The Aggregate: The Myth of the ‘Real’ Woman // Ugly Fruit Won’t Save the Earth
“Aggregate is a unique word. As a noun, it indicates different elements brought together in the same place. As a verb, it seeks to collect and assemble disparate pieces to create a more cohesive whole. This column seeks to do both of those things; breaking down some important stories in print journalism each week and presenting them in more bite-sized pieces.”
Do ‘Inclusivity’ Campaigns Do More Harm Than Good?
The Atlantic – Amanda Mull, “There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Real’ Woman”
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, this first story levels a critical gaze at the companies and brands whose campaigns for inclusivity and products for “real” women have revealed yet another set of issues at the murky intersection of femininity and capitalism. Amanda Mull’s article for The Atlantic leaves readers with more questions than answers on how to approach and respond to to these issues – arguably a more valuable takeaway than a straight answer – especially when examining difficult topics. Mull situates her argument in our current cultural climate; the topsy-turvy, social media and technology driven world that we struggle to navigate on a daily basis. She uses specific examples and general trends to bring readers to the crux of this piece: Mull dares to envision a world in which trying to achieve beauty standards. Even the new, more inclusive ones that do not necessarily belong at the forefront of every woman’s agenda.
While inclusivity initiatives appear to be a step in the right direction when it comes to relaxing rigid beauty standards, the reality of just how far companies would have to expand to be truly all-inclusive causes Mull to question the intentions of such campaigns.
“Women can’t be divided neatly into models and “real” women. By “real,” these companies usually mean a person a little bigger or darker-skinned than those in the images they or their competitors traditionally have put forth, but being a model isn’t some divine status bestowed by a higher power.”
The categorization of body types and so forth in this way creates the inevitably messy “us versus them” dynamic. While (I hope) it is not the intention of these campaigns to overtly imply that all women are either “models” or “not models,” that is precisely what is happening. It effectively demonizes “traditional” models who, I might add, are women before they are models. This unfortunate process glamorizes the shift away from certain body types in favor of others, and effectively minimizes the end goal of an increasingly inclusive, empowered female identity.
“The realities of being a woman in 2019 are just as messy and varied as everything else about trying to find solid footing in this cultural era. A woman in a full face of makeup is no less real than one who never bothers to apply eyeliner, and both of those women are real whether they fall outside a brand’s size range or fall within the traditional ideals of beauty that women have now been asked to reject.”
What happens when these advertising campaigns targeting ‘real’ women come up short (as they often do)? We are left with a population who do not necessarily find themselves in one camp or the other, which muddles ideas around feminine identity even further. Mull suggests we might need to do more than simply amend the current system.
“Instead of shifting or expanding the confines of beauty’s definition and the women to whom it applies, what might be more useful is a reconsideration of why we insist that physical beauty is a worthy goal for all women to pursue.”
In a class I took last semester, my professor repeatedly reminded us to “stay with the trouble” on some of the more complicated issues we examined throughout the course; coming to an answer one way or another was not necessarily the goal. Sometimes an adequate answer simply does not exist until enough questions have been asked. I think this article is a perfect example of an area of our society where there is an opportunity not to just shift the goalposts, but change the game being played altogether.
The Ugly Truth: Ugly Produce Edition
The Washington Post – Sarah Taber, “Farms aren’t tossing perfectly good produce. You are”
This next article is a blend of thorough reporting and compelling writing done so well that you almost forget that the author is throwing shade at you, the reader, pretty much the entire time. Sarah Taber identifies problems and solutions regarding food waste at each step of the modern food supply chain, and debunks myths where they exist. She offers a blunt and honest look at companies who claim to be eliminating food waste by shipping you a box of misshapen produce twice a month, and offers advice for consumers at every socioeconomic level on how to change our practices toward produce in ways that are beneficial for both the environment and your wallet. The gloves come off in this article, so let’s get composting.
If you’re like me, the first time you saw an ad for a company like Imperfect Produce – ads featuring ugly cucumbers and carrots being packed in a box and shipped to your door – you thought: “Wow, what great idea. The eco-friendly entrepreneur who came up with this business venture deserves to be wildly successful.” After reading Taber’s article, I still believe that these entrepreneurs deserve to be successful, but for being incredibly clever rather than environmentally conscious.
“The vast majority of waste — more than 80 percent — is generated by homes and consumer-facing businesses like grocery stores and restaurants. “Rescuing” ugly produce is just one of the few, small slices of the food waste problem that are easily monetized by private entrepreneurs. The hype surrounding this movement is inflated by the public’s ignorance of the food supply chain.”
The marketing strategy for many of these ugly produce companies relies on public assumption where the companies are offering a solution that consumers simply could not have come to on their own, which could not be further from the truth. Farms and agricultural companies have endless methods for minimizing waste and maximizing uses for every crop – no matter what they look like.
“The industry sorts produce into grades. Top-quality product goes to high-end grocery stores and pays the bills for the entire crop. Second-grade produce goes to food service, lower-end groceries, food banks — and, now, ugly-produce vendors. […] For the most part, ugly-produce initiatives are simply gentrifying second-grade produce that was already being eaten — just not, perhaps, by upscale shoppers.”
Yes, you read that correctly. While you’ve been sacrificing your paycheck to Whole Foods and Mother’s Market, lower income families and individuals have been buying and eating the produce these ugly produce companies are making us feel heroic for “saving.” You have to admit it’s kind of brilliant. However duped you may feel right now, don’t despair. Taber offers plenty of advice and realistic solutions on both personal and societal levels that can help reduce food waste.
“Most of all, we should sync our shopping habits with our eating habits. The most important behavioral change consumers can make to address food waste isn’t to buy certain kinds of produce. It’s to actually eat what we bring home.”
Buying less food, starting a compost bin, and making more frequent, smaller trips to the grocery store are all very feasible ways for the average person or even family to cut down on how much food ends up in the trash at the end of each week.
“To be clear, ugly produce isn’t bad. If it works for your budget and routine, use it: Our distribution systems should make food affordable and accessible. But the movement’s narrative, built around tales of dented squash rotting in fields, distracts us from the data about the real sources of waste and how to address them.”
The most dangerous part about band-aid solutions, like the ones “ugly produce” companies provide, is that they allow us to treat symptoms of a problem and subsequently write off the underlying cause. Taber’s article does an excellent job of calling attention to how we are treating the “symptoms” of food waste, while also providing a comprehensive list of things we can all do to create more permanent solutions.
Thanks so much for reading, and we’ll see you again next week.