The other day I finished reading another must-read for those interested in the food movement, or anyone who is still eating fast food for whatever reason: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. From all of my previous reading, I was not surprised–though still incredibly dismayed–by most of his revelations regarding the fast food industry (to name a few)…
- neglecting food safety at almost every level of production, causing unbelievable levels of food-borne illness (will go more in depth in my next post),
- encouraging factory farming to keep food cheap,
- neglecting worker safety and welfare at every level of production,
- spending ridiculous amounts of money to target advertising to children to make them lifelong loyal customers,
- and developing chemical flavorings to make heavily processed, unhealthy food taste addicting.
What did strike me was his call to action at the end. Schlosser claims that efforts to change policy may be wasted, because it would be much more effective to unleash our powers as consumers. He claims that the actions of legislators will always be tied up in corporate interests, but, more importantly, corporate interests have even stronger ties to consumer interests. I have always been a proponent of policy solutions to the food system, and I still think that policy is the key to really fix the backwardness of the food system from the ground up with things like agricultural subsidies. But, to get things started, this consumer power thing has so much potential.
Look at what blogger Vani Hari, the Food Babe, who I have mentioned before, has done. She has launched several campaigns targeting specific food companies/restaurant chains involving letters and petitions of hundreds of thousands of consumers to pressure them to chain their own policies, from getting Chipotle to reveal their ingredient lists online to pressuring Chick-Fil-A to agree to go antibiotic free! These changes all happened within a number of days, if not hours, of the campaign’s launch.
The reality is that businesses want to make money, and consumers have to buy their products in order for that to happen. If a million McDonald’s customers insisted that the corporation require rigorous safety inspection from its meat suppliers, McDonald’s would do it, because it can’t afford the bad publicity or to lose the customers. The same thing is true, I would think, for other industry policies like advertising to children and overusing sodium. A chain promising to reduce sodium levels in its meals can happen overnight, whereas a government policy to require such a change could literally take decades.
The way I see it, there are two huge barriers to widespread consumer uprising to pressure the food industry to change its ways: one is awareness, and the other is organization. Even though awareness of the industry’s abuses is spreading, there are still millions of people who don’t really know what they’re eating or how it is affecting their health and their environment. People have to be aware of a problem to want to change it. As for organization, it takes someone driven like the Food Babe or an organization like CSPI, who have huge followings, to lead the way. Maybe even me someday. The power of the consumer in the food movement has yet to be even close to fully harnessed. To start, subscribe to the Food Babe or check out CSPI’s resources. If a company is doing something you find unacceptable, stop purchasing its products. Your dollar is more influential than your vote.
Give me your thoughts! How can we organize consumers to fight back?