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Pinkwashed

Breast Cancer Awareness Promotions Paint Grocery Stores Pink in OctoberFundraising is a tough business. How many times have you screened or hung-up on a telemarketer? Thrown away the mailer requesting a donation? Or deleted the email from your favorite non-profit? And do you ever feel like when you finally make that donation, you’re quickly “thanked” by a barrage of requests asking for more?

That’s why raising money with food is so wonderful. The thought process goes like this: “I buy a food item, and the food manufacturer makes a donation to a cause I care about.” Everybody wins, right? Well, not really. And there’s no better reminder of that than in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Soup display

I’ve preached about the perils of cause marketing before (here’s a link to my February 2012 post, Cause Marketing: Honest Help or Another Ploy to Sell More), but when a reader of mine emailed me the following, I thought it was worth another post. Here’s what my reader had to say:

One thing that pisses me off every October is the ubiquitous “cause marketing” for Breast Cancer Awareness month … when supermarkets and bake sales are overrun with artificially-colored (every nauseating shade of pink), factory-baked, preservative-laden cupcakes, cookies, candy and the like, all in the name of “raising awareness” and … alleged fundraising. The juxtaposition of junk food and “saving lives” utterly astounds me.

            –Norma W.

I couldn’t agree with you more, Norma. While there are a whole host of established risk factors for breast cancer, eating unhealthy food “is thought to be partly responsible for about 30% to 40% of all cancers.” [Breastcancer.org, 9/12/12, "Eating Unhealthy Food"] According to the Breastcancer.org website, the  basic dietary recommendations for eating healthy and trying to minimize your risk of getting cancer are:

    • Eat a more plant-based diet
    • Limit your fat intake
    • Mix up your protein options
    • Add healthy choices to your diet

With that directive in mind, I decided to stroll down the aisles of my local Wal-Mart to see how well breast cancer organizations adhered to these guidelines when choosing breast cancer sponsors to sign onto their cause. Here are some of the more interesting products I found “dressed in pink.” 

To be honest, I knew I’d find some problems, but even I’m surprised. These products are littered with trans fats, tons of sugar, empty calories, and even suspected cancer-causing ingredients. Is this crazy? What do you think? Which products above violate your trust and sensibilities? Have you seen other products in stores that are also surprising? And who should we hold accountable? Big Food manufacturers or the non-profit organizations? Or do you think this practice is totally okay since “the end justify the means”?

Please, let us know what you think. While I certainly have my opinion, I want to hear your thoughts so just click open the comments below and share your opinion! Together, we can help change the conversation about food by taking a stand for real food, demanding complete transparency about what’s in our food, and putting an end to misleading advertising and promotion tactics from Big Food.

And if you’re looking to take action on this issue, fellow blogger Kristi Marsh from Chose Wiser shared with me an organization that may help you do just that. Think Before You Pink is “a project of Breast Cancer Action, launched in 2002 in response to the growing concern about the number of pink ribbon products on the market. The campaign calls for more transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions.”

As always, thanks for visiting my blog. If you haven’t had a chance to check out my book, Fat Profits, you can learn more about it here. Great reviews for Fat Profits keep rolling in, so there’s no better time than now to download your FREE chapter! And if you’re new to my blog and you’d like to learn more about the tricks, traps, and tools Big Food uses to get people eating more processed food, please subscribe for the latest updates.

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35 comments… add one

  • Be October 23, 2012, 12:23 pm

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more. A few years ago the local boy scouts were selling popcorn as a fund raiser. While I disagree with their exclusionary practices, I still believe they are a beneficial organization – I personally got a lot out of scouts. While we won’t eat their trans fat laden popcorn, we were aware that you can donate money and have popcorn sent to our soldiers abroad. It seems like a great solution to helping two worthy group of people without poisoning ourselves. It seemed like a good solution at the time.

    But am I really helping either cause?

    We walked past the boyscout stand this weekend without contributing.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 23, 2012, 7:22 pm

      Thanks for the comment, “Be.” It is amazing what the scouts and girl scouts sell … and the schools that send our kids home to fundraise … and our churches … and … Yes, it’s quite a long list a dysfunctional fundraising.

      Regards,
      Bruce

      Reply
  • Norma October 23, 2012, 1:10 pm

    Thanks for the mention, Bruce. I agree with the comment from “Be” above, also — why would I want to send junk food to our troops? I bypass any and all food-related fundraisers. I find ways to directly support people affected by the causes I care about most deeply; purchasing some sugar-flavored, artificially-colored yogurt and mailing in foil wrappers isn’t helping ANYONE. I’ve done only cursory research into how the money raised for Big Name Cancer Funds is used, and it’s a lot like 1980s televangelists, if you know what I mean. If you want to help people who have breast cancer, leave the pink cans of sodium soup on the shelf. Call your local hospital and see if there’s a fund that helps patients pay their household bills while they’re out of work/undergoing treatment. Don’t line the pockets of some COO who funnels a few dollars toward “research” (with all the million$ raised, why is cancer still so common and why is treatment still stuck in the middle ages?) — help an actual person whose family might be struggling to keep up with the mortgage.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 23, 2012, 1:15 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Norma, and for the nudge to get me to write this post. I love your idea of helping families in need. I will definitely have to try that one!

      Regards,
      Bruce

      Reply
    • Athena October 24, 2012, 2:42 pm

      Norma– Have you been peeking inside my brain?
      My exact thoughts-thanks!

      Reply
      • lydia mariano July 3, 2013, 2:45 am

        The problem is advertisement. The mainstream media would do everything to enticed people for sake of” helping ” breast cancer victims . There are so many of us who really want to help ,but lack the awareness of the bad side of good helping. Thank you for all your concern.People needs to be educated.

        Reply
  • Laura October 23, 2012, 3:00 pm

    I don’t buy any of the foods that have pink labels, as I am eating real food. I also do not buy into the whole “pink” marketing as I DO NOT believe for one second that they are trying to come up with a cure. They are only trying to find a patentable treatment that will make greedy people rich. Having a mother who died of breast cancer (in the month of October and on her birthday) this is something I take very seriously. I wear pink in October out of love and respect for her, but it is clothing I already have. I think it is shameful to take advantage of something so terrible as cancer as a way to market your product. If I really wanted to donate to breast cancer research fund I would just write a check directly- if I believed they were actually looking for a cure.

    Reply
    • Dear October 28, 2012, 8:59 am

      I agree with Laura, I do not believe funds are being used to FIND THE CURE!

      Reply
    • Sooze November 3, 2012, 3:26 pm

      Absolutely. Every time someone professes to have a cure for cancer (which, by the way, I’m certain they’ve had one for ages) that person disappears and the cure is never spoken of again.

      If “they” were to find a cure, then “they” would have no money. It’s not about people; it’s about business. Always has been; always will be.

      “Greedy bastards” are probably about the only printable adjectives I can use to describe both Big Food and Pharmaceuticals.

      Reply
  • Kathy Williams October 24, 2012, 6:40 am

    I am in complete agreement. Recently at the grocery store, I saw “Lofthouse Breast Cancer Awareness” cookies, complete with pink-tinted sprinkles. Ugh. If the American Cancer Society really cared about raising cancer awareness and curing cancer they would never partner with organizations that promote foods that promote cancer. Its somewhat like the police department partnering with the mafia to promote crime awareness.

    Reply
    • Sandra October 25, 2012, 4:08 pm

      bingo! Completely agree, what a perfect analogy!

      Reply
  • Melinda October 24, 2012, 7:12 am

    One of the major reasons I’ve always had a problem with the pinkwashing is because it doesn’t really accomplish anything. Not to mention it makes any of the other cancers seem less important. Cancer is awful in all of its forms and anyone that has had, has or has lost their life to it is just as important as those that have had, has or has lost their life to breast cancer. However if all of the different, specific cancer societies as well as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and every other chronic disease association that can be prevented/treated/cured with real food combined their efforts they could make a true, serious impact on what is going on within the food industry and government. They could all actually bring about change that would truly help those with these diseases.

    Reply
  • Colleen October 24, 2012, 8:17 am

    Great post Bruce! I did extensive research on this very topic last year because (to me) the whole Susan G. Komen for the Cure (SGK) organization stinks! Who uses Kentucky Fried Chicken to raise money for breast cancer awareness??? And what I discovered is that SGK doesn’t even advocate for prevention, but rather is in bed with the drug companies that make the drugs that keep BigPharma executives rich. And speaking of rich, I am flabergasted at the salaries that SGK executives make, what’s non-profit about that??? That whole organization makes me sick! Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing!
    Thanks for your post!!! Maybe one day the focus will be on prevention rather than money.

    Reply
  • Amber in Albuquerque October 24, 2012, 8:40 am

    Wow. All I can really add to the above comments is a big DITTO to what Laura said. October 31 will be the second anniversary of losing my mother to breast cancer (before she could retire, and before she could collect any of the Social Security she’d been paying into since she was a teenager, and BEFORE she could see my kids grow up). I’m still pissed. I HATE October and all the pink crap and all the NOTHING it signifies. Awareness? Give me a break. This isn’t some rare cancer no one has ever heard of. No, this is about greed pure and simple. All of the companies pushing this pink stuff are huge and could afford to make a gigantic contribution to finding a CURE (not “raising awareness”) with no strings attached if they wanted to. Anyway, good post; I agree; and I really enjoy the blog.

    Reply
  • V H Newton October 24, 2012, 10:20 am

    This sort of thing has bothered me for years now. It seems to be the worst with breast cancer “awareness”, but other causes are queuing up for their share of the pie, too. I remember when I saw the pink Brita pitcher finally getting really disgusted. The pitcher which was the same as the others was about $10 more, and if you read the fine print about the donation policy it usually says the company will donate a set amount to research, and it’s a relatively small amount, say one million dollars. That’s a whole lot of extra money for an already very profitable company. It is an outrage that you can get just about any item- not just food- in pink now at an outrageously inflated price, but if you do the math only the tiniest percentage of the difference in cost funds research. The same is true for foods- the yogurt campaign has a limit on what they will donate too, and it’s TINY when compared to the amount of profit they make. I no longer buy into it, I simply support those causes which I have deemed non predatory with a direct donation and a request not to barrage me with money wasting follow up marketing. What is the point of my donation when they seemingly send it all back to my mailbox? Thank you for this article and the rest of the wonderful work you do on your blog!

    Reply
  • Emily October 24, 2012, 11:31 am

    Last year I decided I hated October, The Big Pink! But it is the pink washing that drives me crazy, not lovely October. I am trying to remember back before all of this marketing insanity. Breast cancer was not spoken about nor was research funded very much. So I appreciate that people have brought it into the general consciousness. But what a monster all this has become. And pinkwashing gross “food” is criminal in my mind. You definitely are talking about something that pushes my buttons!!!

    Reply
  • Danika @ Your Organic Life October 24, 2012, 12:02 pm

    Thank you so much. I’m sharing this on the Pinkwashing Hall of Shame on Facebook and Pinterest. For those of you who are interested, you can find them here:

    http://www.facebook.com/nopinkwashing
    http://pinterest.com/yourorganiclife/pinkwashing-hall-of-shame/

    Reply
  • Nancy Keeler October 24, 2012, 1:36 pm

    It seems so obvious that if you are eating the products you have highlighted here, you are setting yourself up for disease. Actually feeding disease with these products. Susan G. Komen must be rolling over in her grave at the unethical and unhealthy road her namesake has taken.

    Reply
  • Nancy-The Frugal Dietitian October 24, 2012, 3:46 pm

    So true!! Being a past Girl Scout leader and Dietitian, I always hated those over-priced Girl Scout cookies. When we sold them, for every $3.50 spent on a box, about .60 went to the local troop. Now I don’t buy the cookies. I just write a check written directly to the local troop for the price I would pay for the cookies, so they get the full amount to use. 100% profit!

    Reply
  • AnneMarie October 24, 2012, 5:11 pm

    Excellent to see this nonsense hitting in places where it might not normally be discussed. There is a growing contingent of us who have been making lots of noise about “pinkwashing” and “Pinktober” …. Fun fact. Someone actually bought the rights to that word. Pinktober is now a TM that is owned by Hard Rock. It’s gone too far. Today I saw someone posted a picture of pink contact lenses. Just when I thought I’d seen it all….

    If we keep the conversation going, this can change. NYS Attorney General just adopted best practice guidelines with regard to “ribbon merchandise” ….. It will come with an “ingredient label” …. It’s a small but significant start. Hope other states will follow.

    Reply
  • Scott October 25, 2012, 7:30 am

    I had never really thought about the pinkwashing of the nation in October. Sure, you see the NFL showing off its pink side and businesses using it to raise money (and profits) to fight cancer. I try not to be so cynical about it and want to believe that at least a small part of the reason they do it is to help fight the disease. Like some others on here have posted, I lost my mother to breast cancer – not in October, but 3 days before my birthday. I’ve raised money for Komen in the past, but won’t do that again. Since all the bruhaha with them last year, that organization has left a bitter taste in my mouth.
    That is all to say, that I never thought about the hypocrisy of purchasing some of these products dressed in pink that may in turn lead to a higher risk of cancer. What’s next, pink cartons of Marlboros? Thanks for this post that has opened my eyes a little bit wider.

    Reply
  • Jared P October 26, 2012, 6:35 am

    Jesus Christ, I never really thought about it like that before. Thanks , Bruce.. for all you do.

    Reply
  • Michelle October 26, 2012, 11:20 am

    Another thing I have noticed about pink washing is that many companies don’t even donate. You might buy a pack of pink tennis balls that say “support breast cancer” but nowhere on their packaging does it say that they donate to breast cancer. This disease in particular makes me sick they way it is marketed, people are all focusing on the imaginary cure instead of the cause. Birth control pills, BPAs, and anti-perpirants loaded with parabens all need to be examined instead of pouring millions into research for new chemo drugs.

    Reply
  • Paige Hoffmann October 26, 2012, 1:49 pm

    I think it’s completely ridiculous that these products are supporting breast cancer awareness, when they could very possibly be the cause of the cancer! It’s sick and wrong how they try to appear healthy and wholesome by flashing the pink ribbon when in reality there is nothing healthy about these products.

    Reply
  • Madonna October 26, 2012, 11:31 pm

    Hi Bruce,

    Couldn’t agree more. Actually I think the whole pink campaign is a joke. I do not subscribe to eating junk food. Neither do I subscribe to supporting big pharmaceutical companies who use fear tactics, misinformation and lies to make millions of dollars while suppressing the truth about cancer.

    Great post and I’ll be glad when October is over.

    Reply
  • Margo October 27, 2012, 11:58 pm

    As a breast cancer survivor, I actually find the pinking of products offensive. Companies may be donating something to fund cancer research but, by and large, they are making profits because of this disease. My scars are not for sale. The violation of my body by this disease is not for sale. The deaths of my friends are not for sale. I’d rather we stopped pinking everything and instead scarred it, showed what this wretched disease really is instead of basically making it pink and girly and kind of cute and attractive. This disease is ugly. There is nothing pink about it, only red: blood red. I won’t buy pink products. They insult me.

    Reply
  • Acacia October 28, 2012, 12:36 pm

    Hello Bruce,
    Thank you for the great post! Pinkwashing isn’t usually something discussed outside the breast cancer community, so it’s great to see it being raised here. The pink ribbon turned breast cancer into the feminine “shopping” disease focused more on appearance (and profit) than saving lives. Of course the most notorious food instance was the partnership between Komen and Kentucky Fried Chicken, which Nancy Brinker (the founder and chair) justified because KFC was starting to offer “grilled” chicken too.

    Reply
  • Cheryl October 29, 2012, 12:55 pm

    I’m a mid-twenties food activist and get quite vocal about the Pink Ribbon often. My friends find it annoying that they can’t enjoy their favorite teams game because I’m ranting. With that being said, my main issue (aside from the sheer saturation of the cause) is that there is never any mention of PREVENTION! Likely because that would draw unwanted attention to many of the ingredients and causes that have been linked to all cancers. It’s time we wake up and realize that funneling billions of dollars into 1 method of mediation (research for a cure) does not decrease the rates at which women are diagnosed or really provide any solid help to the issue.

    Reply
    • Norma November 1, 2012, 8:46 am

      There’s no profit in prevention!

      Reply
  • Rebecca November 3, 2012, 8:34 am

    Wow! There are actually others out there who feel as I do! Thank you, everybody! I am so tired of crap “food” being used to (supposedly) raise money for cures to a myriad of diseases. Since becoming a vegan almost 3 years ago, I’ve also become WAY more conscious of all the pink, green and (insert color of the month here)-washing that comes from all these huge corporations (food and pharma) who are busy patting themselves on the backs for continuing to brainwash the public to keep them sick. I will not donate any money to disease research unless they FIRST emphasize prevention – and, to my knowledge, no one is doing that to any great degree. I think a sign at my local Burger King (when I was a junk food omnivore) said it best: “HELP SUPPORT KIDNEY DISEASE” (sic…and sick!). Very telling, don’t ya think?

    Reply
  • jodi Sussner November 12, 2012, 9:27 am

    Thank you for your post Bruce – I am a little behind as I just subscribed today! The only real way that we can make change with all of this, is educating ourselves and NOT purchasing their products.

    In addition to that, my personal favs (insert sarcasm), are holidays that promote more processed food consumption: Valentines Day, St Patricks Day, Easter, Halloween – they are a food industry’s dream! And the last thing I’m going to do is package it up to send to our troops. What a slap in the face – “here, I won’t let my family eat this but, you deserve it”…no way.

    I am convinced that the Food Industry will soon see a similar fate as the Tobacco industry – as long as we stand strong, stay educated, and never give up. Thank you Bruce and readers for contributing to the fight.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley November 12, 2012, 10:08 am

      Thanks for you comment, Jodi. And thanks for subscribing to my blog!

      I think you’re right, the processed foods industry is in for a rude awakening (hopefully sooner rather than later). Together, by standing strong and getting the word out about real foods, we can turn around these disastrous health trends.

      Thanks again!

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Steve September 19, 2013, 5:40 pm

    This may be slightly off-topic, but I think the last straw for me came a couple years back when I discovered you could buy a new Ford Mustang in black with pink racing stripes and some undisclosed percentage would go to SGK. I thought to myself that this was getting totally out of hand and, coming right behind funding scandals at the Red Cross and other organizations, I became very suspicious of “Big Charity” in all its forms. Interesting color juxtaposition on the car- mostly evil-looking black with a little pink running through it ; were they sending a subtle message?

    Reply
  • Hek November 13, 2013, 8:50 pm

    Great work! Bruce keep up the good work. I just hope you don’t turn agains the people once you have reach a certain level. We have seem much of that over the years with this phony politicians and Corporations.

    Reply
  • Denise March 12, 2014, 2:57 pm

    I don’t eat or drink, or even buy any of the products listed above. I know that they are unhealthy, but to try to dupe the American people into thinking that they’re healthy and they’re doing a good thing by buying the product is a crime!!! The Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation ought to be cited for this crime. October’s Pink really stinks!!

    Reply

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Commenting Policy: Following the advice of a popular blogger, I’m running my blog conversation like it’s my living room. Just so you know, I won’t tolerate bad behavior in my living room, and I won’t tolerate it on here. Critical is fine and differing opinions are encouraged. But if you’re rude … bye bye. And when commenting, please use your PERSONAL name or initials and NOT your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. The bottom line is, be cool, keep it clean, and have fun! Thanks in advance for adding to the conversation!

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About Me:

Bruce Bradley

Bruce Bradley

I'm a father, food advocate, consultant, and author.

Bruce is a former processed food exec turned food advocate, blogger, and author.

Before his food advocacy work, Bruce worked for over fifteen years as a marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. As one of the only former processed food marketers actively speaking out about concerns over the food we eat, the media often seeks Bruce out for his honest perspective. His 2011 interview, Confessions of a former Big Food Executive, was one of Grist online's Top 10 clicked stories for 2011.

Bruce now writes, performs speaking engagements, and provides business strategy and marketing consultant services to help ethical, sustainable businesses reach their potential.

Bruce graduated with an MBA from Duke University and a B.A. from Davidson College. Born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, he now lives in Minneapolis, MN with his son and their dog, Katie.

Awards & Recognition

Bruce Bradley Named Food Hero by Allergy Kids Foundation

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