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Shopping Our Way to Safety

Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed from Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves

Andrew Szasz
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    Shopping Our Way to Safety
    Book Description:

    Many Americans today rightly fear that they are exposed to toxins in their environment. Yet we have responded not by pushing for governmental regulation, but instead by shopping. Andrew Szasz examines this phenomenon and argues that when consumers believe that they are buying a defense from hazards, they feel less urgency to fix them. To achieve real protection, he concludes, we must give up individual solutions and together seek reform.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5370-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Inverted Quarantine
    (pp. 1-8)

    Not that long ago, hardly a generation back, people did not worry about the food they ate. They did not worry about the water they drank or the air they breathed. It never occurred to them that eating, drinking water, satisfying basic, mundane bodily needs, might be dangerous things to do. Parents thought it was good for their kids to go outside, get some sun.

    That is all changed now. People see danger everywhere. Food, water, air, sun. We cannot do without them. Sadly, we now also fear them. We suspect that the water that flows from the tap is...

  5. I. Two Historical Case Studies

    • [I. Introduction]
      (pp. 9-14)

      All indicators show that each year more and more Americans buy inverted quarantine products, such as bottled water, water filters, organic foods, and “organic,” “natural,” or “nontoxic” household products and personal hygiene products. Consumers obviously believe that these products will help shield them from toxic substances in our environment. As I wrote in the introduction, I am concerned about the long-term consequences for our society. What happens when many millions of people respond to environmental threats in this way?

      Documenting the growing popularity of inverted quarantine products is easy. The evidence is overwhelming. Understanding the consequences is, at this point,...

    • 1. The Fallout Shelter Panic of 1961
      (pp. 15-55)

      On July 25, 1961, in a nationally televised speech,¹ President John F. Kennedy told the American people that tensions between the United States and Russia had reached new heights, had perhaps reached some sort of breaking point. Kennedy had just returned from a summit meeting with Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The meeting had gone poorly. Khrushchev seemed intent on forcing the United States out of West Berlin. And, Kennedy said, West Berlin was “not an isolated problem.” The Communist threat was “world-wide … Berlin … Southeast Asia … in our own hemisphere.” The stakes were immense: “The [fate] of the entire...

    • 2. Suburbanization as Inverted Quarantine
      (pp. 56-96)

      At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States was still overwhelmingly rural in character. Almost three out of four Americans—71.6 percent—lived on farms and in small towns. By 2000, that figure had dropped below 20 percent; 80.3 percent of Americans were living in metropolitan areas. Like other advanced industrial nations, the United States had become an urban society.

      When one looks at that 80 percent more closely, though, one sees another development, arguably at least as important as urbanization: In 1910, less than 7 percent of Americans lived in suburbs; by 2000, that number had risen...

  6. II. Assembling a Personal Commodity Bubble for One’s Body

    • [II. Introduction]
      (pp. 97-104)

      Many Americans fear that they are constantly exposed to toxics in their immediate environment. They think that tap water is contaminated with chemicals and is not safe to drink, that foods have pesticide residues, hormones, and antibiotics in them, that the air carries invisible poisons. Pay no attention, go about your life, eating whatever, drinking, breathing without giving it another thought? It would be foolish to do that.

      The response has been swift, even dramatic. Within a couple of decades, bottled water, water filters, and organic foods have gone from being marginal, niche commodities to becoming mass consumer items. Today...

    • 3. Drinking
      (pp. 105-133)

      Sometime during the 1980s, beverage industry analysts began notice that consumption of bottled waters had started to rise, and rise rather dramatically. Bottled waters had been on the market a long time. Immigrants from Europe had brought with them long-held beliefs in the medicinal properties of mineral water, so bottled mineral waters had a small but dedicated following. Local bottlers had also long been making deliveries of five-gallon jugs of water to business offices, supplying those “coolers” around which, allegedly, so much office gossip takes place. But sales of those products did not add up to anything like a significant...

    • 4. Eating
      (pp. 134-152)

      The termhealth food storeused to evoke images of “shriveled produce with brown spots sold in a tiny store with sawdust strewn on a wooden floor and potted ferns hanging from the rafters.”¹ That stereotype might not have been that far-fetched a few years ago. “Health food” was for folks who were a little odd, a bit too health conscious, perhaps a bit hypochondriacal. Today, the organic food market is very different: national chains of attractive upscale organic food markets; organics on sale in mainstream supermarkets; organic labels owned by giant food corporations like Procter & Gamble, General Mills, Heinz,...

    • 5. Breathing
      (pp. 153-168)

      A person takes in materials from the surrounding environment a third way, breathing. An average-sized adult takes in about 450 to 500 cubic centimeters of air with each breath, from fourteen to twenty times, typically, each minute. Taking the middle of those ranges, that is about 8,000 cubic centimeters of air every minute. In English units that is about three-tenths of a cubic foot of air every minute, or over 400 cubic feet of air per day. If the air has molecules of harmful substances suspended in it, those substances are brought deep into the lung’s tiniest passages, either to...

  7. III. Consequences of Inverted Quarantine

    • [III. Introduction]
      (pp. 169-172)

      In Part III, I turn from description to analysis, to questions of effectiveness, consequences, and prospects. Are environmental inverted quarantine products effective? What will happen if millions of people continue to seek to protect themselves by using these products?

      In chapter 6, I consider these products’ effectiveness: do they work as promised and as hoped? The evidence, though scant, suggests not. Yes, some of these products provide an increment of protection, but no amount of vigilance can come even close to completely, perfectly keeping from the body all the hazardous substances now circulating in our environment.

      Do these products work...

    • 6. Imaginary Refuge
      (pp. 173-193)

      All this green and natural consuming, all this filtering—does it work? Can it work? If people use these products, do they really manage to keep toxic substances out of their bodies?

      I begin by looking at what is known about the effectiveness of individual inverted quarantine products. I find that their effectiveness varies from “substantial” to “apparently none,” and in many instances their effectiveness cannot be determined at present. Of course, since the body takes in materials from the environment a number of ways, no single product, no matter how good, is enough by itself. Most consumers are not...

    • 7. Political Anesthesia
      (pp. 194-222)

      Inverted quarantine products do not work all that well. That does not concern me much, though it might not be welcome news to those who believe in these products and spend good money for them. What matters to me more is that peoplethinkthey work. As the great American sociologist W. I. Thomas wrote, long ago, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”¹ In this chapter, I try to understand what, in this instance, those consequences might be.

      I first started thinking about inverted quarantine when some years ago I walked into a supermarket...

  8. Conclusion: The Future of an Illusion
    (pp. 223-238)

    Books about environmental crisis tend to follow the same general narrative arc: First comes bad news and dire warnings. “We face catastrophe if we continue down this path.” Then, when the author gets toward the end of the book, she or he affirms that there is still time. Take heart. It is not too late. There is still a chance that we can turn things around, if only we change our ways: If we embrace a new, more egalitarian, more humane, nonexploitative attitude toward nature. If we can find our way to a new economics that creates acceptably high levels...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 239-282)
  10. References
    (pp. 283-318)
  11. Index
    (pp. 319-324)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-325)