Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Good Cause or Pinkwashing?

breast cancer awareness

On top of October Unprocessed and the Vegan Month of Food, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Do those pink labels on products represent a real effort to save lives or is the pink ribbon just clever marketing in disguise?

You can’t leave the house in October without encountering the ubiquitous pink ribbon. It’s everywhere! On clothing, makeup, even on food products. What gets me every year about that pink ribbon is that so often the products it’s plastered on are part of the problem.

On its face, cause marketing like this seems like a Good Thing, doesn’t it? You buy a product, and part of the money goes to a worthy cause. And don’t get me wrong: researching breast cancer and finding a cure is a worthy cause. I am just not convinced that slapping pink ribbons onto junk food is the right way to support it. As Bruce Bradley points out in his recent piece on pinkwashing:

While there are a whole host of established risk factors for breast cancer, eating unhealthy food β€œis thought to be partly responsible for about 30% to 40% of all cancers.β€œΒ [, 9/12/12, “Eating Unhealthy Food”] The basic dietary recommendations are:

  • Eating a more plant-based diet
  • Limit your fat intake
  • Mix up your protein options
  • Add healthy choices to your diet

I’ve never seen a pink ribbon sticker on a stalk of broccoli or a bunch of asparagus in the store, have you? It’s more than a little ironic that the food products sporting that pink ribbon on their products are usually the very ones linked to cancer. I’ve seen pink ribbons on all kinds of junk from sugary, artificially-flavored candies to processed meats and cheese products. No exactly cancer-fighting foods!

These pink ribbons are as much about making money for the corporations who sport them as they are about breast cancer research or awareness.

How to Really Fight Breast Cancer

If you really want to donate to fight breast cancer, buying a can of soup isn’t the answer. Here are some top-rated organizations doing breast cancer research that need your donations:

Instead of thinking pink, you can think preventively! Choose healthy, plant-based foods wherever you can, avoid processed foods, and get plenty of exercise.

What about Susan G. Komen?

You probably noticed that the Susan G. Komen Foundation was not on the list above, and that’s no accident. When it comes to fundraising for breast cancer research, Komen is the name everyone knows, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best place to donate your money.

Not only does a lot of the money that you give the Susan G. Komen Foundation go to things like overhead and administrative costs – not research – but the organization is responsible for much of the pinkwashing you see on store shelves.

They alsoΒ  threatened to pull funding from Planned Parenthood last year, an organization that provides many women who couldn’t otherwise afford it with services like free breast cancer screenings. They reversed this decision after a huge public outcry, but that they even threatened to do this speaks volumes about where this organizations priorities really are.

Check out this trailer for the documentary Pink Ribbons Inc. for more on the trouble with pinkwashing:

Image Credit: Pink Ribbon photo via Shutterstock

6 thoughts on “Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Good Cause or Pinkwashing?”

  1. A thoughtful post and and I totally agree that slapping pink ribbons on junk food and all sorts of other productsmay not be the best use of our dollars. However, I’m not sure Susan B. Komen Foundation deserves such rough treatment. They are a 3 (out of 4) star charity on Charity Navigator ( which reports that they spend 75% of their earnings on programatic expenses (which is fairly high for an organization of its size). It also has brought breast cancer awareness to millions upon millions of people and that is a truly amazing feat. Is it just possible that they are a victim of their own success?

    1. I totally agree. What is super frustrating is that we know certain foods and chemicals we’re exposed to are linked to cancer, but companies continue to package and sell these products.

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