I admit, I'm not sure I care all that much about cows.
I look for hormone- and antibiotic-free milk because I don't want those chemicals entering my body or the body of my small daughter. I'm somewhat aware that those chemicals are not good for the earth or the dairy cows either, but mostly it's about me.
Author and sociology professor Andrew Szasz says this makes me a fairly typical consumer -- and that worries him.
Szasz recently wrote the book Shopping Our Way to Safety: How We Changed From Protecting the Environment to Protecting Ourselves. (If you're interested, there's a good synopsis on the blog NatureMoms.)
I had a somewhat guilt-inducing conversation with him recently about the pros and cons of this societal evolution.
According to Szasz, Americans are concerned, quite reasonably, about environmental hazards that affect us by way of the food we eat, the water we drink, the products we put on our skin and the air we breathe.
But 30 or 40 years ago, these concerns would spur people to knock on their neighbors' doors, petition the government and rally against corporate miscreants in an attempt to fix problems. These days, people instead shop for things that they hope will insulate them from problems.If we're scared about pesticides in produce, we buy organic; if we're concerned about the quality of our tap water; we buy filters or bottled water. If we're worried about chemicals in toys or beauty products, we seek out products that don't have them. He calls this trend an inverted quarantine, where people try to create a bubble between themselves and the dangers in their vicinity.