Chapel Hill: Opinion

George O’Neal: A flock of Priuses (Priusi?)

George O’Neal
George O’Neal

Y’all know that thing that your parents always told you, about how everyone is selling something?

Well it’s true. Everyone you meet, all the ads, all the shows you watch and websites you visit, the songs on the radio, you’re nearly always being offered things, marketed to.

I’m no exception, but lucky for you I’m pretty straight up about what I’m selling, and I’ve got nothing to hide cause it’s actual food. If asked, I’ll be the first to go in depth about what I’ve got on the auction block, how it is produced and why.

I just looked over the new National Geographic that came to my house this week. I like National Geographic for balanced stories with an environmental focus. This year National Geo has dubbed 2015 the year of food, and each issue has an article on the subject.

Three pages into this month’s issue, I find a quick one-page article about soybeans and the rainforest and an advertisement on the opposite page promoting Cargill, the mega corporation agriculture-giant, and how it’s saving soybeans and the rainforest.

The next page is an article on rice in India, and the opposite page is an advertisement from Cargill about how it’s saving all of India by adding nutrients to oil and rice. After that an article about wheat and Russia, and opposite that, an advertisement by, wait for it … Cargill and, you guessed it, wheat and Russia.

I’m thinking by now you all see a pattern forming; article after article, flanked by advertisements. Each one targeted to the corresponding article. If you’ve read my column before you know that I am no spring chicken and I often have to discourage vermin in crops, so let’s just say I can smell a rat as it were. And this right here strikes me as a wee bit ratty.

It’s real tough for me to want to keep reading because I’m not sure where the article ends and the paid ad begins. The lines are blurred between educating myself and being manipulated. I’m all for collaboration between companies, but this leaves me with a distrusting hollow sensation where piqued interest should be. This is NutraSweet journalism. All the words you’d want with none of the calories. And it leads me to put down the issue. I probably won’t renew it either.

All of that was to make a point I have made before about the insidious ways in which money can buy our opinions. But now I want to take the leap to another point. If I could find a way to save the world I would, of course, do it. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe that buying the right things could translate to righting all wrongs. I would buy whatever you told me to: a flock of Priuses (Priusi?) and Apple watches and gluten-free gluten till the cows came home. But the goal of advertising is to manipulate you into thinking you need something that will improve your life or in the case of the Cargill, save India, Russia and the rainforest by selling farmers massive amounts of patented commodity crops.

But I’m gonna be honest with you here. We are never going to be able to buy our way to a better world because consumption in and of itself is part of the world’s problem. No product that I know of is going to save the world. That’s not how this works. We will never consume ourselves into sustainability or balance. It’s our never-ending consumption that has led us down this path of constant vigilance trying to put the world back toward health and harmony.

As a society, we buy from trend to trend, fed to us through expensive ad campaigns that gloss over how that grand product is probably wreaking havoc somewhere. Cell phones creating conflict minerals, palm oil and loss of orangutan habitat, imported fish and forced labor. All these connected dots lead one to feel a completely overwhelmed, “what do I do?” feeling. But the only thing that will actually get us to a better space quickly is to use less, want less, happy with what we have, and not look to our purchases to define us or our comfort.

But all that said, if you’re looking for the world’s tastiest (world-changing) kohlrabi at rock-bottom prices I happen to know a guy.

George O’Neal operates Lil Farm in Timberlake and is a member of the Carrboro and Durham farmers markets. You can reach him at