The dead end of food righteousness

Photo by lyzadanger via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Twilight Greenaway, the food editor at Grist from 2011 to 2012, 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,

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.

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The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on July 19, 2012.

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