Because It's Still Cool To Blog

On Bloggers, Breastfeeding, Formula, Morality, Change, & the Nestle Family Event

There’s been impassioned discussion about the Nestle Family blogger event in Los Angeles, initiated (I believe) by a thoughtful post by Annie of PhD in Parenting, and followed by the comments and tweets of many, many others (see in particular, @that_danielle and @isabelkallman for interesting facts and comments). I was invited to the Nestle event, debated attendance considerably, then declined. And as I have watched the dialogue ensue on Twitter, a number of thoughts and concerns have been percolating. First, let me start with the matter of my attendance at the Nestle Family blogger event.

I always consider blog junkets carefully, but have had to be exceedingly picky in the last year, as events and invitations have ballooned in volume. There are many reasons why a blogger decides to attend an event: it’s flattering to be invited, the location is cool, you want to meet other bloggers in real life, you’re already passionate about the brand, you want to learn more, it makes sense with your editorial point of view, etc.

My interactions with Nestle’s PR were positive; they understood that the event wasn’t the best editorial fit for an eco-geek like me. In addition to wanting to visit LA and see some of my blog friends, I did consider attending though, because I thought it could be a good opportunity to raise my eco-advocate voice. However, ultimately, as I debated this invite and the editorial fit along with family and client work, I just felt as if I was trying to knock a square peg in a round hole and declined.

Now, on to Annie’s post. She raises a lot of disturbing issues about Nestle’s formula strategy in third world companies. My first reaction was, “Holy sh*t, this is horrendous.” My second reaction was, “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t know about the depths of this issue when I was contemplating the invitation.” (I did Google Nestle for potential legal issues and controversy and came up with a few hits, but ultimately didn’t probe further because I had pretty much decided not to go.) My third thought was, “I wish I could be there to raise a voice and work towards positive change.”

I think this Nestle Family situation has riled so many because it hits a lot of nerves.

First, while it may seem trivial juxtaposed in the same conversation with third world countries, immoral practices, and dying babies, there’s this very palpable ongoing business of blogger A-listing and feelings of exclusion that rear their ugly heads around blogger junkets. I’m afraid that sometimes there’s a tendency – possibly even an eagerness – to rain on a parade if one’s not invited to an event (this is not in referral to Annie’s post; I’m referring to what I see on Twitter).

Second, because the crux of this issue is around formula, it riles breastfeeding advocates and makes those who choose/chose not to breastfeed defensive. I have seen people tweet that this is not a breastfeeding vs. formula issue, it’s a moral one, and to some degree I understand that rationale, but I think it’s very, very challenging to truly disentangle these issues.

Third, there’s the general distrust of a big company like Nestle, no matter how you feel about formula or chocolate bars or whatever. I also have seen tweets about how Nestle’s unethical formula practices date back to the 70s and thus will never ever change (more on that below).

So, what to make of all of this? There are three things that have been weighing on my mind this morning:

1. There’s been a lot of criticism about this event, and whether people acknowledge it or not, I think this inevitably trickles down negatively to the attendees. Now, the reality is that none of us completely knows why a blogger decides to attend an event (select from any of the above or other reasons); indeed, my own thought process about it felt rather convoluted. So the first thing I ask is to put down the judgment of others in attendance and see what they have to report on the flip side. I don’t personally know many of the bloggers in attendance but I can vouch for the fact that veterans such as @busymom, @mombloggersclub, and @momtalkradio know how to separate wheat from chaff.

2. Every blog event brings forth lessons, and in my opinion, this one clearly points to the importance of disclosure and encouragement of open dialogue at the outset. Given that this event involves parenting bloggers, it seems as if Nestle should have anticipated that someone would bring these issues to the surface. They would have done better to address the issue head on. Honestly, if Nestle had said that the formula issue was on the agenda I may have been more compelled to go.

3. I think it’s wrong to assume that nothing can change, especially in this day and age of social media. We saw it with Motrin and I experienced it firsthand when Boston.com tried to sponge off of Boston Mamas. For better or worse, people can make themselves heard loud and clear through social media and change can happen. Ad campaigns (such as Motrin and Boston.com) obviously are different in scope than the practices Annie's post described, but I still believe that from the consumer end, things are very, very different than they used to be. We have much more power now.

All challenges afford growth (isn't suffering and subsequent growth part of the human condition?) and I can only hope that this situation will inspire Nestle towards change and also encourage all of us to engage the power of this online space to positive gain.