Eco-Goods Peddling Guilt

The choice between paying more for organic or less for something conventionally grown often feels less like a choice than a pitched battle between thrift and conscience.

Muffin cups and aluminum foil, however, don’t typically inspire the same degree of psychic hand-wringing, if only because they don’t evoke images of pesticide-drenched fields and factory farm runoff. And therein lies the insidious brilliance of If You Care, a kitchen and household products company whose very name encapsulates the presumption of guilt that is used to sell guilt-free products. You can find its earth-friendly, dun-colored goods on the shelves at Whole Foods, where they manage to outpreach even the neighboring jugs of Seventh Generation laundry detergent and Twist loofah dishwands made from cellulose and recycled plastic.

But if it’s an obnoxious name, it’s also impressive: While plenty of food and household products gently manipulate the conflicted consumer with tags like “fair trade,” “shade-grown,” and “petroleum-free,” few go for the jugular. Names like Seventh Generation, Gaiam, and Kashi conjure the vague, feel-good vibe of an ashram or a womyn’s music festival. If You Care leaves no doubt about its motives. It blurs the line between passive aggression and naked aggression.

And that’s kind of a shame. Like so many ecofriendly companies, If You Care is doing some very commendable things. It’s keeping chlorine out of our waterways, eschewing petroleum-based ingredients, and fashioning sandwich bags from the unbleached pulp of Scandinavian spruce trees, a renewable resource. Hooray. But that name has a way of negating that do-gooding simply by implying that we don’t measure up. And even if we do care enough to buy If You Care products, the name only reminds us that we’re failing in so many other ways to prevent Planet Earth from going straight to hell.

Perhaps a more honest name would be It’s the Least You Can Do, or We Know You’re Not Entirely Awful. Because while we may fail every day, in countless ways, to do squat for the environment, we can at least feel good about ourselves for buying a nontoxic, chlorine-free muffin cup.

Photo courtesy of If You Care