The dead end of food righteousness

Photo by lyzadanger via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Twilight Greenaway, the food editor at Grist, recently wrote a really nice piece about the danger of smug, break-your-arm-from-patting-your-own-back-so-hard food righteousness that plagues a small minority most of the time and the rest of us thoughtful eaters at least some of the time. As she describes,

Last month, I wrote a post about a campaign by the Consumer’s Union to convince several major grocery chains to stop carrying meat from animals raised with antibiotics, and one commenter said, “GO VEGAN.”

These comments make perfect sense. If you want to see less support for factory farms, I think going vegan can be a great choice (this is not an anti-vegan rant). But it doesn’t really matter what the post is about. There will generally always be someone, if not many people, there to tell us that this or that huge systematic problem shouldn’t bother, let alone interest, them because they’ve already taken their “five easy steps” to fix it on a personal level. And more often than not, I find that people’s gut responses to stories that fall into the “food politics” category fail to reflect the fact that food is both personal and the product of industry, public policy, and a whole host of systems that we have the opportunity to look critically at (and, in doing so — ideally — change).

For a very long time our food system was essentially opaque, so individual choice was all most of us had. And I certainly understand that not everyone will care about the amazing array of tools for connecting the dots from personal to systemic change. But I’d argue that if we practice the former without the latter, sooner or later we’ll end up in a safe but limiting cul-de-sac where very little actually happens.

The full piece is great food for thought and includes some super links, so check it out here.



  1. Charlie Talbert

    If I understand your point, you believe that “Go Vegan” is an expression of self-righteousness? Is “Got Milk?” self-righteous? Some corporations spend millions every year exhorting the public to eat the flesh and secretions of animals. Is this self-righteous? I don’t think so, although their profit motive does suggest a conspicuous self-interest. Why is “Go Vegan” self-righteous and “Eat Meat” not?

    • Todd Ingram

      Alas, Charlie, it’s clear you’ve missed Greenaway’s point; I encourage you to read her entire piece. She’s not arguing that “Go Vegan” is a self-righteous message in and of itself, only that it can be a dead end if that’s all one is willing to say in response to a conversation about specific aspects of food politics and policies. To come at it from the meat angle, “Eat Meat” would be equally self-righteous and unproductive as an online comment posted in response to a story about contaminated spinach. In the end, I liked her essay because she’s encouraging all of us do more than (NOT instead of) making personal eating choices, urging us also to analyze the larger systems — economic, legal, cultural — that influence how and what we eat and to advocate for and effect change on a larger scale.

      • Charlie Talbert

        Considering animal agriculture’s enormous contribution to global warming, its pollution and overuse of water, its harm to human health, and its torture and slaughter of other beings for nothing but a human taste preference, I wonder what more meaningful way to “effect change on a larger scale” there is than to urge others to go vegan?

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