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‘Pinkwashing’ has me seeing red

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By Heather Moore

It’s no longer enough to wear a pink ribbon to commemorate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Head-to-toe pink is the new black. You can buy pink hair coloring, pink mascara and pink pumps—not to mention pink pistols, pepper spray, scouring pads, chip clips, can koozies and just about anything else—to benefit breast cancer charities. A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 84 percent of Americans now buy products with a breast cancer tie-in. The pink mania doesn’t stop at the mall. Entire cities are celebrating “Pink Week” this month. NFL stars will sport pink wrist bands, pink cleats and pink chin straps; golfers will hit the green with pink golf balls; and boxers will pull on pink boxing gloves in an effort to help knock out breast cancer.

Most people have good intentions, but all this pink has me seeing red. It just won’t make much of a difference if more people don’t eat green.

“Awareness does not equal commitment,” says Timothy Seiler of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, who points out that when people purchase a pink item, they often feel that they’ve done their part to beat breast cancer. We need less pink and more action. If the race for the cure includes pit stops at McDonald’s and KFC—which has sold its unhealthy chicken in pink buckets—we aren’t ever going to reach the finish line.

Too many businesses are “pinkwashing”—passing themselves off as breast cancer crusaders while peddling products that can actually contribute to the disease. Many companies sell animal-based foods in pink packaging—because nothing says “breast cancer awareness” like macaroni and cheese. Some mean well, but featuring a breast cancer survivor on a package of shredded cheese, as Kraft is doing, is like displaying a lung cancer patient on a carton of cigarettes.

Meat, eggs and dairy products contain concentrated protein, hormones and saturated fat, all of which contribute to cancer. Fish flesh often contains PCBs and other cancer-causing chemicals. But that’s not stopping Quaker Steak & Lube, a nationwide restaurant chain that specializes in chicken wings, from offering “special” shrimp and salmon dishes because “the mono chromatic seafood can offer a reminder to the public of the steps women can take to save their lives.”

That’s pretty hard to swallow. Food companies that care about their customers’ health should offer vegan options. A newly released study, which followed 86,000 U.S. nurses for 26 years, suggests that women who eat diets high in plant-based foods—and low in meat, sodium and processed carbohydrates—are less likely to develop certain breast tumors.  

The Harvard Nurses Health Study indicates that women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by 20 to 30 percent just by eating more vegetables. Scientists have found that women who eat a typical Asian diet, which is high in soy and vegetables, have a lower risk of breast cancer than those who eat a typical Western diet, which is high in meat and processed foods. Musician Melissa Etheridge, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, recently blamed her health problems on a Western-style diet and urged women to eat more plant-based foods.

That’s good advice. Looking at breast cancer prevention through rose-colored glasses isn’t going to eradicate the disease—but we can increase our chances of staying cancer-free by exercising, getting cancer screenings and, most importantly, choosing vegan foods. October is also World Vegetarian Awareness Month. You can observe both months by picking healthy pink vegetarian foods, such as Pink Lady apples, pink grapefruit, pink rhubarb or even mushrooms in special pink packaging.

Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;


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