Anthropological and linguistics articles from University of Western Australia

Monday, January 15, 2007

Are consumers becoming more aware of products they use? Marcia Helene Hewitt UWA

Propylene Glycol causes a significant number of reactions and was a primary irritant to the skin in low levels of concentrations.

-The American Academy of Dermatologists Inc, Jan 1991

“I have to die of something, so I might as well go to the grave looking beautiful.”
-UWA student-

Are consumers becoming more aware of the products they use?

Recently I was involved in a study using a product, a bottom price range (approx. dollars), multi-purposed moisturiser called, fictionally, Natural, marketed to Southeast Asia and Australia. The client requested evidence based research about their product as well as innovation for the future.

Having been encouraged by Sue Parrot’s methodology (1972) I decided to take a ‘step by step’ approach, although I must admit had a few preconceived notions as to what I would find.

My first response to this project was to remember standing in the snow in Boston, 1970, leafleting about Dow Chemical Company and Dupont, and how the war in Viet Nam was directly related to the profits of these two companies, how they supplied the napalm, and how Revlon and Max Factor were direct subsidiaries. And so I thought, I could never be part of a project (even a fictional one) to increase the sales of a multinational company. However after thinking about it for awhile I realised that there were many other people like me who also did not want to contribute to the military industrial complex, and thought I ‘d start by talking to the lady at the local health food store.

She was very knowledgeable about synthetic chemicals in moisturisers and was quite happy to let me investigate every product on her shelf, about 29 different brands. I found the brand that we use, Tinderbox, made in Western Australia, and other brands along the same line (i.e. moisturisers made without parabens or propylene glycol). I noticed that the types of drawings and graphics for health food products portrayed a different type of beauty than the imagery of mainstream magazines, and looked further into art books to see the romantic era that many of these images are drawn from quite different to the ‘hard-sell beauty’ of magazine advertisements.

I then went to our local chemist, where we have been patrons for over 20 years. Ken knew all about the poisons in the products he sold and photocopied me a page from Martindales The Complete Drug Reference, 2005. He also mentioned that he was much more worried ‘what they are doing to our food’ and was interested to know that parabens were being thoroughly investigated and that some progress was being made by advocacy groups.

In our group tutorial research other things came to light. Asian students contributed very valuable things about Asian magazines having Asian models but that even those models were ‘pan-Asian’ as she described them. I pressed her a bit on that description and asked “you mean Euroasian?” and she said “ yes. “ “ Then it still seems ‘better’ to have European ancestry, or in the Han Dynasty Chinese women were seen as more beautiful for having whiter skin” I went on to say. She hesitatingly admitted that was true. Other students contributed that 90% of people used moisturiser and that men were reticent to ascribe the use of moisturisers to concerns about ‘beauty.’ One student also shared that every guy on his rugby team used moisturisers, and yet another student shared the increased use of cosmetics by a new trend in ‘metro sexuality’. As far as advertising targets went, of the many magazines that I looked into, there were several magazines on the rack about babies and baby care, enticing yet another group of people into using creams and moisturisers.
However, of my test group on the growing awareness and concern of ingredients, all of the participants were concerned. These participants were aged between 20 and 74, both male and female, were all concerned with ingredients and all read the ingredients. The 30% of participants of my survey who I interviewed within our tutorial group were not interested at all in the ingredients, and only one other member of the group found that more than half of his participants were concerned about ingredients. None of the other five researchers found that concern with ingredients was significant. This data concerned me because I didn’t feel that it was consistent with my findings both in the community and within other faculties of UWA, nor was it consistent with findings at Murdoch or East Bentley College of Natural Science. Deciding to compare our research group with other research groups ;and surveys I found articles in Harvard Green Campus newsletter indicating that their on-campus surveys about toxic ingredients showed that over 80% of students were concerned, ( and looking further into the broader European Community found that the Eurobarometer (Environmental Issues and Consumer Associations 2005) showed 90% of students at the University of Frankfurt to be concerned with ingredients in skin care products. (http:///www. In other environmental habits surveys at MIT and Berkely University the ratings were between 80 and 90% of students were concerned with the ingredients of the cosmetics they used ( The
number of advocacy groups such as the one led by Dr. Samuel Epstein (1995) and Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) alone show that the awareness within the global community at large is strong enough to force major companies into compliance. The ingredients in question for the purpose of this paper are sodium laurel sulphate, parabens, propylene glycol and pthalates.

My research led me into nine venues in the Subiaco area: three health food stores, three supermarkets, and three chemists. There were over 100 brands collectively distributed between these nine venues. Looking at over 40 brands and reading each label, I observed that about 95% of the products had at least one of the four chemicals previously mentioned. Comparing my findings to that of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification Scheme (NICNAS), out of 34 leading brands, 4 out of 5 had at least one phthalate, more than half had two or more. (Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing 2005)

In the tutorial group research, we discussed types of advertising models, such as Anglo Celtic models who do not portray the ethnicity of the Australian multicultural community at this time. I noticed in 15 magazines that there was only one Afro-American model, and that advertising companies are selling an Anglo Celtic beauty image to other races, creating a form of racial negation in them that leads to another market; one of selling face whitening creams, or hair straightening creams for women of African origin.

. Awareness about ingredients and their toxicity in our tutorial group was much lower than I had imagined, and my lecturer had warned me that this would be true, a fact that I am still having difficulty coming to terms with. However I was relieved that the awareness was sufficiently high among chemists, health food store owners, and UWA students who were in my daughter’s social circle, including her friends from church. Naturopath students with whom I spoke would never have a tube of toothpaste or bottle of moisturiser containing parabens and sodium laurel sulfate in their houses!

This growing awareness about toxicity is surely reflected in the fact that two major cosmetics companies, Revlon and L’Oreal, have agreed to eliminate chemicals suspected of causing cancer, birth defects and infertility from their products. For example The Breast Cancer Fund, part of a broader coalition called Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, is talking to major multinational companies including Procter & Gamble, Schering Plough, Aveda, Avon and Este Lauder about complying with EU standards in the United States. (Ginty, 2004) This same group has already won agreement from 50 natural-products companies, including Avalon Organics and Aubrey to comply to EU standards. (Kay, 2005).

Although this product is marketing in South East Asia and Australia global trends in marketing will make this product available to the world market, which is increasingly critical of toxicity in cosmetics, and environmentalist activities in both Europe and the United States indicate an increasing probability that there will be greater regulatory control in Australia, and therefore, this product, both for its name Natural, and its ingredients, could in the future be in breach of new regulations.

Whilst the product Natural advertises itself as 97% natural, it will probably be held accountable for the other 3%. The label natural holds true in the sense that it contains almond oil, wheatgerm oil and shea butter, but it also contains sodium laurel sulfate and parabens. This type of labelling is also being called into question within state organizations such as the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme. [].

Alternatives to synthetic chemicals

Since the client has requested suggestions to improve their product, I found a number or trade fairs who were marketing improved versions, environmentally safe and allergy free, to the global market.Current trade fairs show a trend towards paraben free products. (Natural Products Expo West, 2005). Since more and more studies link paraben based preservatives with breast cancer including the research of Dr. Nicholas Perricone. (2002), a New York Times best selling author, it seems a reasonable suggestion for the client company to remove all hydroxybenzoates from their product. Many personal care manufacturers are reformulating their products to use alternative preservatives such as vitamins C and E, phenoxyethanol, grapefruit extract, caprylyl glycol from palm kernel oil and benzoin gum. There are a range of products popular in Asia, and in fact obtainable in Asia, derived from coconut and acai; oils, milks and flours from coconuts are making a resurgence, following information that unlike other palm oils, coconut oil is a medium chain triglyceride that breaks down faster in the body and helps improve thyroid function. Coconut flour is low-carb, high fiber and gluten-free. Acai, an Asian fruit rich in antioxidants, is appearing in more and more products ranging from juice to moisturisers. (Natural Products Expo West, 2005).

Evidence that products that promise youth, beauty and sexual attractiveness may actually impair fertility and increase the effects of ageing, is contained in a new briefing from Women’s Environmental Network (WEN). ‘Getting Lippy: cosmetics, toiletries and the environment’ (2002) exposes the widespread use of synthetic chemicals, some of which are linked to fertility problems, cancer, allergies and other health effects. Harvard University studies (2002) have also linked chemicals in cosmetics to decreased sperm count.
The cosmetics industry is big business – 90% of Australians (as our research group concluded) use cosmetics and many women use more than 20 different products as part of their daily routine. (Ethical Consumer Magazine 2005).
Most modern cosmetics are “complex mixtures of industrially produced synthetic chemicals” and: “Individually these cosmetic products contain very small amounts of chemical ingredients – it is the cumulative and combined effect of applying these ingredients in the many everyday products which comprise our daily routine that gives cause for concern.” (Ethical Consumer Magazine 2005).
In a random check, WEN found preservatives (parabens) suspected of mimicking the female hormone, oestrogen, in 57% of products.
There are a number of viable companies who are no longer using parabens and other synthetic additives: Akamuti, Dr. Hauschka, Essentially Yours, Green & Organic Ltd, Green People, Hempgarden, Pure Nuff Stuff, REN Ltd, Simply Soaps, Spiezia Organics Ltd, Weleda (UK) Ltd) The Body Shop, Tinderbox WA that have said they don’t use two sets of ingredients. – (Ethical Consumer magazine 2005).


The number of new cancer cases is growing twice as fast as the population in Canada: as of now, 44% of Canadian men and 38% of Canadian women will be affected during their lifetimes. Dr. Dominique Belpomme, cancer specialist and author of the book Ces Maladies Creees par l’Homme [Man-Made Illnesses] deems that 70% of all cancers are of environmental origin in the largest sense of the word. He asserts that the norms set by governmental regulations as thresholds for doses of toxic products “are, in fact, too high to avoid the outbreak of cancers.” (Belpomme,2004). 4,900 people died in the last five years in Australia from skin cancer (, 2005). The use of moisturizers is now central to the study of skin cancers, and there appears to be increased funding for further studies in major universities, such as Harvard University.(http.//


The research on our client’s product, Natural, advertised as 97% natural, but containing parabens and sodium laurel sulfate, provides information that it possibly could be forced to re-label in the future. The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme, known as NICNAS, has the power to press legal charges and could do so. At this point in time the product will continue to sell as it does, through supermarket venues, and there are presently no regulatory bodies that could contradict this. However it is of major interest to note that Revlon and L’Oreal have chosen to comply with European Union standards, and since global marketing is increasingly viable, the odds are that Australia will follow suit shortly.

Therefore my suggestion as a researcher would be to begin to modify the product for the future, using some of the non-synthetic ingredients used by other companies and are easily obtainable from Asian countries, the by-products of coconut being one. This would not involve an increase in the company’s current spending, and in fact, might increase sales in the next 1-5 years, as pilot research shows and international studies show an increasing awareness about product ingredients and cancer related incidents. The Australian Medical Association will undoubtedly be involved in this issue within the next few years, and will more than likely put even more pressure on cosmetic manufacturers.

Marcia Helene Hewitt
Anthropology UWA
Student no. 0436125.

Veggie on Verges...Australian Research Council Proposal / Marcia Helene Hewitt

Marcia Helene Hewitt
University of Western Australia

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

Brundtland, 1987, World Commission on Environment and Development

E 1 Veggies on Verges

Growing food in urban shared spaces.


Vegetable gardens occupy a universal space in the psyche of people cross-culturally and through time. All over the world people maintain vegetable gardens. But in today’s world we rely heavily on commercial growers and distributors to provide our daily fresh food requirements. What has created this shift from the home garden and shared allotment to relying on industrial farming to meet our needs? And what has been the effect of this reliance on the environment in the light of conservation issues in the present? (Kimbrall, 2002). Is industrial farming sustainable? Is there a re-emergence of the shared space garden and home garden for the new middle class of health conscious vegetarians ?(Gaynor 2006). These are issues that I will explore in this project.

This project is to investigate food growing in public shared spaces such as verges and areas like City Farm and Earthwise in Perth. I ask questions such as is there cultural benefit for those who walk by these spaces? How does the aesthetic aspect of the vegetable garden affect people? Do children benefit by seeing vegetables growing? Is there an ‘every day sense of well being’ for people who pass by as they walk home from work? In a pilot study of fifteen, 14 people had parents who had grown food in their back garden, and all informants remarked that they enjoyed seeing the vegetable garden when they came home from work or passed by our house.

Building on other studies and experiments in other areas of the world I will create a study that will add to our knowledge of environmentalism as an intrinsically cultural phenomenon. (Milton, 1996.) Is the vegetable garden an intrinsic part of Western Australian culture, and urban cultures in other places? As Angela Gaynor states “home food production has long been a source of food valued for its freshness, purity and health-giving qualities.” (p.3). So it isn’t a new idea to grow food at home. Why then is there this ‘raised –eyebrow’ from people when you say “I’m growing my own food on the front verge”? Do only hippies grow food at home, or strange Christian cults such as Mennonites?
And so in creating gardens on verges and public spaces is there not an aesthetic and even more deeply rooted significance that contributes to a general sense of well being and “connectedness” for those who walk by these gardens? (Scott, 1978). Are we multidimensional beings who need to see and experience the food we eat? I will be also working with anorexics who have benefited from actively growing their own food.

In addition to cultural and psychological benefits of seeing and actively participating in urban food growing, there are sustainability arguments, as illustrated in the Brundtland Report (1987)

1. All human beings have the fundamental right to an environment adequate for their health and well-being. (Brundtland 1987)
Sustainable agriculture is a term used interchangeably with ‘traditional agriculture.” (Goldsmith 2003) and therefore falls into the category of ethnoecology, whether Indigenous or not..( Rhodes, 1979.) There are alternative and “counter culture” agricultural methods that meet the criteria of “traditional agriculture” such as Steiner’s biodynamic farming and permaculture. (Mollison, 1991). Traditional agriculture is the answer to many ecological problems such as the problem with nitrous oxide which is generated through the action of denitrifying bacteria in the soil when land is converted to agriculture.( Bunyard, 1998). But there is a resistance on the part of international agencies to allow traditional forms of agriculture in the Third World and to substitute modern industrial agriculture in its place. (Ashton. J. 1999). The answer is that traditional agriculture is not compatible with the developmental process that we are imposing on the people of the Third World, still less with the global economy and less still with the immediate interests of the transnational corporations that control it all. (Payer 1982)

Whether we like it or not, modern industrial agriculture may be on its way out. It is proving ever less effective. For instance we are now encountering diminishing returns on fertilizers. The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) admitted in 1997 that wheat yields in both Mexico and the USA had shown no increase in 13 years. In 1999 Global wheat production actually fell for the second consecutive year to about 589 million tons, down 2 percent from 1998. Fertilisers are too expensive and as McKenney puts it: “the biological health of soils has been driven into such an impoverished state in the interests of quick easy fertility, that productivity is now compromised, and fertilizers are less and less effective. (McKenney, 2004.)

These things being true, there is an increasing argument towards suburban shared space gardening in the form of allotments, which now exist in many of the world’s major cities, from London to New York. In the Netherlands there are more than 300 city farms, which are visited by over 15 million people each year. In Australia there are community gardens in Perth, Darwin, Brisbane and Melbourne. Here in Perth
such gardens include City Farm East Perth, Earthwise Subiaco and Hillside Farm. (Strange, 2004).

In this project I intend to extend the public space allotment concept to verges in front of individual homes. At this point there is nothing preventing people from growing food on the verge but there is a possibility of making this illegal in the future. I write this proposal from the perspective of advocate anthropologist and hope to influence legislation so that human beings are free to grow food in shared urban spaces in the event that councils take this basic right away from people.

There is another vital and pragmatic aspect to this study, and that is the area of age care; the obvious issue of mobility with ageing people, as well as the percentage of ageing people who have downsized their living environments and may not have access to individual garden and growing space. (Newman, Kenworthy, 1999). Therefore using verges for food growing has a very practical application for senior citizens.
The chief aims of this research proposal are as follows:

1) To provide the council with clear ethnographic data including photos, interviews and tape recordings of community voice in regards to shared space
food growing.

2) To look at and research other community projects in other countries as well as
Australia to see the weaknesses and strengths of these projects.

3) To make these findings public through academic journals, environmental
publications and community newspapers.

4) To interpret the data collected and analyse its impact upon general and individual well being, various areas of health care, biodiversity, seed exchanges, pest control, more ecologically sound fertilizer use and further impact on future urban planning.

Significance and innovation E3

Sustainability and increasing oil prices

The fact that three million people starved to death in North Korea in the last few years was partly due to the collapse of the Russian market. It could no longer afford to import the vast amount of oil on which its highly mechanized, Soviet inspired agricultural system had become so totally dependent that its “farmers” had simply forgotten how to wield a hoe or push a wheelbarrow. (Campbell, 2003).

The transport strike of 2000 in the UK could have created a similar effect if it had lasted a few more weeks. In an industrial society oil is required to transport essential food imports, to build tractors and to produce fertilizers and pesticides. It is also required to package and transport food to supermarkets. The reality is that we are destined to face a steady decline in the availability of oil. As this occurs oil will become increasingly more expensive until it will be affordable to only a minority of corporations, probably US corporations. (Goldsmith, 2003).

Food prices and availability are clearly linked to oil availability and transport costs. It may in fact become imperative for people on low incomes to grow their own food, and in the absence of back gardens need other spaces for independent growing. Therefore keeping verge gardening legal may become in the near future not just a cultural indulgence but a means of survival for entire neighbourhoods.

Potential ethical dilemmas.

There are potentially ethical dilemmas for the future of independent food growing, those of genetically modified seed and seedlings becoming copyright material thus preventing individuals from becoming self sufficient. This is an issue that we as a community and species cannot afford to overlook in order to safeguard the quality of life that people in previous generations have enjoyed.
Today we are witnessing the forced introduction of genetically modified crops by international agencies in collusion with national governments, as the result of the massive lobbying being carried out by an increasingly powerful biotechnology industry. (Goldsmith, 2003).

In the pilot ethnographic study that I have done, of 15 people , one person thought that verge vegetable gardening could get “out of control”. The ethical dilemma here could be one of community aesthetic, ie that some suburbs do not want the ‘hippy fringe’ or Green left marker, but are associated with something which is more upwardly mobile and in some sense, sterile.

The home garden (including the verge garden) is much more likely to include diversity of species. (Heaton, 2001). There is much evidence that certain plants have an affinity for one another and in fact improve not only the vigour and resistance of each other, but even the flavour. (Pfeiffer 1970). It is another well researched fact that many plants protect others from pests. For example garlic can be planted anywhere in the garden, flower bed, rose bed or orchard. A mulched bed of roses will very rarely get aphis (green fly), nasturtium repels Wooley aphis from trees, chives grown around apple trees protect against scab. (Mollison, 1991).

Hidden Costs in Industrial Food Production

Politicians, business leaders and the media continue to reassure consumers in the USA that their food is the cheapest in the world, repeating a mantra over and over that the more chemicals and technology applied to agriculture, the more food will be produced, lowering the cost for the consumer. However under closer analysis, the United States’ supposedly cheap food supply becomes monumentally expensive. Conventional analyses of the cost of food completely ignore the exponentially increasing social and environmental costs customers are currently paying and will have to pay in the future. Americans spend tens of billions of dollars in taxes, medical care, toxic clean ups, insurance premiums and other pass-along costs to subsidise industrial food producers. (Jacobs, J. 1961) Given the ever increasing health, environmental and social destruction involved in industrial agriculture, the real price of this food production for future generations is incalculable.

Pesticides and fertilizers

One of the most significant costs is the intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers that seriously pollute water soil and air. The US has lost half its topsoil since 1960 and continues to lose topsoil 17 times faster than nature can create it. (Kimbrell, 2002). The US Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that 75 percent of genetic diversity in agriculture disappeared in this past century. There is also large scale downstream pollution caused by long distance transport of industrial food. Food on an average Westerner’s plate travels at least 2000km from field to dinner table. Vehicles moving food around the world burn massive amounts of fossil fuels, exacerbating air and water pollution problems. Currently consumers pay billions of dollars annually in environmental costs directly attributed to industrial food production. (Seedsavers, 2005)

Public policy and home gardens

With figures like those staring us in the face, how can we allow Australian policy to take us down the same path? Encouraging home gardens, verge gardens and allotments should be part of urban planning and public policy, as well as campaigns to put colourful signs in the streets of Subiaco and other councils with slogans such as ‘grow food at home’ or ‘vegetables are beautiful’. Slogans are often catchy for children and teenagers and can be part of healthy eating public
policy also and for work with anorexics.(class participation Health and Medicine 2006).

E 4 Approach

There are many aspects of urban living that will come under scrutiny in this project. These are: sizes of urban blocks, age care, collective community involvement, primary and secondary awareness projects, car dependency in urban spaces, vegetarianism and awareness about pesticides in our food supply. In each of these areas we will interview key people and send out questionnaires to collect data about community attitudes, and will approach organisations who will help us to compile further data.

I will conduct interviews with people in age care organisations such as Silver Chain and Independent Living Centre to collect data about mobility in the garden and food buying. I will also speak with primary school teachers about garden projects, and interview the staff of City Farm in Perth to collect data about who buys food from them and why.

The space around vegetable gardens is an important one. It was very common for me to hear people on the way home from work comment on my garden and say things like “it looks so nice to see a vegetable garden” or ‘it reminds me of the garden my parents had” or ‘your silver beet is growing so quickly isn’t it?” As such, ethnographic data will be collected around verge gardens, interviews will be
undertaken with back yard gardeners also to ascertain the extent to which they garden, why they garden, and how much pesticides come into the picture.

I will seek to interview government agencies, Perth City Farm, and local commercial growers to investigate what types of pesticides are being used and what the regulations of Organic Growers Association are.

Participant observation and ethnographic interviewing activities will be the primary way of collecting data as well as photographic studies of verge gardens,
home gardens and allotments such as Earthwise in Subiaco.

E 5 National Benefit

The value of social research in the area of shared urban growing spaces is central to urban planning for the future, and as such, is of value for public debate about small farms, care for the aged, car dependency, increased transport prices, studies on anorexia and enhanced quality of life. Human beings are collective by nature and when isolated often become depressed. (Durkheim. 1951) Throughout this work I will continue to liaise with government members and academics to inform them on my findings.

E 6 Communication of Results

The findings in this study will be published in a volume to be written by Marcia and Kathy. We will also submit articles for Grassroots magazine, Seed Savers network, Vermont collective of biodynamic gardening, various South American publications, and the West Leederville Growers association. In addition to these publications we will submit papers for publication in national anthropology and interdisciplinary journals such as The American Journal of Anthropology and Ecumene. Articles will also be submitted to Australian gardening magazines and
American gardening magazines.

We have already constructed a web page in order to reach a broad spectrum of people in Australia and overseas with our findings, and will attend several gardening conferences both here and in Europe. We will also be interviewed by Phillip Adams on Late Night Live.

E 7 Description of personnel

The research and writing of this project will be undertaken by Marcia Helene Hewitt. Marcia owned a goat farm in 1971, and was involved with animal husbandry, horticultural care of over 30 fruit bearing trees and a sustainable garden project that fed several people for two years with little supply from supermarket produce. In addition to that she grew back yard vegetables in Perth for the 27 years of raising a family and now is employed as a full time horticulturalist around Perth, caring for many gardens including the garden of Justin Langer and family. Her son Gabriel is also a professional horticulturalist working in Perth, and will assist her in more verge planting in order to obtain ethnographic data for the council. Marcia is also a third year Anthropology student at UWA. Her upbringing in Puerto Rico gave her the necessary cross cultural understanding to create a comprehensive anthropological study in the field of sustainable and traditional food growing techniques.

Marcia will be assisted by a Green chemist from UWA, Kathy Smith, who will take measurements of the air and soil to correlate data.

We are requesting two years for the research and collaboration of this project, the first year being for interviews and travel, and the second year for writing and publishing results.

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Section E.