Is consumerism the solution to world hunger?

We’ve all seen the commercials on TV showing images of dirty, starving children in third-world countries who could have such a better life if only we would pick up the phone and donate.

We feel swept away in the emotion for a moment, but how many times have we actually made the minimal effort to dial the number, find a debit card, and help out? Don’t worry; we’ve all been there.

Charitable organizations based purely on donations, with no incentive for supporters apart from the joy of being philanthropic for its own sake, often struggle to make their movement succeed.

Apparently, suffering in the world isn’t motivation enough for the average citizen to sacrifice a few cups of coffee a month for the sake of others in need. Merely condemning consumerism would be impractical because at this point, it would be practically impossible to eradicate.

Antagonism toward this societal norm only creates more negativity and does nothing to alleviate the pressing issues of starvation, lack of education and the like. Rather, Americans’ affinity for the latest and greatest products can potentially be part of the solution.

Numerous businesses have incorporated such principles into their marketing strategies.

Consider, for example, Starbucks’ statement about their Shared Planet program: “When you buy Starbucks, whether you realize it or not you are buying into something bigger than a cup of coffee. You are buying into a coffee ethics … We purchase more fair-trade coffee than any company in the world, ensuring that the farmers who grow the beans receive a fair price for their hard work. And we invest in and improve coffee growing practices and communities around the globe. It's a good coffee karma."

This business model not only makes consumers more likely to purchase their product, but also allows them to keep a memento of their charitable act for everyone else to see.

People are buying what they would have anyway and are at least doing more to help than they would have otherwise.

Other companies such as TOMS Shoes and (RED) also adopted this idea to simultaneously market their product and alleviate global crises.

Slavoj Zizek, a professor of philosophy and psychoanalysis at the European Graduate School in Switzerland, wrote on the matter, “In today's capitalism more and more the tendency is to bring (making money and charity) together in one and the same cluster, so that when you buy something, your anti-consumerist duty to do something for others, for the environment and so on, is already included into it.”

Of course, it would be preferable if people would just make the necessary sacrifices and support charities without any incentive for themselves.

But seeing as most operate under the principle of self-interest and have done so for centuries, they are not going to automatically change their mentality on their own.

It is more important to aid those in need by whatever means available than to wait around for people’s hearts behind the matter to change.

Reach the columnist at julianna.roberts@asu.edu

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