Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Green Critiques of Pink Ribbon Frenzy

Fight cancer while eating fried chicken!
Because it's within walking distance, I occasionally bop into the local Safeway to pick up groceries. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month they're in "shop for a cure" mode with pink ribbons adorning products on every aisle as if a Pepto-Bismol bottle exploded. At the register I'm asked, with no sense of irony, if I want to "donate money to breast cancer".

What always gets me, besides the preoccupation with a magic bullet solution to cancer and co-optation of the issue by companies selling products (dubbed pinkwashing), is that many of the participating products likely have ingredients in them that contribute to breast cancer. This hypocrisy has been pointed out recently in books by authors Gayle Sulik (Pink Ribbon Blues) and Samantha King (Pink Ribbon, Inc.) who argue that this global pink ribbon frenzy allows us to avoid the social and environmental issues behind breast (and other forms of) cancer:
...issues relating to forms of oppression based on class, sexual identity or race have been marginalized in favor of a careful and nonthreatening focus on women (not feminists) as a constituency and breast cancer as a single issue that is presented as a mainly scientific, rather than economic, environmental, or social problem... AstraZeneca's interest in promoting mammography and thereby raising detection rates and increasing sales of tamoxifen is a story widely circulated in activist circles and progressive media but almost entirely ignored in mainstream discourse. AstraZeneca and its allies in National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, such as the American Cancer Society, continue to carefully avoid environmental issues, or indeed reference to prevention in general... - Pink Ribbon, Inc.
Barbara Ley's book, From Pink to Green, describes how an "environmental breast cancer movement" has developed around these critiques and has been growing in importance, even within organizations like the Komen Foundation (where lip service was given, at the very least, to multiple Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Acts in Congress). Click for large view:


Still, the dominance of mainstream cancer organizations and their reluctance to confront the corporations funding their work has maligned this perspective. Komen continues to deny that a link exists between BPA and organochlorine pesticides and cancer although scientific studies suggest otherwise. Ley writes that support for environmental issues within organizations like the American Cancer Society is coming not from top-level management and official statements but from smaller offices in its network (like when the CA office of ACS organized a regional conference in 2004 that discussed the link between cancer and pesticides).

With all the popular interest in things like BPA, it would make sense for people to pressure the big cancer organizations to increase funding of environmental research. Buying pink ribbons might satisfy most, but it conveniently distracts us from dealing with the root causes of cancer.

For a visual counterpoint to pink ribbons, check out the photography of David Jay.

1 comment:

  1. "donate money to breast cancer".

    Erica, well said. I've been bothered by this campaign as well! And the eyes glaze over when I explain why I am not donating (I mean besides the fact that I don't want to donate at a cash register when someone has already taken more money from me than I wanted to give).

    We all have cancer in our bodies at some point, but we don't all develop the life changing/taking disease. In my opinion, we should not be searching for a cure, we should be searching for how to live with it and how not to develop it.

    Certain types of cancer have been proven to thrive off of glucose (Johns Hopkins recently did a study verifying this for Prostate Cancer). Yet the most common image I can think of breast cancer "cure" campaign's is a cup cake or cookie frosted with a pink ribbon.

    Check out Think Before You Pink, a project of Breast Cancer Action:
    http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/?page_id=12

    Lynn Fried

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