The other day i posted about a video that very succinctly outlined what is wrong with our food system. From excessive meat consumption through unsustainable agriculture to the marketing of foods based on cravings and psychological needs, not nutrition nor even taste, it was about as good a summary of the challenges we face as I have seen.
Yet it left me disappointed.
And as I wrote at the time, that disappointment stemmed from the video's ultimate conclusion—that the solution to all these issues was simply changing our diet and educating ourselves. It's not that I disagree that dietary choices and consumer awareness are important, it's just that they left something out that should be at least as prominent, if not more so—voting, protesting and making your voice heard.
#F27: A Global Day of Action
As activists today launch a global day of action to Occupy Our Food Supply (use hashtag #F27 on twitter to keep up with all the action), it's worth reflecting that whatever the green movement may have told us, we do not vote with our dollars—we vote with our votes. And it is in uniting our lifestyle choices/consumer activism with broader political engagement that the path to real change lies.
To be fair, the focus on shopping and eating is hardly the preserve of that one video I referenced. From extolling the virtues of the farmers' market through the 100 mile diet to appeals to consumers to understand the carbon hoofprint of their food, the environmental movement (this site and this author included) has focused much of its efforts on changing what we buy, and what we eat, as an expression of the world we would like to see.
Why Consumer Food Activism Does Make Sense
There's good reason for that, especially when it comes to food. While we may be able to do without fancy gadgets or new organic bamboo yoga mats, the concept of simply stopping consuming so much can only go so far when it comes too food. We all need to eat. (Although, come to think of it, a voluntary movement of "unconsumption" might help reduce the overpopulation problem.) But while buying foods that reflect our political beliefs and the world we want to see is important—unless we use those purchasing decisions as leverage to inform an explicitly political effort, then our movement will remain on the sidelines.
Image credit: Fish Fight
A Movement Broader Than We Realize
The fact is that our movement is much broader than the people we see at the farmers' market or shopping in Whole Foods. I would be willing to bet that many, if not most, voters would prefer animals not to be tortured in pursuit of ever greater efficiency on the factory farm. I know for a fact that most Americans would like GMOs labeled so they can make informed choices. And the desire for healthy, nutritious food for our kids stretches way beyond the usual demographics of the LOHAS crowd.
Just as vegans, vegetarians and omnivores should unite to end factory farming, so too the green movement needs to stop wishing that everyone shopped like a saint, and start fighting to fix the system that drives us toward poor choices in the first place.
Why Play Only On Their Home Turf?
To draw the primary battle lines around the consumer arena, and to appeal primarily to consumer consciousness, is to pick a fight with the odds stacked against us. From online marketing to kids through a targeting of minority youth by fast food retailers through the difficulties of marketing healthy foods, we are operating in a system that is specifically designed to encourage over consumption of fatty, sugary and addictive
food crap. In fact, as reported in Psychology Today a few years ago, simply seeing fast food logos subliminally can alter our mind and lead us to behave
more impatiently. So why should we restrict ourselves to fighting in an arena that severely handicaps our ability to respond rationally to the choices laid out before us?
If you lived under a brutal dictatorship that rigged votes, dominated the airwaves and festooned every street corner with gigantic portraits of the exalted leader, you wouldn't suggest overthrowing the regime by participating in unfair elections alone. So as we try to reform a system that is structurally built to let the big guys win, we must avoid the trap of playing by their rules and simply competing for market share.
We must broaden the rules of engagement. We must Occupy Our Food Supply.