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local food / need vs. want
Today in my pop culture class we were discussing a bunch of different things but one topic we spent a great deal of time on is the notion of consumer choice. How much choice do we really have as consumers? Can we ever escape the boundaries of mass culture (or popular culture, which John Fiske thinks is something very different from mass culture)? Does capitalism provide us with more choices or fewer choices? (<— whether or not those choices are good or bad is something we didn’t have time to get into)
Anyway. We ended up talking about the whole local food movement because that’s a very big thing at my school and is important to a lot of people here. The girl sitting next to me (who frequently makes very rude remarks and basically tells other people their opinions are wrong/stupid) turns to me and says (it was sort of in response to something I’d said), “Well that’s all very nice but it’s not really possible to buy local all of the time. For example, what am I supposed to do if I need strawberries in February? I have to go to the store and buy strawberries imported from somewhere thousands of miles away.”
Most of the other students in the class looked confused, appalled, or angry…or some combination of those emotions. I took a deep breath and (very calmly) said, “Well, um, you don’t need strawberries in February. You just want them. And if you decide the importance of eating locally-grown (and therefore seasonal) produce outweighs your need for eating strawberries, you choose to only buy them in the late spring/summer months (if you’re living in this part of the U.S.)”
And then someone else jumped in and said that you could also preserve strawberries purchased in the summer- make them into jam or jelly, or freeze them. The girl who originally made the comment claimed that was unreasonable because “let’s just say my parents both work all the time and I’m in school and doing homework. How am I going to learn those skills?”
The conversation kind of ended there…at least on the subject of strawberries. But seriously? You’re not in school in the summer months. If you’re over the age of, I dunno, 13 or 14, you probably shouldn’t depend on your parents to teach you everything you know in life. And if you care about something deeply enough and/or want to learn a particular skill, there are TONS of resources out there you can use to educate yourself.
I don’t buy locally produced or grown food all of the time. However, in the past six months or so, I’ve become a more conscious consumer. When I buy produce I buy as much as I can afford locally- at the VERY least, grown in the U.S. I stopped buying (most) bananas because my roommate is from Paraguay and she has told me a lot about how badly workers involved in banana-picking/processing are treated. Even the bananas at the natural food store here are from Central or Latin America. I really miss bananas, but I don’t NEED them. And that’s not to say I won’t buy them on occasion. When I was at home I ate at least one banana every day! Transitioning from that to no bananas was a pretty difficult thing for me to do…but I just cannot buy them anymore. Every time I think about it, I just remember everything my roommate has told me, and my desire to not contribute to an industry that treats workers horribly and denies them their rights outweighs my desire to eat bananas.
I guess this raises the question: is it possible for us (as a species) to fundamentally change our food consumption habits to benefit the environment and human beings in general?
I’m actually reading this great book right now that attempts to answer that very question- it’s called Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe. I highly recommend it.
Moral of this post (haha): choose your words wisely. Needing something and wanting something are two very, very different things. And if you think about what you currently classify as “needs” in terms of foods, and then do some research about how your choices negatively (or perhaps positively) impact the world…maybe those “needs” will cease to exist, or at least become much less important.