Mainewhile: The formula for social action remains the same

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I was 5 years old the day my mother walked into the kitchen and asked me, “Are you enjoying that glass of Quik?” I was. “Good. Well, make it last, because that’s the last box we’re buying. The boycott is on.”

Thus was I introduced to the world of social activism.

I was not an enthusiastic recruit. Let’s be honest: girl liked her chocolate milk. However, when confronted with the realities of corporate “ethics,” my chocolate milk seemed a small price to pay. Even at 5 I was able to get the bigger picture.

The Nestle boycott came about because of their marketing of baby formula, particularly their promotion of formula in developing nations. You see, Nestle was doing two things: It was actively campaigning against breastfeeding and promoting formula – specifically theirs – as a healthier, more beneficial, alternative, and it was refusing to state on the formula label that the product required refrigeration. (The fear was that this would hurt sales in countries where refrigerators were rare.)

Women were being pressured to switch to formula, and babies were dying. The boycott was a no-brainer.

Now, in the ensuing 40 years, not only has the Swiss company not seen the light and mended its ways, it has expanded its impact. Nestle now owns, among other things, Nescafe and Nespresso, creators of mountains upon mountains of tiny, single-use plastic “coffee pods” that contribute to an environmental nightmare. It also owns Maine’s Poland Spring water, a company that disputes water rights for the very people who live where the water is sourced, while its CEO makes contradictory statements about the rights of human beings to have water.

Over the years, despite my misgivings about its ultimate effectiveness, I’ve maintained the boycott. I’ve had a few accidental slip-ups (who knew the delicious Peregrino Italian sodas were owned by Nestle?) and if the only alternative to extreme thirst is soda or Poland Springs, I’ve been known to grab the water. Recently, on a trip through Canada, after denying myself many chocolatey treats because of Nestle ownership, I tucked into an ice cream cone only to learn that the ice cream was Nestle, too. Arrgh!

So the boycott has never left my mind, or my habit. But it has morphed. I sort of assumed we were on to “general badness” these days and off the original issue. Last week, however, it came roaring back with a vengeance as I watched, in disbelief and horror, as our own government took to threatening other nations over breastfeeding.

Yes, we are now, apparently, officially anti-breastfeeding. Literally the most convenient, inexpensive, and natural means of feeding a baby.

My intent is not to shame mothers who choose to feed formula. Fellow moms, what works for you works for you and as long as you and your baby are happy and healthy and thriving and bonding, great.

This is, however, about supporting a woman’s right to breastfeed, and to be supported in that choice. Most importantly, to not be shamed, or threatened, or lied to in an attempt to make her stop.

As we contemplate this fresh, new embarrassment of our government, look to the financial ties. Follow the money. Who is making a profit off of formula, and who is taking money from them? What is the incentive? Meanwhile, support moms, both those who feed formula and those who are nursing.

It is, after all, in those moments of bonding and nurturing that compassion and empathy develop in the young brain. And goodness knows we can use plenty more of that.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at