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The Story of An Egg: The Marketing of Farming

March 23, 2013

Working with the group called the Lexicon of Sustainability, PBS recently released a video entitled “The Story of an Egg.”

The video highlights the challenges associated with egg production and marketing in the United States. And it signals the scope of greenwashing in the conventional food stream.

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Greenwashing refers to efforts by organizations to spin their marketing to appear more environmentally friendly. In the case of food production, greenwashing is fairly common. Terms like “free range” and “cage free” evoke the image of a chicken free to roam green fields and stand in stark contrast to the traditional intensive-model of egg production. But as The Story of an Egg shows, terms are often co-opted by marketers in an attempt to curry positive associations with their brands and influence consumer behavior. Indeed, “free range” and “cage free,” to paraphrase from one of my favorite movies, probably do not mean what you think they mean.

This phenomenon is hardly unique to egg production. Safeway markets produce as local when it comes from the same state, even if it comes from hundreds of miles away. Fair trade standards also vary dramatically. And don’t even get started on industry standards for the labeling of sustainably-harvested seafood.

But the Lexicon of Sustainability calling for us to develop new language and renew our commitment to locally produced food. In choosing eggs, they advocate looking for “pasture raised poultry.” Now if only we had terms for all the other things we look for in our food…

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