Participation in Your Food System

My travels thus far have been a supremely rewarding experience. I love the new places, people, sights, smells, tastes. I love the sense of freedom and discovery that greets me upon waking each morning. However, I miss pieces of my old life dearly.

Reflections on my old life are perhaps my greatest gift this trip has given. Stepping away from nearly every aspect of my daily life has allowed me the opportunity to look back more clearly and objectively. If/when I return, it will be with re-enforced conviction for the things that truly matter and a heightened sense of gratitude for what I have available.

This is nowhere more true than the feeling of participation and reverence I had for my local food system.

I loved seeing the same faces at the farmer's market each week. I loved visiting the local butcher and knowing where his meat came from. I loved eating vegetables that came from the backyard garden. I truly miss this connection to my food.

I do my best abroad to support local markets, restaurants that source from local vendors, and sources of ethically raised animals. The level of commitment I had at home proves nearly impossible to maintain while traveling. I am rarely in one place long enough to acquaint myself with the local system. When I do have the chance to dig a bit deeper I find that most countries have lost touch with their traditional food cultures.

There are wonderful shops and restaurants to be found but not to the extent that I expected.

Anyone critical of the United States' imperialistic military practices should be even more weary of the export and proliferation of Western industrial food practices. I'm appalled by the ubiquity of processed and industrial foods I've found abroad. Supermarket shelves abound of all the same US "goodies." Even many restaurants that offer traditional fare cook using industrial versions of the these dishes.

Most saddening of all are the establishments that serve re-heated, pre-packaged, industrial versions of traditional foods. I've found rows and rows of what might as well be the same restaurant. Most even use the same "menu" provided with these dishes. It is truly, truly sad to venture out to find a Spanish meal, peruse the menus at various restaurants on your block, and find that each serve the same 6 versions of paella, presented on the same menu plastered with the name of the industrial food company who prepared the food. I've found very similar practices in many other countries.

I do not mean to say that I have been unable to connect with local food systems. I seek them out and I've found many wonderful restaurants and markets and enjoyed a great number of truly wonderful native dishes. But I've also found far too great a spread of Western industrial food practices.

Please realize what a gift it is to maintain a strong relationship with an ethical and healthy food system. If you have the opportunity to support a food system that aligns with your ethical, environmental, and health values, you have a moral imperative to support it. Failure to do so is irresponsible at best, negligent at worst.

The best way to incite change to the industrial food practices is to support those who operate outside of it. Boycotts, bans, and protests only go so far. Choosing the lesser of two evils does nothing. Patronizing the food systems who's practices you support speaks volumes more that simply removing or reducing your patronage from systems that you do not.

Shopping based solely on price or convenience is deplorable. If are aware of certain practices and oppose them on a moral level, but turn a blind eye while at the grocery store, you are guilty as a co-conspirator. You have done it. I have done it. No more.

Indifference or laziness in the grocery aisle is the same underlying attitude that keeps ineffective politicians and political parties in place. Don't like either of the big party candidates and feel more in alignment with an independent? Good, vote for them.

It's amazing how many people have this sentiment yet vote for the "lesser of two evils" or simply abstain from voting. It is easy to feel that voting for a less prominent candidate will have no effect. It is even easier to vote for the opposite to the incumbent party, feeling this the best way to effectively voice your discontent with the current administration. Don't fall victim to these convenient, yet indifferent and arguably dangerous ways of thinking.

It is extremely unlikely for a third party or independent candidate to win an election. The effectiveness of casting your vote for these candidates does not come from their winning the election however. Simply showing significant support for their position will incite change. If everyone actually voted how they felt, the message would be clear. If a significant amount of the population supported a non-Republican/Democrat candidate the establishment would be forced to grant merit to the values of such a large voting block.

Think back to the 1992 Presidential election. Ross Perot was included in the major national debates after showing significant support in the polls (as high as 42% with Republicans and 33% with Democrats). His favor waned as he lessened his campaigning efforts nearing the election but the message was clear. He won 19% of the popular vote (more than any other third party candidate in modern political history). Perot made a huge splash and forced many issues into prominence. His influence echoed through the following administration. Many political analysts consider his focus on balancing the national budget a key factor in eliminating the federal deficit during the following Clinton administration. (See Note 1)

The population showed it's support for alternative views and the establishment responded.

This same means of change applies to the industrial food system. When you buy fast food, processed food, even supermarket organic you are showing your support to the industrial food system. You are voting for the one of the big party candidates. You are saying that you do not support meaningful change. You are telling industrial food producers that you support their current practices.

It does not matter what you think or feel when you shop. Each time you make a purchase you cast a vote. That is all the system ever sees. They don't care what your sentiment is as long as you continue to vote in their favor. We need to stop settling. Cast your vote for systems that you support.

The vegetarian and vegan route of withholding business from these systems is not enough to ensure change. (See Note 2)

Large-scale, industrial food operations will not feel the absence of your (and even millions of others') patronage. These feed lots and farms produce for large distributors, international food manufacturers, and huge fast food chains. They produced for government-subsidized demand. The individual consumer remains far enough removed from the source (intentionally) that none of these entities will feel a significant loss in demand when a people begin passing on steak at the supermarket. Especially when so many others continue to "cast a vote" in their favor.

The system is in place, the freight train is moving. The relationship between the industrial food system and the federal regulatory bodies that oversee it remains far to intimate to expect this change to come from the government. The vast corporate and governmental support eliminate any thoughts that we can derail the train. Change must come from us, by incrementally changing its course.

Industrial producers care little for consumer sentiment as long as business marches forward. They will not be won by passionate protests or boycotts. They care only for the bottom line.

Supporting food systems that uphold the highest ethics is the only way to get their attention. When industrial food companies' attentive financial eyes see a significant market share shifting to these smaller producers they will be forced to grant merit to their practices. They will be forced to accept that we as a populous care deeply for our food system. They will be forced to change their practices in an attempt to gain back market share.

We must send our message in the only language they speak: money. Only when it becomes good for business will the industrial system change. 

Vote with your dollars. Pour your votes into food systems that you support.


Notes:

  1. Nearly 35% of voters that did not vote for Perot said that they would have if they felt he could win. Had all who claimed support actually expressed it with there vote, he would have won.
  2. Dear vegetarians and vegans - I will refrain from opening the discussion about the ethics and health ramifications of meat consumption vs. abstinence. I love this discussion and will gladly engage elsewhere. I recognize that many of you maintain your lifestyle for reasons other than or beyond the desire to change industrial food practices. I love your compassion and commitment to your values. I come from very much the same place in writing this essay. We are brothers and sisters in arms, united against the unethical treatment of animals and the environmental harm that the industrial food system has on our lovely planet.  For now, suffice to say that humans have always eaten meat and it is extremely unrealistic to expect 100% of the population to give it up in the future. I simply feel that meaningful change to the industrial system will come from supporting operations who maintain a commitment to animal and planetary well-being.
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