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Meryl Streep, the Alar Crisis, and the Rise of Green Consumerism

Meryl Streep, the Alar Crisis, and the Rise of Green Consumerism

Chapter:
(p.208) Thirteen Meryl Streep, the Alar Crisis, and the Rise of Green Consumerism
Source:
Seeing Green
Author(s):
Finis Dunaway
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226169934.003.0013

In 1989, Meryl Streep became the celebrity spokesperson for a Natural Resources Defense Council campaign to publicize the risks of pesticides and chemicals applied to food, especially the danger of Alar-laced apples consumed by young children. This chapter shows how popular images associated with the Alar campaign focused public attention on the vulnerable bodies of children, but reduced the issue to a single chemical applied on a single fruit rather than the broader hazards of industrial agriculture. Much like the conservative reaction to The China Syndrome and the Three Mile Island crisis, industry spokespeople and right-wing pundits dismissed the Alar crisis as an example of environmental alarmism. Rather than viewing the episode in the dualistic terms of emotion versus reason, spectacle versus science, image versus reality, this chapter emphasizes how the campaign mobilized public concern over Alar but also worked to deflect attention from the long-term, systemic problems of industrial agriculture. The Alar campaign also marked a pivotal moment in the history of green consumerism. If American consumers were victims, they also seemed to be neoliberal agents of change, using their purchasing decisions to alter corporate policy and create a healthier environment. Green consumerism seemingly became synonymous with political empowerment.

Keywords:   Meryl Streep, National Resources Defense Council, Alar, emotions, children, pesticides, industrial agriculture, green consumerism

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