When it comes to food, there’s a surprising amount of nuance that I often debate internally. When you think about the life cycle of food, it’s astounding to realize that it touches every aspect of our lives. From the moment food begins to grow on a farm or ranch (or get created in a laboratory) to the moment it leaves our bodies or kitchen as waste, it affects the environment, our physical and mental health, the people that work in the system, our relationship with the animal world, and our social interactions with friends and family.
I believe I’ve written about it before, but sometimes I find myself making a decision between two options and a litany of questions runs through my head. One example is chocolate chips. At the grocery store, I can buy organic chocolate chips in bulk or I can buy non-organic Fair Trade chocolate chips in a bag. The price point is not that different. If I buy the Fair Trade brand, I’ll have to throw away packaging but then again, I know how awful the cacao industry can be and I feel bad not purchasing Fair Trade.
I think a lot of us with a eye towards a sustainable and healthy food system think this way, but it seems there’s often a huge oversight when having this conversation. Being able to consider all the options this way is a privilege. Especially when talking about chocolate chips, but also when talking about staple foods
And a privilege that many, if not most, people don’t have. As I continue doggedly pursuing the pre-requisites for my eventual graduate degree in nutrition, I can’t help but come back to the fact that it’s simply not enough to tell people “you should eat this, this and this.” It discounts the fact that there are a ton of factors that go into the food we purchase, make, and serve to our friends and families. And the first ones we consider are likely to be how much it costs, how long it takes to prepare, whether we’ve eaten it before, and any pre-conceived ideas we have about it that we’ve heard through word of mouth or food marketing. And that’s before we even get into whether it’s healthy or organic or GMO-free or Fair Trade or what the impact of the packaging is.
Each time we buy/cook/eat food we have an impact on a larger system. For those who have the opportunity to consider more sustainable options, I urge you to do so. While consumer purchasing power will never solve the whole problem, it factors into which products a company chooses to create (I’m currently reading Salt Sugar Fat and he talks to many execs who stop selling healthier products because they don’t sell) and as we work to change the food system, these options will become more accessible to those for whom it is currently out of reach.
As for me, I’m encouraged and excited to move forward on this path toward helping individuals create healthy lifestyles that take all factors, or as many as possible, into account. All while advocating to create a system that works for those of us who need to eat (aka, everyone). We can only do the best we can, but sometimes we need a push to even do that. So consider this your push!