I stood, agape, on the high street of Chesterfield. My beloved Bakers Oven was gone, its once unpalatable brown and duck-egg coloured logo stripped from above the door and replaced with an image of pure evil. It bore a new name: Greggs.
I used to be a huge fan of Bakers Oven cheese and onion pasties. They were rich and salty, and by thunder they had ‘actual’ cheese and ‘actual’ onion in them. Oh how I miss them, now replaced with a pathetic, floppy, wallpaper-paste excuse of everyone’s favourite high street snack.
I promised myself I’d never set foot in a Greggs again for their aggressive buy-out of all Bakers Oven stores in the UK. It seemed as good a reason as any, I suppose. It was born of anger.
It’s strange, the battles we choose to fight isn’t it? My outrage wasn’t some anti-capitalism statement or a protest at corporate greed. This was a 16-year-old me being over-sentimental about a snack that I had a particular penchant for.
So I ask myself: “Why do we, as social justice-seeking Christians, seem to only ever have one answer to corporate injustice?”
I might get shirty because I’ve learned about the illicit tax practices of Amazon.com or Starbucks coffee. What’s the Christian campaigner’s response? Boycott!
I might be absolutely livid that hard-working individuals in Ghana aren’t paid a fair wage to produce the cocoa that goes into my favourite chocolate brand. What’s the Christian campaigner’s response? Boycott!
I might throw a tantrum because I’ve been on a gap year and learned about the dramatic recession of the rainforest to make room for palm oil plantations. Everything I consume contains palm oil. What’s the Christian campaigner’s response? Boycott! (Good luck with that one).
I think it’s time to question the value of this ‘action’ and actually admit that for most of us (myself included), it’s an easy badge to earn. Those of us who abstain from eating Kit Kats and do nothing else are passive activists, and to be honest, that seems as bad as doing nothing. Controversially I want to suggest that at best, in and of itself, boycotting doesn’t work, doesn’t change anything and is lazy campaigning.
“But it does work!” people will say. “We boycotted Nestle in the 80s and it worked.” Did it? I ask you honestly, did it really? Call me cynical but did the popular boycott of Nestle in the 80s change the way Nestle conducts itself? Did the boycott usher in a positive ideology of corporate social responsibility? Of course it didn’t. They’re still at it. Only last week Nestle were caught with their trousers down, draining ground water which belonged to poor, local communities in Pakistan before bottling it and selling it back to them. Doesn’t that make you angry? Doesn’t that boil your blood?
When it comes to corporate social responsibility you and I are infinitely more powerful as consumers than abstainers. So let’s buy those Kit Kats, if for no other reason than to march up to Nestle HQ and perform a ritual burning of them on the front door.
The people called Christians have a social justice campaigning history to be proud of and we’ve achieved a great deal together, but there’s so much more to be done. Please let’s not lucidly spend our annual campaigning quota on the standalone action of ‘boycotting’ something and pretending it makes us activists. Change is made by those who show up and Jesus never sat on his arse when it came to social justice.
Let’s get Christian about injustice. Let’s bear down on these companies who are intent on destroying our planet and protest, clogging their inboxes, gathering at their factories, bombarding their Facebook pages, praying for them night and day and all with the righteous anger that our faith teaches us. We can influence change! The power lies with you and me and there are countless campaigners and organisations achieving amazing things who are desperate for you to join the choir.
Can you be a Christian and eat Kit Kats? Sure, but only if you’re angry enough. The bitterness makes them sweeter.