New York City Nonprofit Launches Website to Help Consumers Make More Responsible Shopping Decisions

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To help consumers make better informed shopping decisions, Banyan Institute, a nonprofit corporation headquartered in New York City, has launched Kunkelfruit Wiki, the home for free articles about how popular products are made.

To help consumers make better informed shopping decisions, Banyan Institute, a nonprofit corporation headquartered in New York City, has launched Kunkelfruit Wiki, the home for free articles about how popular products are made.

The recent release of Richard Linklater's film Fast Food Nation, based on Eric Schlosser's 2002 book of same name, marks a new crest in public awareness of the broader consequences of consumerism.

It may seem obvious to say that products are not only consumed, but also produced. Yet most product marketing would have consumers believe in the fairy tale that a product arrives in a store, as Benjamin Kunkel puts it in his novel Indecision, "scrubbed, clean, no past, all of its history washed away."

Kunkel's novel describes a magic fruit that grants whoever tastes it the power to see the life history of any product he or she touches. "I thought Kunkel's magic fruit was a great idea," said Sean Miller, head of Banyan Institute, "and that it'd be even better if it really existed. That was the inspiration to start Kunkelfruit Wiki."

In the ongoing effort to move product, marketing tends to focus on what a product will do for the consumer--how its features provide benefits to the consumer, or how the product promises a certain enhanced experience. Kunkelfruit Wiki, along with movies like Fast Food Nation, foster more awareness of not only what a product can do for you, the consumer, but also of how that product effects the community as a whole--as well as the environment.

"Unless consumers demand it," Mr. Miller said, "companies have no real incentive to disclose how they actually make the products they sell." Miller notes that it's just as well for companies to hope and expect that consumers will make purchasing decisions based solely on what products can do for them personally. That way, manufacturers are free to arrange the production of their products in any way they see fit to ensure a competitive advantage--and thus a nice profit.

Nevertheless, each and every product does indeed have a history, a history that shows that the product was made by human hands from the fruits of the earth. "A Kunkelfruit article tells the story of a product's journey from raw materials to manufacture to market," said Mr. Miller.

Kunkelfruit Wiki is meant to:

  • help make commerce more open and personal
  • encourage better informed consumers
  • facilitate learning-by-doing investigative journalism

The website is a collaborative project that emphasizes objective reporting -- much in the same way that Wikipedia calls for accuracy in its content. But where Wikipedia asks, "What is it?", Kunkelfruit Wiki asks, "How is it made?" And as an opensource wiki, anyone can write an article or improve an existing one:

  • High school and college students can do homework projects to create articles.
  • Travelers or residents in the country of manufacture can contribute photos and/or videos of the factories and their workers, or of the land -- for example, farms or mines -- from which raw materials are harvested or extracted.
  • Workers can volunteer their own information about the products they make and the companies they work for.

To read current Kunkelfruit articles on:

  • McDonald's Big Mac
  • Nintendo Wii
  • Apple iPod nano
  • Starbucks Tall Nonfat Decaf Latté

visit Kunkelfruit Wiki at http://scriblerus.net/kunkelfruit.

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SEAN MILLER

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