Discerning between two brands on the shelf at Whole Foods may have its built-in dilemmas, but it amounts to a finite choice. And a choice that assumes certain things about one’s wallet, place in the world, and education. The webs of influence underpinning the products on the shelf are far more troubling, and complex. Author Eve Turow nudged at this idea in her recent “How Millennials Faked the Food Movement”, suggesting that perhaps the struggle over which brand to buy is not struggle enough.
Food is hot right now because it’s tethered to pretty much every mega-breakdown of our times: politics, trade, health, finance, education, culture, climate, and so on. It’s also a symbolic, yet tangible, stand-in for our primal, yet increasingly unfulfilled, need for community and connection, the bases of our survival for all but the most recent of our 70,000 tribal years on Planet Earth.
As so many things are questioned these days, eaters (consumers) may be called upon to step up yet again, and to match the flood of what we are learning about our food and its impact on our world. It may be time to go beyond simply “voting with our fork” and “voting at the cash register”. So much of the destruction and suffering linked to our food takes place so very far away from our plates.
And yet some of it takes place remarkably close to home. Contrasts in the marketplace go deeper than the brands on the shelf. In San Francisco earlier this month, I was struck by the contrast of the $5 drip coffee at Blue Bottle, for which the queue snakes out the door, and the homeless man lying in the alley beside.
This is merely one of myriad examples. Contrasts in food costs, who gets to buy what (and thus contribute to moving the marketplace), and the elements of nature sacrificed in how we feed ourselves are all national and international dilemmas. Frequently, they are both mutually influential and at odds with one another.
For now, the point is that such contrasts hit us in the gut. And should. They really matter. I tip my hat to Eve Turow for laying the moral question plain. I for one no longer have the stomach for indifference. Or for silence, which could be the same thing.