OPINION: The consumers have the power to demand food sustainability


Dixon is a first-year Environmental
Fellow from Evansville, Indiana.

I recently read an article that the Environmental Fellows Program posted on Facebook about food waste. National Geographic writer Roff Smith provided astonishing statistics about the complexity of the issue such as 805 million people go hungry every night, we discard 1.3 billion tons of food because of our excess purchasing and the food’s spoiling during transportation, and 3.3 billion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide are attributed to food production and transportation. These statistics feel like bee stings; each one causes me a mix of pain, shock and a bit of disbelief.

Though statistics communicate information effectively for me personally, they do not always capture the attention of the general public. To make America less wasteful and more efficient in food transportation, storage and use, we must change social attitudes towards food. One of the leading experts in food psychology featured in the movie Food Inc. said that the food and grocery industry deceives the common customer with the illusion of surplus. Because we live in a fully developed country, food surrounds us. Supermarkets have rows on rows on rows of foodstuff, and small, transportable snacks have found their way into every retail store open for business. Since when is it acceptable to sell granola bars next to screws at Menards?

Because of this reinforced mindset of an infinite food supply, the general public has turned a blind eye to where exactly their food is coming from. The common customer most likely does not know that the strawberries sold in most stores are products of California where the water shortage forces the state to purchase water from outside resources in neighboring states. If we only ate strawberries when they are in season in Indiana, we would eat them for about two weeks in May, and that’s it. Just because we have the resources to indulge in out-of-season and non-local crops does not mean we can be ignorant of how we have such a privilege.  

There are several ways to change the public mentality towards the food industry and our role within it. The first step we have to take is to make our meals a priority in our lives. What goes into our bodies and where it comes from deserves just as much priority, if not more, than our homework or taxes or project at the office. We need to plan and devote more time to shop for food frequently and only purchase what we need at the time. Another practice that should become a habit is shopping at farmers markets. When we buy from local agriculturalists, we know the exact source of our food and significantly reduce CO2 output from transportation.

Perhaps the most crucial step Americans must take to improving the corporate food system is the realization that they are not subject to the industry. In reality, the opposite is true. Consumers have the power to change the agricultural industry through where they buy their food, what they buy and how much. Economically speaking, the demand and the market depend on us, the consumers. Let’s start demanding sustainability.