Lay’s Chips and Traveling Farm Exhibit: Well, They Make Me Happy

On August 24th, the six-city Lay’s Mobile Farm tour came to an end in Dallas. The nationwide tour, which kicked off on July 26th in New York, included a mobile greenhouse designed to introduce a rural farm experience to urban dwellers. Many Lay’s potato farmers were on hand and after visiting the greenhouse, families were able to take home educational pieces intended to inspire at-home gardening. Visitors also received their own individual basil plants and at the end of each stop the contents of the greenhouse were given to local community gardens to stimulate urban growing. Thereafter, curious fans of Lay’s chips could use the Chip Tracker on the corporate website to find out exactly where their chips were grown.

When the tour was first announced, cynicism sprang up from many corners. After all, the argument went, the chips were still “junk” food, even if the classic snacks are made of only three identifiable ingredients (potatoes, salt and oil). So, why support Frito-Lay and Lay’s?

Frito-Lay North America is the $12 billion snack arm of PepsiCo. Yes, that is billion with a “B”. The company is a giant in the commercial food industry and given that much buying power and market share, their efforts cannot be ignored. Would we rather champion their attempts in order to encourage additional initiatives or browbeat them for not being good enough? If we except corporations to be more sustainable and make a more positive contribution to our communities, then we must encourage efforts in that direction. Who knows, if Lay’s consumers demand it we might one day have organic Lay’s potato chips. Point is, the company is here to stay, so would we have them do farm tours and make community donations or do nothing at all?

We should also consider the intended audience for Frito-Lay snack foods. The company is smart; it knows its market. Inner city kids are munching away on salty potato chips and washing them down with ice-cold Pepsi, with little knowledge or curiosity about where these products actually come from. If we truly want to shift our children to a more wholesome diet, then education about where food comes from (other than the snack machine and the school cafeteria) is the place to start. How can I argue with a company that is participating in that discussion? How can I argue with a company that is giving away plants and encouraging children to garden and get their fingers digging in the dirt? Come on now; let’s give a few points for effort here!

I understand the frustration caused by greenwashing, which by my definition is a cover-up or all-out lie, an attempt to divert attention from that which harms people and planet by shifting focus to green marketing. If you sell coal and call it clean, sorry, but I raise a mighty red flag. If you are an oil company that lobbies against a Climate Bill in DC, but supports biodegradable trash bags then yes, you should be called out.

But, efforts to really stimulate community should be applauded, even if they do lean heavily towards marketing tactics. Perhaps Frito-Lay’s intentions are only to sell a few more chip bags. So what? They want to stay in business and earn enough money to create more sustainable packaging. I want more urban youth to know what those three ingredients are (and hopefully how to spell them). Seems like a win-win to me. Bet you can’t eat just one.

Leslie is a Sustainable MBA student at Green Mountain College. Study interests include sustainability, social responsibility and the power of corporate and non-profit partnerships to bring about positive change. Other areas of interest include social media, fundraising and public policy. She holds a Certificate in Nonprofit Management and is certified in the Global Reporting initiative for Sustainability Reporting. Additionally, she holds an MA in Organizational Management and a BS in Leisure Management. On the rare occasions when she is not studying, she enjoys writing, reading, running, nature walks and yoga. She hopes to use her skills, talents and education to make a positive impact with an environmentally and socially conscious organization. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

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