In the mid-1960s we knew a nun who was a believer in the Catholic Worker movement. She was an activist, a protester, a voice screaming against wrongs. She was also our fourth-grade teacher.
One day, walking through a neighborhood supermarket with Mom, we ran in to the good sister. She had chained herself to a display of grapes. Our teacher had become a supporter of the grape boycott and the Delano grape strike.
We followed suit, refusing to eat grapes and learning to love Cesar Chavez.
Years later we'Il still have a soft spot for boycotts. Our first instinct when a company does wrong is to stop buying from them, and to urge others to do the same. Our second instinct is to chain ourselves to a grape display.
Here are five food and beverage boycotts that caught our attention this year.
1. BARILLA PASTA
Right about the time that Cesar Chavez won his years-long battle to organize migrant farm workers, the gay rights movement was just getting started. But by 2013, the LGBT movement had become the global rights cause. Yet it appears no one told Guido Barilla, president of the world's largest pasta company.
(Image credit: Flickr user Dave Kleinschmidt)
His comments last month that he would never use a same-sex couple in an advertisement were viewed as insensitive at best, and downright homophobic at worst. Barilla quickly tried to back pedal, but it was too late. Calls for boycotts popped up across the globe.
2. STOLICHNAYA VODKA
Gay rights are also at the center of the call to boycott Russia's best-known vodka brand. Concern for the legal rights and safety of gay people in Russia has captured the attention of the world as athletes prepare for the Olympic Games next year in Sochi, Russia.
(Image credit: Flickr user Michael Dorausch)
A gay bar in Chicago issued the first call to boycott Stoli vodka. The company has since tried to distance itself from Russia's abysmal human-rights record, but the boycott continues.
3. VINI LUNARDELLI
Speaking of nations run by madmen who trample on the dignity of human beings, Vini Lunardelli found itself facing a boycott after putting pictures of Adolph Hitler on bottles of its wine.
(Image credit: vinilunardelli.com)
Turns out the Italian wine maker has been using the Fuhrer's photo in marketing material since 1995. But it was this year that the Simon Wiesenthal Center called for a boycott.
Earlier this year, the Texas legislature approved a bill to strengthen wage-discrimination laws. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, vetoed the bill, despite bipartisan support for the new law. Several days later the Houston Chronicle newspaper published a story outlining how two giant retailers—Kroger supermarkets and Macy's department stores—had lobbied the governor to squash the bill.
(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Activists decided to try to squash the companies instead, and called for a boycott.
Secret lobbying campaigns are also behind the call to boycott products made with ingredients grown with Monsanto seeds. At issue was a rider attached to an emergency spending bill passed by Congress in March. That rider gave farmers the right to harvest crops from genetically modified seeds even if courts said they could not. For weeks it was unclear who was responsible for the rider, which activists called "the Monsanto Protection Act."
(Image credit: Flickr user waywuwei)
Eventually Roy Blunt, a Republican congressman from Missouri, took responsibility. The press was outraged. But there was little that could be done. Nor was there much that needed to be done. The rider was set to expire when the emergency spending bill did. And the Monsanto Protection Act became null and void this week.
But when Blunt's rider showed anti-GMO forces that they could not rely on the courts or Congress, a long-standing call to boycott Monsanto-based products took on new life.
The problem, however, is that the list of products that can be traced to Monsanto is quite long, making a boycott difficult.
Fortunately for activists, there's an app for that.
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