A few months ago, an incredible amount of controversy arose after Chick-fil-A’s CEO came out against gay marriage. This controversy even led to an effort to try to push Chick-fil-A off UNM’s campus.
While this issue has been beaten to death in the media, there is a very important idea that can be gained from this incident: In our globalized industrial food system, eating is a political act, and the choices we make around each meal, snack and bite affect the world around us. In this way, we as consumers need to stay educated about our choices in food, just as we educate ourselves about our choices in candidates.
Here are three examples of how simple food choices help create larger political issues.
The first is the choice between organic and conventional produce. While organic is not the answer to all agricultural problems, by eating conventional produce, consumers are unknowingly supporting many controversial acts.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agricultural workers in the U.S. experience between 10,000 and 20,000 pesticide-related illnesses each year, and even this is admitted to be a significant underestimate. This is a problem that is not present in organic agriculture. This is just one of the larger situations that is supported by eating conventional rather than organic produce. Of course, because of its greater expense, organic produce is not readily available for everyone, but when consumers have the financial capacity, they can choose not to support pesticide poisonings for agricultural workers.
A second choice is between eating local and eating global. This decision is really between eating food that was produced only a few miles away and eating food that, on average, comes from 1,300 miles away. The choice to eat locally rather than globally produced food also supports local farmers and puts money into the surrounding economy. Like organic food, local food is harder to obtain, but when presented with the options, it is easy to see the larger impacts of our food decisions.
The final illustration is the choice between eating meat, cutting down on meat consumption or going without it completely. This choice is a larger commitment, and its impacts are larger as well.
A report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization shows livestock production is among the top causes of global warming, responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gases produced each year. This is more than the emissions from the entire transportation sector. Indeed, this finding led a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to say that the choice to eat less meat is the most important choice one can make to address the problem of climate change. Again, one can see that such a simple choice can have implications on a much greater scale.
There are a number of factors that make these choices unavailable to many people, but when one is able to make these food choices, one is also making a political choice. Many of us vote every four years for the leaders we support, but we can also vote every day with the meals that we choose.