Selling Food Ethics

September 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

The first time someone called me a “foodie,” I cringed.  I could tell he didn’t mean it particularly as an insult, or a stamp of class.  But I took it as both.  Working on my food ethics – reading everything from books on different diets like the Zone diet and Mediterranean diet to zoomed out critiques of our food system like Barbara Kingsolver and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, to memoirs about emotional eating like When Food is Love by Geneen Roth, and stories about growing food – I overhauled my eating habits and learned to be food competent while putting restrains on what I would eat, cutting out meat and then a lot of dairy and sourcing locally and from bulk commodity coops.  The memory of hunger was what spurred me on.

Being called a “foodie” – which I more or less took to mean someone who is upper middle class, wants to avoid eating food that’s harmful and have only “the best,” and thus loves Wholefoods and lives on organic, fancy foods – really hit me the wrong way.  I think I felt like he had some idea of my place in the current system, his identifying me as a “foodie” implying that my political will was a privilege (which in some senses, it is) signifying a certain background, and assuming my political will had been nicely appropriated into the status quo.  Food was a hobby with an ethical twist.

I wouldn’t be so sensitive about the term now, but I might still be annoyed.  Because it points to something that really upsets me about our culture, a sort of pitfall people’s evolving ethics can fall into out of common, human laziness or simply get bogged down in for lack of knowing what else to do.  Some folks seem to be interested in wholesome, organically produced (or not chemically contaminated), local foods as a privilege offered only to them.  They see it as “the best,” what is owing to them, a signifier of class.  Other folks seem to be interested in wholesome, organically produced, local and ethically produced foods as a privilege that ought to be extended to everyone including themselves.  That is a marked difference.

Adding a niche of ethically produced food into a system where food self-sufficiency is not being rebuilt and most folks are not getting adequate resources to change their habits is merely a way to cash in on rising political consciousness while maintaining the status quo.  An unjust system selling or allowing the sale of ethics to a privileged few is not a gateway to change.  It’s a scary paradox of capitalist consumerism, the sale of ethics, the sale of safe food, as a niche market.  It won’t disrupt the status quo.  And it is scary to think that some of us privileged enough to know about our food system, grow leery and critical of it, and to have resources enough to spend more and have access to better foods should be so easily pacified as that – we get ours, comfortable in the assumption we will always be privileged enough to get it, and we’re all set.

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