Flicking through an organic gardening magazine I noticed something strange. The advertising. Most was to be expected: chicken coops, garden tools, eco-tours. Then I saw a full page ad for a gluten-free conference. Huh? Do organic gardeners all have Coeliac disease? What does gluten-free have to do being green?
This sent me digging.
Most of the time environmentalism attracts what you’d expect: scientists, hiking enthusiasts, disillusioned nuclear weapons engineers. But then weird things keep popping up. What’s with all the dreadlocks, bongos, and pot? Why the anarchists, feminist, and spiritualists? Why, why, why, of all the people in history to have felt compelled to go green, do we find Nazis? Yes, turns out some of them were into animal welfare, organics, and mass murder.
What is going on here?
The key is this: Green, and Green Plus. Plus free-love. Plus gluten-free sandwiches. Plus world conquest by the Aryan master-race. Figuring out what the Pluses have in common with Green, is the key to seeing why they didn’t just stick with their Plus but went and jumped in bed with Green. There are at least four points of contact:
1) Love of Nature
Obviously. Hence why the Animal Rights types jump right on in (and get one hell of a shock when they discover that Green can involve murdering truckloads of cute animals. It’s called pest control folks.) This also explains why spiritual types get involved. If Mother Nature is literally your god, then you’re going Green.
2) Raging Against the Machine
Environmentalism has big beef with mainstream culture and the powers that be. Hence the anarchists, feminists, and anti-globalists. Indeed, anyone who is counter-cultural, anti-consumerist, or wanting to live a simple life is going to feel good in bed with Green. Hence the hippies, the pot, and yet more spiritual types.
3) Turning Back the Clock
The modern world is an environmental disaster movie. Anyone who idolizes the pre-modern past will find Green alluring. This backwards gaze can get a bit romantic. So romantic it deserves a capital R.
Romanticism was so Romantic that it was a movement, and it had a big shape on who we are today. Central was an obsession with nature and the past. Consequently, Green gets yet more spiritual types, Thoreau musing beside Walden Pond, and the Nazi’s.
Yes, those damn Nazis.
Combine a love of the local, with a romantic view of the past, with a taste for myth and folklore, with a longing for a deep connection between a people and a place, and out pops nationalism. Pushed to it’s extreme, nationalism becomes fascism. Blood and soil, as the Nazis used to say.
This anti-modern streak can also go anti-science. Science is just far too modern. They just don’t say “Holistic” enough. Hence the occasional foray into pseudoscience.
4) We are LOHAS. We are Legion.
Finally we circle back to those gluten-free ads. How does an advertiser choose where to place their ads? They target a defined demographic. This one’s called LOHAS: Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability. These are your ethical consumers, concerned about their own health, and the health of the planet.
Our final set of the weird Green mash ups, therefore, are due to demographic effects, and due to businesses targeting the lucrative market that is LOHA$. Marketers will throw anything at these guys that they think they’ll like. Some of it will be because LOHAS are green, some of it will be because LOHAS have an over-abundance of well-to-do middle aged women. Hence the wealth of organic wines, and the poverty of deep fried organic chicken nuggets.
So why those gluten-free ads? Perhaps it is because Coeliacs spend 28.42% of their lives reading labels asking “What is E-6i500 flavorant really?” then discovering that it is made from coal tar and endangered Guatemalan tree snails. Or perhaps it is because a greeny’s concern about pollution progresses to a haunting paranoia about what’s really in our food, which then progresses to a general concern with purity, and gosh-darn it, if gluten is a problem, then gluten is out! In a polluted world Health and Green tend to merge, hence LOHAS.
Nature, activism, anti-modernism, and demographics. Distinguishing the Green from the Green Plus is important for making sense of Green weirdness, and it’s also important for moving environmentalism forward. Much of what is accepted as core Green is actually optional. You don’t have to be a Green Plus. You can just be Green.
Deeper Down the Rabbit hole:
For an example of Green’s perennial attraction for spiritual types, along with the kind of stuff that makes scientists cringe, see Biodynamic Agriculture, here.
Unfamiliar with Romanticism? Try here on Wikipedia.
Nazi organics haven’t gone away. Read “The Right-wing Organic Farmers of Germany” from the New Yorker here.
For an example of what LOHAS marketing looks like on the inside try the Natural Marketing Institute, here.