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Tupperware, left, and Avon, below, are direct selling pioneers


Help save the world with compassion Recently, when the NSW government was about to cut down scores of 130-year-old trees along Anzac Parade in Sydney to make way for a lightrail line, I wanted to join the protests. Research had come to light on how trees communicate, have root systems that warn and help them protect each other. Indigenous cultures have always communed with the souls of trees. But what I found was that every time I drove down the street and saw the protest signs I began to think of what was happening and burst into tears. I so wanted to do something of value but faced with the horrible truth of the situation and the inability of any of us to reverse what had started happening, I chose to run away from the problem and pretend it didn’t exist. I still avoid Anzac Parade if I can because it reminds me not only of the cruelty and ruthlessness of this materialistic world but also my inability to act. The word apathy keeps coming up. The belief is that there are not many “bad people” in this society but rather apathetic, indifferent people who click their tongues in disapproval but can’t be bothered being proactive. But a new phrase made me realise humans might be kinder than we appear. Visiting Frenchborn intellectual, photographer, humanist, now Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, author of Altruism, talks of “empathic distress”. It’s a condition that is the opposite to apathy although it results in a similar paralysis. Empathic distress



Compassion galvanises us to action because it’s devoid of emotional baggage that can weigh one down describes the state of people like me who get so overwhelmed with sadness and despair at life’s injustices, we can’t bear to deal with the pain we feel. It’s too hard to witness trees being cut down, innocent animals led into slaughterhouses, children in detention centres sick with despair. Rather than being apathetic, we get empathic overwhelm as a self-defence mechanism and push the thoughts away before we end up in bed with depression, as I often have. Out of mind, out of sight, but there is always feeling of guilt inside. So in his lecture I asked the question: “How is it possible to cultivate love and kindness towards others, yet not become incapacitated with grief once we start softening and peeling off our hard protective shell?” Ricard, an animal rights and ecoactivist, understood my question, having also written a book called A Plea for the Animals. He said: “I felt the same way you do looking at those pictures of abattoirs and suffering. We all feel horrified and despairing. It’s easier not to look at pain. But there is a solution — it’s called compassion.” He talked about cultivating compassion rather than just empathy — a more detached useful state. When confronted with suffering, our innate sense of altruistic love is awakened by “empathy”, which alerts us the other person or creature might be suffering. This highly-emotive state needs to develop into the more practical “compassion”, which is the desire to dispel suffering and its causes. Compassion galvanises us to action because it’s devoid of emotional baggage that can weigh one down. It’s a state of courage but objectivity. “Without the support of compassion, empathy by itself is like an electric pump through which no water circulates, and it will quickly overheat and burn,” Ricard says. The solution outlined in Altruism is the age-old formula of meditation practices, which change the neural-pathways of the brain. “In collaboration with Tania Singer, a neuroscientist in Leipzig, we realised that compassion, far from leading to distress and discouragement, strengthens our fortitude … to help those who suffer,” he says. It opens new parts of the brain that stimulate positivity and joy for us and those around. Compassion training of the mind might be easier said than done, but in these soul-destroying times, anything that leads us from despair to meaningful action is invaluable to the world.

Hungering for truths about diets Food fads have been with us for eons but, as Anthony Warner writes, few have been effective ELEANOR MILLS


It’s direct sales calling: boomtime for retailing without the middleman CARLI PHILIPS Nobody likes a before and after photo more than me. March love handles turned taut by July; pretreated carpet stains alongside post-application magic; bad skin turned blemish-free and now, thanks to Thermomix, a heap of pantry staples turned into a meal in minutes. Want to know where to get one? Have a party and find out as the German cooking contraption can only be bought through demonstrations hosted by an independent consultant who works whenever, and with whomever, they want. It’s direct selling and has been coming to a place near you since the Avon ladies began knocking on doors over a century ago. Fun! Free! Flexible! Be part of a community and be your own boss. If it sounds like I’m selling you something, I am: the dream. Direct selling is a channel whereby products are marketed to consumers with no third-party middleman. For these companies, enlisting independent sellers to market their products means reaching wider markets with less risk. “It rewards independent distributors for selling a product, or finding people who themselves sell a product. The sale of the product can take place in many ways: it can be at a party, it could be in a workplace or increasingly is online. All sellers have to purchase a modestly priced starter kit of product,”

If you’ve ever wondered why kale, avocado toast and sweet potatoes are ubiquitous, or if you tear your hair out over the whole “cleaneating” fad, then the Angry Chef — real name Anthony Warner, a professional chef and blogger — is your man. He started off “curious about some of the strange beliefs of the clean-eating movement”. But the more he read, “the more incredulous I became at the mangled misunderstanding of science and the absolute nonsense that underlies some of these trends”. Warner is on a crusade against food faddism, pseudoscience and clinically unproven diets and regimes. He has turned his considerable nutritional expertise on everything from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop to the alkaline diet, paleo, Gaps and the idea that carbohydrates and sugar feed cancer cells. The result is a fascinating (if foul-mouthed) diatribe about the kind of bad science that causes vast swathes of the public to forswear butter, gluten, sugar or bacon. Confused? Don’t be. Warner explains that the overwhelming bulk of scientific evidence points to the healthiest course of action being to follow a varied diet, with lots of fruit and vegetables,

says Gillian Stapleton of the Direct Selling Association of Australia. A multi-level marketing model, sellers receive a commission from the product sales of their recruits and so forth down the line. San Francisco-based Rodan + Fields was founded by successful dermatologists in 2015 and is now the number two premium skincare brand in the US with a reported net revenue of $US636.9 million ($837m). Rodan + Fields tried selling in department stores but the complex regime required a demonstration and the traditional marketing just wasn’t working, so it crossed over to direct selling. The whole “friend of a friend of a friend” thing has made millionaires of the founders. Initially flogged as a path to financial independence whereby women could manage their own businesses while their husbands went to work, direct selling is still a female domain. Entrepreneurship! Be your own boss! Be part of a community! It’s all very “empowering”, right up until the patronising product mix being peddled: cosmetics, cleaning products, household goods and jewellery. “Yes, the industry is still very female-focused,” says Stapleton. “Traditionally, women have embraced the flexibility and social aspects of direct selling businesses

and nothing specifically excluded (even doughnuts, though you wouldn’t want to eat them at every meal). He is particularly good on the history of dietary ideas, explaining that systems such as Ayurveda stem from a prescientific time when human biology was not understood and vague mystical notions — of the apparent connection between hot foods and hot tempers, for instance — were the best we could do.

Any dietary program in which most calorific foods are ruled out will result in weight loss As the pages tick by, it becomes clear that snake-oil salesmen promising supposed miracle diets are almost as old as humanity itself. Take the 17th-century botanist William Coles, who popularised the “doctrine of signatures”, the idea that foods display characteristics that are a visual clue to their health-giving properties. Through such delusional logic, walnuts

but this is changing thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the millennial generation. Direct selling companies are embracing this through product diversity as they look to achieve a more balanced gender mix,” she says, referring to nutritional supplements and therapeutics like Herbalife, popular

Top US direct selling companies by revenue Amway






Mary Kay


Tupperware Sou


rc e: D i r e c t S e l li n g



with both men and women. “If you’re worried about job security, interested in extra income opportunities or looking for a change in your professional career, your worries stop here. Isagenix can help you redefine your life,” say Washington-based Kelley and Tyler D, who share their millionaire success story on the meal re-

were said to cure the brain and eyebright (a flower that is thought to resemble a pair of bright blue eyes) could treat eye infections. Warner’s history of quackery is riveting. I was particularly struck by the story of George Cheyne, a Scottish doctor in Georgian London, who wrote a best-selling book called The English Malady. His narrative is strikingly familiar to those of lifestyle bloggers today: “Upon my coming to London, I all of a sudden changed my whole manner of living ... My health was in a few years brought into great distress ... I grew excessively fat, short-breathed, lethargic and listless.” A health crisis drove him to a life of abstinence in which he stopped eating meat and followed a strict “Vegetable and Milk Diet”, to which he ascribed remarkable curative properties. He claimed it fixed everything from rheumatism to cancer and “disorders of the mind”. Sound familiar? Warner is passionate that his readers should emerge having understood the basics of the scientific method — rule one being that “anecdote” is not the same as “data”. As he puts it: “Just because eating no carbohydrates, or cutting out gluten or sugar, happened

placement product’s website. Kelly spent her days running after her three young children while Tyler spent most of his time at the office — until Kelley discovered Isagenix. After 30 days of the cleansing and fat-burning system, Kelley felt amazing, started spreading the news to her “tired mommy” friends and can now earn more than $700,000 a year. They thank “God, family and then Isagenix”. Cynicism aside, consumers are more savvy than they get credit for. According to a 2013 Deloitte Access Report: “Key negative perceptions of ‘high pressure selling’ and ‘pyramid schemes’ are misplaced.” Lainie Coombes of Project PR has been to demonstrations for Thermomix, Enjo cleaning products and Intimo lingerie and says she never felt pressure to buy. “I’m a new mum running a staffed office so purchased from Intimo out of convenience. There’s an online catalogue too so I can contact my representative off my own accord,” Coombes says. Traditional models of direct selling are face-to-face group contexts but if companies reject digital they risk falling behind. According to a 2016 Isentia study, 65 per cent of direct sellers are less than 45 years old. This lends itself to a

to work for one particular blogger with a large social media following does not make it a scientifically proven fact.” He attributes the miraculous transformations such bloggers describe to a simple “regression to the mean” — that is, if things have been bad, they are likely to get better in the fullness of time. And on

digitally aware demographic who have embraced social selling by way of Facebook live parties, Instagram and hosted websites that can still foster a good rapport despite not being face-to-face. “With millennials increasingly starting direct selling businesses, they are bringing their skills and love of social media with them,” says Stapleton. There’s a sense of ownership as they are not mere employees but responsible for marketing, promotion and networking. After success using Rodan + Field skincare (she bought it from an American friend), Rachelle Dzienciol pre-enrolled to become a consultant when it launched in Australia this year. While there have been initial seminars, Australian prices are yet to be confirmed but in the US one-off enrolment kits range from $US395-$US995. Representatives pay $US25 a month to cover company overheads like distribution costs and a negotiable amount of $US80 a month on product (this amount can be deducted from retail sales). “Some people are sceptical but it’s had enormous success in the US,” Dzienciol says. “I will probably have a few parties to get the word out but will do everything mostly via social media. I’ll have a website but do not hold any inventory; the product is dispatched directly from the company to the cus-

The Angry Chef — Bad Science and the Truth about Healthy Eating, by Anthony Warner, Oneworld

tomer. I don’t have to worry about anything like that, they do all the admin. You can say there’s an upline but anyone that I sponsor is their own boss. I sign up someone below me and get a percentage of their sales and so forth.” It’s been lucrative for many US sellers, with incentives, bonuses and rewards for financial milestones including Lexus SUVs and travel perks. While it still operates under a direct selling model, Rodan + Fields distanced itself from the Direct Selling Association in the US this year, opting not to renew its membership (it will remain in Australia). The decision was made in light of the US Federal Trade Commission’s close scrutiny of multi-level marketing companies. Last year Herbalife paid a $US200mn settlement in a consumer protection case after allegations of deceptive misconduct, and in 2015 Isagenix was deemed misleading by consumer group Choice because of its peerto-peer promotion by associates ill-equipped to dispense health or nutritional advice. Despite the slew of newcomers, Amway and Avon are still considered among the most successful and respected direct sellers in the world, the latter with 6 million active independent sales representatives. Great potential earnings, flexible hours, training and support. Maybe I’ll sign up.

the efficacy of diets such as the paleo or detox in losing weight, he counters that any dietary program in which most calorific foods are ruled out will result in weight loss. Why do obviously intelligent, well-meaning people believe such hokum? Because, he explains, our brains trick us. The behavioural psychologist Daniel Kahneman has shown that humans have a tendency to prize personal experiences and extrapolate truths from them about the wider world. This may have been a boon during our early evolution but it is completely contrary to the scientific method, whose essence is to take hypotheses and observations and test them endlessly to ensure they are true, not hunches. The Angry Chef passionately argues that it is because food is such a visceral part of our existence that we want to see patterns in diet that just aren’t there. The science of nutrition is, of course, complex, but what to eat is actually simple: humans are omnivores who thrive on many different diets in many different places. Variety is the spice of life and anyone who starts telling you to cut anything out is talking rubbish THE SUNDAY TIMES

The Australian, July 2017  
The Australian, July 2017