News bites
Sound Consumer | March 2003


Vegetarian trend

There are signs that young people are increasingly interested in being vegetarian. Surveys show that more schools and universities are offering non-meat alternatives as main courses. A recent survey of 12- to 19-year-olds by Teenage Research Unlimited found that 20 percent of all respondents — 28 percent of girls — said vegetarianism is "in" and that not eating meat is "cool."

The interest in going meatless is substantial enough that the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a trade group for cattle ranchers, is taking action. In December it posted a Web site aimed at girls 8 to 12 where it says that teens, especially girls, ought to "keep it real" by eating beef often, as much as three or four times a day. (Time magazine)


Sustainable economies

There's increasing evidence that national chain businesses have some significant economic downsides compared to local businesses.

A 2002 study for an Austin, Texas nonprofit group called Liveable City found that spending $100 at a national chain bookstore creates only $13 worth of local economic activity. That same $100 spent at a locally owned book or record store generates $45.

Sales of books and music are increasing, but the national chain store actually decreased economic activity in Austin. The study documents that local merchants spend more of their dollars on labor and profits in town instead of out of town, injecting three times as much money back into Austin's economy to recirculate (described as "the multiplier effect"). To download the summary or to order a copy of the study see www.liveablecity.org.

Furthermore, big box retail, shopping centers and fast-food restaurants cost taxpayers more than they produce in revenue. A fiscal impact report from Massachusetts compared the tax revenue generated by different kinds of development with the cost of providing public services (such as road maintenance and public safety). It found, for each 1,000 square feet, net annual deficits/surpluses of:

  • big box retail: $468 deficit
  • shopping centers: $314 deficit
  • fast-food restaurants: $5,168 deficit
  • specialty retail (includes small-scale main street businesses): $326 surplus
  • business parks, offices and hotels also generate a surplus

As for whether products are cheaper at national chain stores, three surveys (in Maine, New York City and by the New York Statewide Senior Action Council) found that independent pharmacies had lower prescription drug prices compared with national chain drugstores, supermarkets and mass merchandisers. (CoCoSnips and Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network)


Schools ban irradiated food

The school board of Point Arena, California passed a policy prohibiting the purchase or use of irradiated foods in their schools. This school board governs two districts with about 500 students. Point Arena is now the second school district in the country to pass a measure banning irradiated foods; the Berkeley Unified School District in California was the first. (Public Citizen)

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