It is now socially acceptable to splurge on fancy foods. Go ahead and nibble that candy, crunch those cookies, spread the jellies and pour on the flavoring sauces.
You needn't feel guilty about the indulgence or extravagance of this practice because you also could be helping to make the world a better place.
The candy bar or nut brittle you eat could help preserve the rain forests. The condiments you buy could help reduce world hunger. Buying a certain brand of cookies could make a difference in Grand Canyon preservation efforts.
The new social consciousness emerging within the specialty foods industry was evident during the recent 37th annual Fancy Food Show in New York City's Jacob Javits Center.
During the show, various food manufacturers were promoting their practices of donating some profits to various charities. Although they do not constitute a majority, their numbers are growing.
John Roberts, executive director of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade Inc., said, "Our specialty foods manufacturers always have been as likely to make contributions as major corporations. They've always been involved local citizens, making donations to everything from Little League to Food Banks, but now they're telling people about it.
"Their message is, 'If you buy this food, this is what we will do.' This is the personification of the people we have in the industry. They're asking themselves what they can do to make things better and then combining it with something that's good for their business. They're thinking globally."
He named some negative aspects to this kind of activity. Consumers could say, "Why don't you lower the price so I can give the money I save to charities of my choice?"
He added, "The next step probably will be having 'clean' third parties certify that the manufacturers actually are doing what they say they're doing."
The new social concerns indicate a "coming of age of former 'hippies' who now have power and money," said Glenn Hawkes, founder of a Montpelier, Vt., company called Food 2000. His company, which produces Chili 2000 and Chili 2000 Dips, is designed to contribute a portion of product and profits to a hunger-free world by the year 2000. Currently, Mr. Hawkes donates product or cost of product at the rate of 1 unit for every 12 units sold. By 1995, when he hopes to be turning a profit, he said that he plans to dedicate as much as 50 percent of his profits to hunger projects.
"We were shouting anti-business slogans in the 1960s, but now we've gotten older and realized, through the likes of Paul Newman, that business can be a force for good," Mr. Hawkes said.
Mr. Newman could be credited with "fathering" the movement and serving as the ideal role model, although his product moved right onto grocery-store shelves rather than into specialty food shops and gourmet departments.
He started Newman's Own Inc. of Westport, Conn., 10 years ago by marketing a single product -- salad dressing -- and announced he would donate 100 percent of his profits to charities.
Now the line includes salsa, red sauces, popcorn and lemonade. Still donating all his profits to charities, the actor has channeled $40 million to an array of causes including illiteracy, AIDS research, the environment, homelessness, the elderly and the Hole in The Wall Gang Camp, which he founded for children with cancer and other serious blood-related illnesses.
No other company is donating profits at Mr. Newman's level. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream in Waterbury, Vt., are probably next in line when it comes to generosity.
The pair support 1 Percent for Peace and donate an additional 7.5 percent of the Ben & Jerry's pretax earnings to the Ben &
Jerry's Foundation -- a non-profit institution established in 1985 by personal contributions from Mr. Cohen and Mr. Greenfield.
The foundation supports "projects which are models for social change; projects infused with a spirit of generosity and hopefulness; projects which enhance people's quality of life, and projects which exhibit creative problem solving." Proposals relating to children and families, disadvantaged groups and the environment all get serious consideration.
Ben Cohen, also a backer of Food 2000, has founded Community Products Inc. of Montpelier, Vt. The company's main product, Rainforest Crunch, is a buttery, crunchy brittle made with Brazil and cashew nuts. It is sold in tins, turned into cookies and ice cream and now is being made into single-portion candy bars. The literature says, "You can buy great food products from a company whose mission is to help create a clean, peaceful, more caring world. That's putting your money where your mouth is."
Twenty percent of the company profits go to rain forest-based preservation groups, 20 percent go to environmental groups and an additional 20 percent go to 1 Percent for Peace (an initiative to redirect 1 percent of the U.S. military budget to peace through understanding activities).