New App Brings Partisan Politics to the Grocery Store

This is either exactly what we need, or the complete opposite.

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Knowing where your food came from is great. Knowing how your food was produced is even better. Knowing which political party is the primary recipient of donations from your food's manufacturer is unproductive, pernicious, simplistic, and silly.

Or maybe that's just me.

Well, now there's an app that brings political consciousness into a traditionally non-political realm: your local grocery store.

Called BuyPartisan (get it?), the app lets you scan any barcoded item to discover the political donations made by its producer. The contributions can then be broken down further—by the company’s CEO, board of directors, PAC’s, and employees.

The final tally is rendered as a bar graph of corporate donations by political party. For example, a quick scan of a Dasani water bottle will reveal that the recipients of Coca-Cola’s political donations are 49 percent Republican, 33.25 percent Democrat, and 17.75 percent “other.”



The idea, according to BuyPartisan's tagline, is to allow consumers to “spend how they believe.” Don’t like Republicans? Don’t buy Dasani water.

This strikes me as a deeply cynical, naïve, and simplistic way of shopping. It’s one thing to be more informed about the political activities of large corporations—be they food producers or oil conglomerates. It’s something else to take a simplified, incomplete, and decontextualized metric of one company’s financing activity and base your purchasing decisions on it.

It’s not as simple as saying, "ConAgra has a plurality of Republican donations, so snapping into a Slim Jim is preventing campaign finance reform." The byzantine web of political money is far too complex for a single bar graph to explicate. And anyway, BuyPartisan only tells you about publicly disclosed donations.

It’s not as simple as saying, "ConAgra has a plurality of Republican donations, so snapping into a Slim Jim is preventing campaign finance reform."

Then there’s the intrusion of political drama where there previously (and refreshingly) wasn’t. BuyPartisan creator Matthew Colbert, a former D.C. campaign staffer, told the Washington Post that the idea behind the app was to make “every day Election Day” through spending choices.

Well, aside from the act of voting, I kind of hate everything about elections, and I think most other Americans do too. That's why I’m amazed to see how positive the response to this app has been.

I guess this is one of those situations where you can’t blame the creators so much as the culture. Clearly, there’s a market for individuals who want to know the political leanings of the brands they buy.

Note that I didn’t say, “There’s a market for people who want to know how their grocery dollars are influencing political causes." Because let’s be real: Corporations have massive, diversely sourced coffers, and your choice between Tropicana and Minute Maid is just not going to make an appreciable difference.

Finally, what good does it do to infuse yet another facet of daily life with this noxious strain of blindly partisan politics? Do we really need this? Please, tell me I’m wrong, because I appear to be alone on this one.

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