which being an introvert is a major liability. I am not a good activist because I don’t fundamentally like talking to people. I am missing an intuitive understanding about how humans work. (Cats are different. I get cats.) As a consequence, most of my green efforts have been directed towards reducing the impact of my own existence. There will always be plenty to do in that department.

Unfortunately, I am not the problem, not really. Oh, I’m still plenty part of the problem; I have a car and a cat, a hobby that uses up indecent amounts of energy, and a serious internet/electricity dependency, but the problem is so much bigger than I am that it’s not enough just to change the things in my life. That was the easy part. Getting outside my own life is hard.

Case in point: a  relative I don’t know well was in town for a business trip last week. I was there when he bought a case of disposable water bottles and non-organic bananas and put them into a plastic bag. There was so much I could have said about any of these things, but I couldn’t think of a single way to say anything that wasn’t rude, pushy, judgmental, or overbearing. I couldn’t offer my [girly] reusable bag, since I wasn’t going to see him again this trip. The environment wasn’t even a factor in his buying decisions, and distilling that entire consciousness into a minimally offensive, maximally thought-provoking comment just didn’t happen.

Yep. That could take some time. I haven’t figured out how to heckle distant relatives, so I’ve adopted an intermediate approach: heckling companies. Via email, of course. Whatever your position on who holds ultimate responsibility — consumers or corporations — I figure I’m hitting both bases by first refusing to buy unsustainable products, and then telling companies that I’m boycotting their products and why, and how they can fix it. If this is your speed, please join me!

One of the things I heckle about is palm oil. While some sources may be more or less sustainable, any company that doesn’t highlight its  efforts to track down certified sustainable palm oil probably uses the cheap stuff that came at the cost of biodiversity and rainforest. (Phew! Nutella is safe.) Tonight I wrote the following note to Pillsbury, which has an all-natural refrigerator biscuit that I would totally buy on lazy I-need-hot-biscuits-NOW-days…except it contains palm oil.

“Hello! I really love the way your new Simply… line doesn’t have any artificial colors or flavors. However, I just noticed that palm oil was one of the ingredients. I am very concerned about the connection between palm oil and rainforest destruction. The increased global demand for palm oil has resulted in vast palm tree plantations that destroy crucial habitats for orangutans and many other rainforest species in Indonesia and Malaysia. Since learning about this connection, I have stopped buying products with palm oil unless the oil comes from certifiable sustainable sources.

Can you tell me about Pillsbury’s policy regarding palm oil, and if you have taken any steps towards finding sustainable sources or replacing the palm oil with other oils? I hope you will agree with me that any definition of wholesome ingredients should include the health of the planet as well as your customers!

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Me.”

I hope a real person reads and responds to it. I hope other people are also upset that their biscuits destroy rainforests. And I hope other introverts will find that the internet is the perfect medium to start a career in environmental heckling. (But probably not.)

Do you already contact companies that sell unsustainable products? What are some other ways introverts can strike fear into the hearts of major corporations make their voices heard?

17 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by seitei on 05/23/2011 at 07:46

    maybe you could start a boycott right here. why not post a link to where i could send a similar email? Actually, I’m lazy (and you’re a good writer) so I’ll probably just cut and paste yr letter and heckle them that way.

    who else can we boycott? one day i was enjoying (guiltily, of course😉 )a twix bar until i saw that palm oil was an ingredient. i tried calling their info hotline to find out about the source of the ingredients, but, alas, their offices were closed that day. So maybe an email is in order instead….

    keep it up!

    Reply

    • Good idea. Here’s the Pillsbury contact form: http://consumercontacts.generalmills.com/ConsolidatedContact.aspx?page=http://www.pillsbury.com . I should also hop on Facebook and post on their wall. The Twix contact form is a popup on their website (www.twix.com). Twix is owned by Mars. I couldn’t find any information about their palm oil (probably not sustainable) or their cocoa (probably produced by child labor).

      Surprisingly, TJ’s also uses palm oil in a number of their products. I plan to keep giving them a hard time about it until they can provide proof that they use only sustainable sources.

      Reply

  2. I’ve been thinking about this too. Let’s start a campaign! I’m scared to even heckle via email… But it might have an effect. Maybe I’ll cut and paste your letter and send it too.

    Reply

    • Hi Lynn,
      It’s worth a shot! The internet is a beautiful thing for introverts. I find that I’m also thinking harder about my supermarket choices when I have this mentality that I’m going to write any company whose products I looked at and put back on the shelf…

      Reply

  3. Thanks for the smile-your post was great! My view-heckle who you can! It’s not comfortable to heckle someone standing next to you without sounding judgmental and rude. To think of something witty and thought provoking in a few seconds isn’t always doable. So do what you can-write letters and let your voice be heard. Band together with others to have a louder voice. How about your blog??? Perfect way for a self-proclaimed introvert to be heard.

    Reply

    • Hi Lori,
      Glad you enjoyed it! It is SO much harder to heckle one real person (whom I’m probably going to have to interact with for years after this) than the internet at large. I still can’t think of anything I could have said at that point that would have made a positive difference. I was actually with Kevin and an equally environmentally conscious friend, and none of us said anything. Maybe it just wasn’t the right time.

      You’re right, there’s always the blog! I wish more non-greenies read it. Still working on that part.

      Reply

  4. I don’t write to companies, but I should. After all, it’s not helpful for me to boycott products but not let the manufacturer know why – that won’t bring about any change, it will just make them believe I’ve switched to their competitor. It’s just so frustrating to write and get some polished PR response that doesn’t really answer the question and won’t get passed on to someone in charge, you know? What kinds of responses have you gotten so far?

    Reply

    • Hi Andrea,
      Responses are mixed. I got a personal response from TJs, but they person didn’t seem to understand what I was asking (‘oh no, we don’t cut down palm trees to get our palm oil, so there’s no deforestation’), and a slightly indignant letter from Planters (‘we don’t really consider gelatin in our peanuts an animal product’) and standard responses from other big companies (‘we are looking into it,’ etc.). It’s definitely not the most effective way to get things done, but maybe if they get enough letters, they’ll realize that consumers are aware and want change. When this happens on a large enough scale (KitKat, Girl Scout cookies, stuff really does happen. Maybe it would be most time effective to write a couple form letters and adapt them to each company/situation without taking the time to write a new letter from scratch every time.

      Reply

  5. I think another way to heckle companies is to heckle the stores that sell these products, too. For example, I heckled my local whole foods store about all of the organic products they buy (including produce) that is sold in plastic. It’s so frustrating to eliminate plastic bags, to make healthy eating choices, and to still be faced with aisle after aisle of plastic–around organic food, toilet paper, even individual prunes!

    I even heckled the cheese lady about buying cheese before she shrink-wrapped smaller portions and was told that 1) I should call her ahead of time so she could get it ready and 2) that she’d probably just sell me a piece after she removed the plastic.

    There’s a lot of resistance, for sure, but I’m hoping that by asking these whole foods sellers about their purchasing and distributing practices, I can affect which products they buy.

    Thanks for the post!
    Jen

    Reply

    • Great idea, Jen! (I think one reason I haven’t done this is because I hate talking to strangers in person. Instead of asking someone at Whole Foods, I went home, asked them on Twitter about their tare weight policy, and then went back to the store.) I’m hoping to get better about approaching people in person.

      A new market opened near me that has organic produce, but so much of it is sold pre-bagged. I totally don’t get why the conventional bananas are sold loose, but the organic ones are bagged. I think I’ll have to say something next time.

      Reply

  6. Ha! I’m fond of the practice of BVE (bitching via email) myself. Most of the time I get no response, but on occasion I do. My most recent was an email to this company: http://www.twistclean.com/. They make “eco friendly” kitchen products, which they package in plastic shring wrap!!! AAARRRRGGGHHHH!!! I wrote them a polite email pointing out the obvious contradiction. Alas, no response.

    Sometimes I do get responses though. I wrote to SWheat Scoop cat litter asking if their bags are recyclable. Got a prompt response that they are, and a few days later $10 worth of coupons arrived in the mail. SWheat! (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun)

    I also was shopping at my local chain grocery store once when the head of the produce department happened to be setting out fruit. I asked if they had any organic apples. She said they don’t stock them because nobody wants them. I told her I only buy organic and left without buying any fruit. Next thing I know, they’re stocking both organic apples and oranges! Not sure if it was all because I asked for them, but it’s sure nice to be able to get them a few blocks from home instead of having to drive over to “Whole Paycheck”.

    But I’m with you on not wanting to be a total bitch when I see other people displaying horrible eco sins. I generally just try to “lead by example”. I have a friend who stocks her house with individual bottled water… it drives me CRAZY. Every time I come over she offers me a bottle and I usually just politely refuse. But lately I’ve started to bring my Klean Kanteen with me. She hasn’t stopped buying them, but she does sound good and guilty now whenever the topic of beverages comes up!

    And… a few successes. My crazy practice of gathering recyclables from the alley dumpsters actually got the tobacco chewing, NASCAR watching guy across the alley to recycle his phone books. It’s a small step, but a step none-the-less.

    I say just keep at it. At some point we’ll reach critical mass and big changes will finally happen. Who knows, maybe one of us will end up being the hundreth monkey. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect

    Reply

    • BVE — I love it! It sounds like you’re a much more experienced BVE-er than I am. Incidentally, I’ve found that the greener cat litter companies are pretty responsive. I’m using a combination of World’s Best and Feline Pine, and both seem to have good customer service and environmental accountability.

      I’ve been tempted to send my relative a reusable water bottle. Although more stuff isn’t particularly green, giving gifts seems to be one of the least offensive ways to encourage better behavior. If it were convenient enough, he would probably use it.

      Here’s to reaching critical mass before we screw things up too much further!

      Reply

      • My cats and I actually undertook a comprehensive study of all of the “natural” cat litters that we could find. We ended up with SWheat scoop because it clumped really well, had minimal dust and comes in a recyclable bag. It would be better if it was made from a waste product instead of a crop that has to be grown… but apparently what allows the plant based litters to clump is the starch, so even the ones made from corn husks usually have corn starch added to make them clump so it’s sort of 6 of one, half dozen the other in terms of environmental impact there.

        We don’t use World’s Best because I used to have a neurotic cat who would eat it. Seriously. She porked up to 20 pounds before we figured out what was happening!

        My vet also says that pine litters are not good for your cat because pine has volatile organic compounds which are not good for cats (or people) to breathe.

        A friend of mine who owns a natural cat store recently started carrying some litter made from walnut shells. It works well and the cats like it… only problem is that I’m violently allergic to walnuts so I get hives when I touch it. It’s always something!

        Reply

        • My vet didn’t mention that about the pine litter. Sigh. I thought I read somewhere that Feline Pine is treated to remove toxins, but I can’t find it anywhere on their site. I use a mixture of the corn and pine stuff — one clumps better, the other controls smell better. I was scared by the reviews I read of SWheat Scoop that said it had weevils and didn’t clump, so I didn’t try that one.

          Reply

        • Sigh indeed! I think choosing a cat litter is always a lesser of many weevils (sorry I couldn’t resist). Speaking of weevils, we’ve never had that problem! And in my experience SWheat clumps really well, especially if you get the multi cat formula.

          You might try the walnut shell one. http://www.purrandsimple.com/kwik_formula.html. It’s pretty new so not widely available yet, but other than the allergies (which, to be fair, I’m not entirely sure came from the cat litter – but since I’m sort of an extreme case in the allergy department it didn’t make sense to push it) it worked great!

          Reply

  7. I love the friendly, upbeat tone of this company heckle. I’m seriously considering following in your footsteps. I appreciate how difficult it is to talk to relatives about environmental considerations. It’s not easy!

    Reply

  8. Again, you are thinking my thoughts I swear! I was going to buy a chocolate bar in a check-out line this week, and flipped them all over and they all had palm oil listed. My mind flashed to the aerial shots of these farms, where rain forests used to stand. Nasty palm oil! What is a chocolate loving girl to do? I must find some better chocolate sources. I love that you sent this letter. Love. I might just join you!

    Reply

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