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Eating Our Way to a Better World? A Plea to Local, Fair-Trade, and Organic Food Enthusiasts

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page, Fair Trade & Social Justice page, and our Organic Transitions page.

My belly is full. It seems no matter how hard I try to "eat my way to a better world", that world never materializes. The organic and fair-trade industries are booming, Farmers Markets are the new norm, the word "locavore" was added to the Oxford Dictionary, and Michelle Obama even planted a White House garden. But agribusiness continues to consolidate power and profit, small farmers worldwide are being dispossessed in an unprecedented global land grab, over a billion people are going hungry, and agriculture's contributions to climate change are increasing. It's not just that change is slow, but we actually seem to be moving in the opposite direction than alternative food movements are trying to take us.

What is going on? How are we to understand this apparent paradox, and the seeming failure of our food activism? While the answers are not clear or easy, we can start by considering the main form our political action is taking, and where it is (and isn't) getting us.

The slogan "vote with your fork" has become the hallmark of food movements. From Michael Pollan and Food Inc. to the vast majority of non-profit materials circulating on the internet and in grocery stores, we are empowered by the belief that we can change the world every time we take a bite. This idea of "ethical consumption" stems from classical market fundamentalism, which tells us that the market is a democracy where every dollar gives the right to vote. According to this logic, the social makeup is a result of interactions between billions of individual decisions, where markets simply respond to consumer desires and consumption is the primary arena of citizenship. Thus, to consume is to be political -- to be good, participatory citizens.


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