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… I show the candy bar to my mother, my best pleading look on my face. “Mommy?” She looks down. “No. We – we don’t buy those.” Even tighter face. “That’s a bad company. They make babies sick.” She searches my face. “I’ll explain later.”
I gently return the beautiful package to its place and stare at it. The horror of my mother’s words crash against the utter perfection of the object in front of me. Babies cough and drown in the blue banner and convulse beneath the red letters. I turn away, sickened and confused.
Moments later, I am zipped up, mittened, and installed in the back seat of our Dodge Aspen station wagon. As Dad pulls out of the parking lot, Mom turns towards me. Nestlé doesn’t only make candy bars, she explains; they also make food for babies called infant formula. They persuade women in Africa to feed their babies formula instead of breast milk, and that’s wrong.
I argue with her. Maybe formula is better. I wasn’t breastfed and I turned out okay.
She faces me directly. Nestlé tricked the women by giving them formula for free in the beginning. The women’s breast milk dried up and they had no choice but to buy formula they couldn’t afford. Their babies went hungry. And the women didn’t have clean water to mix with the formula, so their babies got sick and some even died. Nestlé knew this, but they kept tricking the women into buying formula anyway.
Mom looks at me hard. “We don’t give our money to companies that hurt people,” she says. “If enough people boycott them, they won’t make as much money. Then maybe they’ll change.”
Mom faces forward and discusses the workday with my father. I watch Lake Superior pass by my window and try to shake the nausea that envelops me. Neatly suited men stand around a large table in a Nestlé blue room, congratulating each other as skinny babies gasp and whimper on a screen behind them. A man turns and offers me a Nestlé Crunch bar. He laughs when I flinch.
From Mandala July-September 2013
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Mandala Publications is the official publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international charitable organization founded by two Tibetan Buddhist masters, Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984) and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. FPMT is a vibrant international community, with a network of 160 affiliate centers, projects and services, and members in more than 30 countries.
Mandala print magazine is published in January, April, July and October. Mandala is available via the Friends of FPMT program.