Monday, February 27, 2017

Your food is a political statement

As a way to stress the importance of the courses that I teach, I often tell students that they have enormous power to influence the outcomes through two roles that they have: Consumer and voter.  I then follow up with how people talk about the voting aspect, but that they vastly underestimate the decisions that we make every single day as consumers.  When we buy a tshirt that was manufactured in Bangladesh, it is a political act too, I tell them.

If only they and the rest of the world listened to me!

Take the food that we eat, for instance.  I have blogged in plenty about how much beef is an environmental disaster.  (Like here, for example.)  Beef and chicken consumers are essentially saying, "fuck it, I don't care about climate change."  Because, if they did care, then it will be difficult to justify their actions.

Every small thing, however mundane and a daily boring thing it is that we do, is a political statement.  It is just that we don't think of it that way.

Gidon Eshel talks about in the video that I have embedded here.  But, hey, maybe not everybody wants to spend 45 minutes on that talk ;)  He says:
“When you make a choice between any two competing ingredients or any two competing meals,” Eshel said in a December lecture (on “Rethinking the American Diet”), “you are making a whole cascade of important choices that you may or may not be aware of. For example, in that choice you determine…the nature of rural communities” in terms of structure, land use, and population density; the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted “on your behalf” for food production; the biodiversity of rangelands; the likelihood of species extinctions; and the health of waterways and coastal ocean fisheries, where massive die-offs are one consequence of agricultural pollution. “You even get to take sides in things that we don’t often associate with food choices, like societal strife,” he said, citing the example of a water-rights dispute pitting alfalfa farmers against a Native American tribe in Oregon’s Klamath basin.
You see how even the food that we eat is a statement on various people and natural elements all around?

If I had been asked to guess how much of the agricultural land is used to grow all things healthy, like apples and oranges and nuts and tomatoes, I would never, ever, have guessed anywhere near the neighborhood.  My number would have been like trump's factoids that he grabs from his asshole!  The reality is shocking:
all the lettuce, tomatoes, fruits, and nuts people eat (including apples, citrus, and almonds) are grown in less than one-half of 1 percent of the agricultural lands: “a minuscule fraction of the total” 
What the what?  One-half of one percent of the ag lands in this country?  That's it?  Oh my!

So, what is Eshel's bottom-line?
When making their dietary choices, Eshel said in summing up his research, individuals “get to tip the scale of environmental, social, and political contests,” as well as improve their personal health. Eating healthy foods that use less land, therefore, “is one of the callings of our time….”
Imagine explaining all these to the 63 million who voted for the asshole-in-chief!


Ramesh said...

Pat of the problem is that measuring the impact of the food we eat is devilishly difficult. There are environmental impacts, monetary impacts, social impacts and probably a long list of impacts. We haven't even begun to measure them in a systematic way. All that happens is single issue activists propagate only their (usually negative) point of view. Without a holistically reliable measure, you can't really fault the consumer for not caring.

But your larger point that we should all think and reflect about the impact of every choice we make is absolutely valid. It may not be easy, but at least we can try on the major choices we make.

Sriram Khé said...

There can not be a single measure on this issue. We will have to work with our personal tradeoffs ... which means it comes down to how consumers think and act.

"you can't really fault the consumer for not caring"
I can, and I will.
Ignorance I can understand--we can then educate people. Apathy has no cure.

"It may not be easy, but at least we can try on the major choices we make."
That's what I am taking about.

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