Today I feel.

If there’s one thing everyone knows, everyone understands, it’s that emotions are both powerful and changeable. In these months of mental and physical isolation, of fear and fear-mongering, and of facing a future that seems more opaque than ever before, emotion can be a crutch or an avenue of healing. We are each trying to process our emotional state on a daily basis.

I’ve found that some days I am driven by anger, others by sadness, and more and more I just feel exhausted. But on rare days when a gentle breeze pulls me into the present or a wave of clarity washes through my brain, I feel fortified and ready again to be an active agent in my own story. I won’t lie and say I feel hope, or that I even believe hope is a very useful feeling (to me, hope is more about passive wishing, while having faith – in the world, in oneself, in a higher power, whatever it is – pushes me to purpose). But I do circle back to feeling inspired or in awe every now and then, and it is those moments I try to string together into a reality driven by compassion instead of more basal emotions.

I wish I had the capacity to express my current state of mind as beautifully as writers like Sarah Orah Marks in this piece for the Paris Review.

‘I consider how much we depend on useless, arbitrary tasks to prove ourselves,” she writes. “I consider how much we depend on these tasks so we can say, at the very end, we succeeded…In fairy tales, the king is the king. If he dethrones, his bones clatter into a heap and vanish. Loosen the seams of the stepmother, and reach in. Nothing but stepmother inside. Even when the princess is cinders and ash, she is still entirely princess. If I had a machete I would use it to cut the mice, and the princess, and the king, and the stepmother, and the castle, and the wolf, and the mother, and the sons, free from their function so they could disappear into their own form.”

She so aptly captures the anxiety of working for an external goal for so long that you don’t even remember why you wanted it in the first place, and of the relief from letting that goal go so you can fall into your true self. As I continue on that journey for myself, of recognizing my own hands and learning what they really want to do, all I can offer is a stream of consciousness that logs my daily emotional journey.

Maybe you’ll relate, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll nod your head in agreement, or shake your head in horror at my internal monologue. If this is useful for you, great, and if not, may you find your own path through emotional growth. For what it’s worth, I’ve documented my emotional state over the course of several days, each day dominated either by anger, sadness, exhaustion, or resolve, as a reminder that emotions are capricious and beneath their tumultuous surface we will always have to deal with our true selves lying in the deep, still waters beneath.

Anger

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Today I am angry. I am angry at a world full of meaningless noise that clogs my ears and my mind and threatens to drive me crazy. I’m angry at the leaf blowers outside my home three times a week, and the weed whackers, water pressure hoses, and lawn mowers. I’m mad at the companies that hire the people to use these loud pieces of equipment to blow things around and chop things up ceaselessly so that there is never a moment of quiet peace. I’m angry that we care so much about cleaning streets and sidewalks and using leftover crude oil to pour them into existence over once beautiful natural land. I’m angry that trash collection begins at 6am, and that we even need trash collection at all. I’m angry at myself for producing trash, for giving into a society that normalizes the use of plastic-wrapped everything, convenience everything, mass produced everything, injecting us with the desire and need for variety and flavor and exoticness and excess and ultimately waste. I’m angry that a pandemic has made us even bigger plastic polluters. I’m angry that the only ones to ever benefit from a disaster are the rich and power hungry, and that everyone knows it but no one dares to try and change it. I’m angry that people aren’t taking to the streets every day to demand our leadership and our entire governance structure be dismantled. I’m mad at myself that I am not in the streets, that I don’t know how to be a charismatic leader for change. I’m angry that I don’t know WHAT we should be doing – should we be protesting in the streets, striking big businesses, demanding change by removing ourselves from the system? I’m angry that I still spend much of my day sitting in front of a screen typing meaningless words about topics that don’t matter if people want to be stupid and ignorant and greedy. I’m angry that so many people can so readily take advantage of their fellow humans because they know they are desperate, ill-educated, and want to believe in miracles and conspiracies because it’s so much easier to see in black in white instead of grey. I’m angry at the people who are smart but choose not to use their critical thinking because they are angry too, and their urge to proselytize overtakes their ability of self-enquiry. I’m angry at myself for taking so long to figure out what I should be doing in this life to be a positive force, not just a resource drag. I’m angry that I was born into a world overflowing with consumerism, with companies telling us we have to buy things to define ourselves, and for believing that for so long. I’m angry that corporations like plastic industries, cruise lines, airlines, and big oil get bailouts and subsidies while sustainable farming, healthcare, and education don’t. I’m angry that our world is so clearly a dystopia but few people seem to feel the need to break out of the mold or demand better. I’m angry at all of the disgusting, mindless television, the exploitation of people for entertainment, the sensationalized news media on all sides and the people whose brains get molded by them, and how stupid it makes people. I’m angry that so many people perpetuate violence and completely ignore it, based on the hundreds of choices they make each year about what to eat and what to buy. I’m angry that I don’t have more of a platform to invoke change, to help people, to push out injustice, to spread compassion, to contribute positive things to the world. I’m angry at so many people, and human systems, and the messes we’ve created, that sometimes I don’t feel it’s even worth it to want to help. Today I’m angry at the world, and I’m angry at myself for being so angry.

Sadness

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Today I am sad. Sad for the millions of animals crammed together in dirty pens that never had a chance. They didn’t have a chance at life before the pandemic because they were in line to be murdered for steaks, wings, and bacon. No chance at life now because with supply chains broken, businesses are murdering them immediately just so they won’t have to spend money feeding them until supply chains are mended. I’m sad for all the people that never had a chance. The generations of abused and victimized that may have very well changed the world for the better and helped us evolve past our current brutality, if they had ever been given on small leg up and out of oppression. I’m sad for all the people that are so desperate for someone or something tangible to blame external to themselves that they will swallow the most outlandish lies that will only be a slow poison that leads to pain and death. Death of bodies, death of minds, death of potential. I’m sad that even in the midst of a global pause of the biggest machine on our planet – the economy – we can’t conceive of more creative and compassionate futures instead of just ‘getting back to business as usual’. I’m sad that we’ve failed ourselves. That we let our creativity and potential ooze out of us like sweat as we lounge on our couches watching celebrities watch TV. I’m sad that I don’t want children because I don’t want them to grow up feeling guilt, anger, loss, and suffering that, while it has existed through all time, is particularly gut-wrenching in this era. I’m sad that people still believe in ‘progress’ like it is a ladder to material heaven, where you can buy anything you want and everything grows bigger and bigger forever and you stretch so wide you don’t know where your mind ends and the lavish clothes and jewelry and cars and yard décor begins. I’m sad because all I want is to live in a tiny cabin on a few acres of land with woods and water, but this too is materialistic. I’m sad because it takes so much money to live so simply if you want to do it away from other people and noise and business. I’m sad because someone sprayed pesticides outside my apartment and now there are dozens of bees dead or dying on the sidewalk, writhing in confusion as their tongues splay out and they crawl in circles until they lose all hope and energy and give up. I’m sad because I feel isolated from everyone; I don’t want to watch TV, I don’t want to buy things, I don’t want to be happy and optimistic, and I don’t want to go back to normal. I’m sad that I can never choose a side, because I see all the grey and nuance in every situation and therefore ostracize myself from all factions. I’m sad because all of the best things about life – the magic of nature, the spiritual essence of ourselves, the beauty of our universe – is all trivialized by the pettiness of the small amount of our brains that we actually cultivate. I’m sad because I may never know the full capability of my brain. I may never discover whether I have a soul and how to free myself from bodily form. I’m sad that suffering is inevitable. I’m sad that the few in power can harm so many not in power, and that if we could all just band together we could create revolution, but people don’t tend to want revolution. They want to go back to normal. To go back. To revert. To recede. To hide in shells and hope that the waves of war, or disease, or disaster will wash over them and move on so that they can meekly pull their heads out again and continue crawling in circles in the sand. Today, I am filled with sadness.

Exhaustion

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Today I am exhausted. Everything in the world makes me tired. My brain hurts from the millions of repeated messages and useless soundbites perpetuated across every media platform. I’m exhausted by people who’ve lost all sense of empathy for their fellow humans – or anyone else for that matter – and who for some reason want to slave away for an inanimate ‘economy’ instead of figuring out what a system would like that could support peoples’ livelihoods AND their wellbeing. I’m so tired. Tired of seeing the same tone-deaf stories over and over that never broach the root causes of all our problems. I’m tired of fighting for the narratives that have been buried, I’m tired of being angry about all the misrepresentation, misleading, misquoting, misogynism. I’m tired of people. I’m tired of everyone complaining about not being able to go to concerts or Disneyland. I’m tired of people in power telling us that workers want to go back to work and we should let them – they don’t WANT to go back to work, they just need to be able to survive. I’m tired of a lying government, and of an entire country and world that for some reason is afraid to hold that government accountable, so afraid of one insane man that they let him destroy people’s lives, destroy the environment, lie to the public, and get away with anything. It’s absolutely exhausting. I’m tired from trying to stick by my ideals while I watch the majority of people revert to tribalism, violence, prejudice, laziness. I’m tired of the memes, of the ‘let’s use this pause to expand our consciousness’ tropes, of the people who say they appreciate this pause but aren’t planning to do anything different when life starts speeding up again. I’m tired of living in my brain that won’t stop churning with anger, sadness, and disappointment. I’m tired from reading about all the productive things everyone else is doing while I lay in bed wrestling with mental darkness. I’m tired of people wanting a cure but not once thinking about how they could have helped prevent a pandemic in the first place by choosing to support fair, compassionate, sustainable entities that don’t destroy or exploit animals, wildlife or the environment; but instead they buy everything on Amazon, from China, on sale, in bulk, never considering that the better the deal, the greater the behind-the-scenes suffering may be. I’m tired of trying to explain that disease is not something that just appears, it’s a direct result of our interactions with the world and our choices. No one wants to listen, so why put the energy into it? I’m exhausted from spending the better part of my life fighting to get people to care about how they treat our world, only to see that world continue to disintegrate under the weight of willful ignorance. I’m exhausted from trying to avoid all the news that’s pure vitriol, all the entertainment that’s nauseous distraction, and all the opinions that want to be heard regardless of whether they need to be. I want to be far, far away from it all, alone, in solitude, where I can rest, where my body can rest, where I can learn to move with the currents and cycles that we evolved with, not the ones forced upon us by corporations. Today I’m completely exhausted.

Resolve

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Today I am resolved. I’m resolved to feel the emotions that rise and fall within me and acknowledge from whence they came, and resolved to let them subside so that I can begin to learn what equanimity is, what a baseline of peace is, what it means to not be ruled by emotion but by one’s inner voice, one’s intuition. I am resolved to find little (and maybe big) ways to feel like I am contributing something of value to the world around me, whether it’s through an attitude, a behavior, a creation, or a conversation. I resolve to not berate myself too much on those days where I lay in bed for hours bemoaning existence and suffering, and resolve to have days where I do get out of bed and practice gratitude for the ability to recognize beauty and compassion. I am resolved to not let the narrow-mindedness, prejudice, fear, or anger of others be my own downfall. I’m resolved to learn how to not rely on my outward mask (not my physical mask of course, but the mask that holds in my true self) for protection, and to instead worry less about how people perceive me and focus more on how to be true and strong. I’m resolved to live by my own ideals even if the ideals of those around me continue to deteriorate. I’m resolved to search for the essence of my creativity so that I never succumb to the greed or anger that so many others are buried in right now, that is so easy to sink into. I am resolved to give myself time and space to breathe, to look inwards, and to practice letting my intuition guide me. I’m resolved to express gratitude to those who help me thrive, or help me see beauty, or love. But I am also resolved to not be lulled into false contentment by an overflowing stack of gratitude journals, 30-day yoga challenges, and mindfulness podcasts that end up as temporary distractions. I am resolved to find the real source of equanimity and peace, which is found by nothing else other than looking within, without distraction, without external noise, without checklists or stickers or material rewards. I am resolved – no matter what emotions may well up within me – to always enjoy the wonder of a blooming flower, the bright whiteness of floating clouds against a blue sky, the flutter of a surprise butterfly, the superb jaggedness of mountain peaks, or the reflected light of sunset on the ocean water as it creeps up the beach. I am resolved to nurture compassion and positivity in my interactions with others, even when I am internally outraged or saddened. I am resolved to continue advocating that animals deserve their lives, that the planet deserves our respect, and that our actions always affect those around us, even when I temporarily feel that advocacy is futile. I’m resolved to confront my ego on a regular basis and adopt a lifelong practice of recognizing its limitations and never considering myself better than anyone else. I am resolved to go on, even when I may not want to, and to speak my mind when I need to. I am resolved to listen to my heart, to be kind to myself, and to do the best I can to live a life that is light, that transmits beauty and love, and that transcends the pitfalls of egotistical drives. I am resolved to be who I need to be in this world.

Eating Plants in a Time of Crisis – A Guide to Super Easy Vegan Recipes and Hacks

I’ve had conversations with several friends recently – particularly since the covid-19 outbreak – about their desire to make more plant-based meals. They’ve asked me for recipes, shopping advice, and websites or apps that might help guide them into this new (for them) territory. I thought that some of you might also be in the same boat, so I decided to write this blog to help you take some simple steps toward plant-based cooking and shopping. This is not a blog about all things vegan. My goal is just to share some of the easiest and tastiest foods to make or buy, whether it’s just for you, for your family, or as an activity to do with kids.

Why now?

Many of us are likely aware of the reasons to eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and to avoid eating animal flesh and secretions (milk, cheese). Especially in times of illness, plant-based foods provide high doses of nutrients and help build immunity, as opposed to animal products which cause inflammation. Most (if not all) of the pandemics we’ve experienced over the last 100 years have derived from animals caught or raised for slaughter, so buying plants instead of animal products also lets you flex your consumer power and vote (with your dollars) for healthier, safer, less exploitative food production systems.

Another reason to go plant-based right now? It’s fun! A lot of us are looking for ways to enrich our time at home in isolation. Cooking new types of foods (or the same foods but with plant-based ingredients) is a nice way to add variety into your routine and introduce healthy behaviors in the process. Be flexible, experiment, challenge yourself. Now is the time to eat more plants.

How do you do it?

Okay, let’s get into it. Where do you start if you want to cook some plant-based meals but don’t have much experience? First of all, you probably are eating vegan more than you realize! Peanut and butter jelly? Vegan. Gaucamole? Hummus? Vegan. Most breads, chips, pasta sauces, and cereals? Vegan. Snacks are the easiest place to start. But what about if you want to cook full meals? Here are some of my favorite resources to help you out, with a focus on simple, affordable recipes that both kids and adults will enjoy.

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My favorite things to cook:

Just to give you an idea of the kinds of things you can make easily on a regular basis, here are some of my favorite easy meals to make at home, all vegan:

  • Pesto pasta or creamy alfredo pasta (yes you can make these without animal products!)
  • Breakfast burritos or normal vegetable burritos – stuffed with guacamole, vegan cheese, beans, veggies, potatoes, veggie meat crumbles, and whatever your heart desires
  • Vegan grilled cheese (there are dozens of new, tasty vegan cheeses available these days)
  • Coconut curry with tofu and veggies (pumpkin, potatoes, cauliflower, etc)
  • Vegan sausages (I like Field Roast or Beyond Meat) and roasted potatoes
  • Veggie stir fry with peanut sauce
  • Mashed potatoes (with vegan butter and parmesan, salt, pepper, and garlic)
  • Lasagna
  • Tacos
  • BLTA sandwiches (tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, vegan mayonnaise)

My favorite easy things to bake:

Baking vegan is SO easy, I often wonder why bakeries don’t eliminate eggs and milk altogether! Most people never even realize whether they are eating vegan or animal-based baked goods Here’s a few things that are super quick and easy to make:

Where do I find recipes?

Honestly, the way I find most of my recipes is through a simple Google search. I usually know what I want to make, and if I need a recipe I search for it. For example, “vegan pancake recipe”. I look through a few sites and choose a recipe based on which ingredients I have on hand, how easy it looks to make, and how good the reviews are. The one thing I hate about online recipes these days is that most of them follow the same frustrating style, where the author writes several paragraphs and you have to scroll way down the page to find the actual recipe. I don’t know who started it but it seems like a conspiracy to drive the world mad. At any rate, just go with it and scroll to the juicy bit. Or use recipe books!

One more tip: if you are looking for the most affordable or easiest recipe, just add key words to your recipe search like “cheap”, “easy”, and “quick” (yes I realize there is some sort of ‘I love my recipes like I like my men’ joke there that I’ll refrain from indulging).

If you have an Instapot or Crock Pot, you can find an endless supply of vegan recipes for soups, stews, curries, etc. that are easy to make and cost-effective.

Here are a few recipe sites (they each have Instagram accounts) that I absolutely love:

If you have a few ingredients on hand and want recipe ideas based on those, here are two sites you can use to search based on ingredient:

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A note on ingredients

When it comes to cooking or baking, don’t be afraid to use a different sugar, flour, oil, bean, milk or veggie than the recipe calls for. Just go for it, seriously. I do a LOT of substituting in recipes based on what I have on hand. No matter what you’ve been told, recipes are not written in stone so use them as a guide but go off script as needed.

Pretty much any animal-based ingredient has a plant-based alternative these days. Here are a few you’ll likely encounter on the regular:

  • Butter – use vegan butter, coconut or vegetable oil (or search for ‘oil free’ recipes)
  • Mayonnaise – vegan mayo! There are a number of brands, all are pretty good
  • Cheese – see recommended brands below, or search recipes to make your own
  • Milk – oat, almond, soy, or hemp milks (there are many other blends out there too)
  • Creamer – soy or coconut creamer (along with others)

If you are also looking to substitute healthier ingredients in general, here are some substitutes I often use:

  • Sugar – coconut sugar, maple syrup, blended dates
  • Flour – whole grain spelt (not as heavy as whole wheat), oat flour, millet flour
  • Pasta – chickpea or lentil pasta (bonus – it has a ton of protein, cooks similar to pasta, and doesn’t have too strong a taste)
  • Rice – quinoa, red or black rice, millet (my fave!)

My favorite vegan brands

While I encourage eating as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, ready-made ingredients or meals can be super helpful in a pinch. Here are some of my favorite brands.

  • Amy’s (soups, mac n’ cheese, sauces, refried beans, chili, frozen meals)
  • Sweet Earth and Field Roast brands (awesome sausages, burgers, frozen burritos,etc.)
  • Beyond Meat (if you are looking for the most meat-like burgers, ground meat, etc)
  • Miyako’s, Violife, Kite Hill, and Follow My Heart cheeses (Daiya is not one of my faves); for vegan parmesan in particular, Follow My Heart is amazing! Use these cheeses instead of ‘nutritional yeast’ in recipes if you aren’t a big fan of the yeast.
  • Follow Your Heart vegan mayonnaise and salad dressings (Ranch, Caesar, Blue Cheese and more!)
  • SoDelicious plant-based milks and ice creams
  • Earth Balance or Miyako’s vegan butters

Vegan on a budget

I love the brands I mention above, but buying a lot of pre-packaged foods can add up quick (both financially and packaging wise!). When I can, I buy certain things in bulk at Whole Foods, Sprouts, or similar: rice, oats, nuts, chickpeas/legumes, sugar, flours, and other ingredients.

There are also ways to save money while eating vegan – Trader Joe’s has a ton of vegan items that are cheaper than other stores, as does Grocery Outlet. You can find things like coconut oil, sauces, milks, and cheeses for better prices. They also have a lot of pre-made vegan items, like wraps, burritos, mac n’ cheese, and salads. Here’s a massive guide to vegan shopping at TJs, and one for Costco. You can find anything on the internet!

If you can, make your own plant-based cheeses (most are very simple and use only a few ingredients). If you want to have a fun adventure on your own or with your kids/partners/etc, you can try making plant-based milks, ice creams, and yogurts (oat milk is very easy).

Vegan shopping lists and planners

If you want to stock up your plant-based kitchen, here are a few beginners’ lists to get you started.

https://runningonrealfood.com/vegan-grocery-list/

https://plentyvegan.com/vegan-grocery-list-for-beginners/

How to find vegan restaurants near you:

If you don’t have time or energy to cook, here are some tips for finding restaurants with vegan options near you (a lot of restaurants are struggling in the minds of this pandemic and are offering take-out and delivery, so support local plant-based businesses if you can).

  • Happy Cow – both a website and an app that lets you search geographically for restaurants that are vegan, vegetarian, or offer vegan options.
  • Google search for ‘vegan restaurant’ – just like recipes, Google is an easy go-to for finding restaurants with vegan options. Search within your area or via the map.

Motivation and inspiration for plant-based eating

These websites have tons of recipes as well as product reviews, vegan news, restaurant recommendations, and much more.

I could keep going with all the recipe and news websites out there, but my goal was to give you some first steps, not overwhelm you. Have questions or want advice on a specific topic, recipe, or store? Have your own suggestions or favorite recipes? Reach out to me. I wish you all health, happiness, and plant-powered goodness!

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National Geographic Finds a Cash Cow in the Dairy Industry

A troubling Facebook post popped onto my feed the other day:

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It’s a National Geographic post sponsored by Land O’Lakes, a large American agribusiness and food company.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Arguably, news media and private businesses have always been in bed together. ‘Sponsored’ or ‘branded’ content, more recently called ‘native advertising’, is certainly not a new thing. But in today’s era of endless streams of online media, the line between organic content and sponsored messages is more blurred than ever. And when an entity like National Geographic—perceived by many as a trusted source for stories about nature, science, and exploration—starts sharing content sponsored by corporate special interests it begins to violate that trust.

Dairy’s Modern Life

If you click on the post link, you’re taken to a 360-camera tour of a dairy farm (at least, three very short video segments of one particular farm). You can click on various icons throughout the page to read short (very short) blurbs about the milking process. While this visual story-telling approach is in itself interesting, the sponsored content is obviously tailored to give an impression that dairy farms are clean, friendly, and innocuous environments. Some small, ethically minded dairy farms may indeed fit this description, at least to the extent possible when the intensive use of living creatures is involved.

But the typical modern American dairy farm does not fit this description in the least. Most of America’s milk is produced in largescale facilities where dairy cows are separated from their calves soon after giving birth and continually injected with hormones to keep them producing milk. They spend most of their time indoors or in crowded pens, are fed unnatural feed (lots of soy, corn, and canola instead of grass), and are sent to slaughter after approximately 4 years (the natural lifespan of a cow is 15-20 years or more). In addition, large dairy facilities can lead to local air and water quality issues due to excess manure and other waste. Then there’s the many allegations and documentation of brutal animal abuse in industrial dairies over the years (like this one, or this, and here’s another).

None of this is mentioned in the NatGeo post, of course. They only provide a few short sentences praising how well the cows are cared for (including how comfortable they are), how well they are fed (without explaining their feed is not what cows evolved to digest), and how streamlined the process is. #ThanksLandOLakes.

My point is not to point fingers at any particular dairy farmer. But the industry as a whole is problematic on many levels, and this is no secret. US Dairy sales are in decline, and the industry is scrambling to compete with the plethora of alternative ‘milks’ now on the market. Why couldn’t NatGeo discuss this challenge, and point to some of the innovative dairy farmers that are adopting meaningful sustainability and animal rights standards? My guess is because that wasn’t what Land O’Lakes paid for.

Can’t Pull the Wool Over Our Eyes

Ironically, NatGeo’s sponsored post seems to have backfired, at least initially. Roughly 95% of post comments were from angry or disappointed readers who couldn’t believe NatGeo would publish corporate agribusiness propaganda. Here’s just a spattering of typical responses:

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A few commenters did express support for farmers, but not a single comment last I checked supported either Land O’Lakes or the fact that this was sponsored content. Seeing this strong negative response, I have to wonder: what were NatGeo marketers thinking when they posted such controversial sponsored content? Do they just not care as long as they get funding from sponsors? Or do any clicks and comments, regardless of the reason or type of response, count as a win for NatGeo analytics? Did they just really misjudge how their target audience would respond?

I don’t have an answer to these questions. Perhaps some of you, savvy readers, know more about this than I do and have hypotheses or insights? The frustrating thing is that most large companies never seem to respond to commenters, either to answer their questions or challenge their negative responses, so we may never know what the NatGeo folks behind the magic curtain actually intended with this campaign. I’ve seen the same sort of audience backlash to posts from companies like Starbucks as well as media outlets like NowThis, and the same silence in response. Do these companies ever have to do damage control in the wake of such incidents?

There is no Santa Claus

After I saw this post, I actually ‘unliked’ the NatGeo page. I did so with a tinge of regret, thinking of the future wildlife and nature stories I’d miss. But it felt like the only thing I could do to show my disappointment in a company, a ‘brand’, I had put my trust in since childhood.

When the Murdoch Fox media empire bought out National Geographic’s magazine and TV network a few years back, NatGeo was transformed into a for-profit company. While this may have helped save an entity facing slacking magazine sales and a changing cable TV landscape, the reality is that the acquisition forever changed the ethics and culture of the company (side note: The National Geographic Society is itself still a non-profit entity; but the NatGeo magazine, TV channel, and other media are now owned by Fox).

Realizing that National Geographic is just another company with a bottom line was as sucky as learning that Santa Claus isn’t real. Maybe I was just naïve. But I don’t think I’m alone in my disillusionment. Many wildlife scientists, writers, videographers and photographers have dreamt for much of their lives of working for National Geographic—myself included. It was the ultimate goal, the standard with which we compared all other jobs—the equivalent for scientists of getting a paper published in Science or Nature.

Transparency: It Does a Body (and a Company) Good

It seems only natural that seeing corporate-sponsored content would leave a bitter taste in many of our mouths. I don’t think that National Geographic is evil because of its affiliations, or that the Society doesn’t serve a good purpose by providing stories about the planet and its wonders, and funding great scientific research around the world. No company, organization, or person can ever be completely ethically pure. To complicate things, ethics are an ever-evolving subject that are often very specific to the time and place within which they are embedded. However, certain ethical boundaries are fairly obvious based on public reaction when they are crossed.

NatGeo’s sponsored post certainly seemed to cross one such boundary, resulting in public backlash and perhaps even some very real (however small) consequences in the form of lost viewers and subscribers. While the growth of ‘native content’ is disconcerting, I find comfort in the fact that viewers aren’t so easily fooled. Nor are they afraid to raise their voices in protest when they feel integrity has been compromised or truths distorted. I can only hope that continued pushback by wary audiences will help guide corporate ethics toward greater transparency and responsibility.

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What do YOU think about organizations sharing sponsored content? What examples have you seen that have made you raise an eyebrow? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

DAIRY (1)
A few bits of information about the dairy industry that National Geographic did not include in its 360 video exploration of a dairy farm.