A Call to (F)Arms: Taking Action as a Conscious Consumer
Alignment Matrix is pleased to introduce our Editorial Coordinator, Shaina Salin. Shaina is a communications major with a passion for social justice, anthropology, environmentalism, relationships and wellness. She is an accomplished writer and theatrical director and performer. Shaina brings to Alignment Matrix a refreshing voice representative of the vital opinions of our young adult population. Here, in her first Alignment Matrix article she addresses the critical issue of conscious consumerism as it applies to the American food system.
In a society based on consumerism, the economy feeds on an ever-increasing rate of the production and purchase of goods. In a consumer society as developed and complex as the United States, the role of Consumer is laden with booby-traps if one is concerned with living in optimal health. I am one such concerned Consumer—so concerned in fact that I have cut the ties of trust between myself and The Media, the primary source for information in our society. A devout consumerist may call me foolish. An executive advertiser would, perhaps, try to seduce me into reconsidering…but then again Don Draper would inspire one to fantasize.
However, I have yet to identify the true antagonist of this tale, the ultimate adversary of concerned Consumers across the land. Allow me to introduce Big Corporate, the magician behind the curtains of Oz. Like the magician, Big Corporate specializes in orchestrating its minions and manipulating its audience to ensure that its best interests ($$$) are kept safe, never mind national law or basic morality. More importantly, like the magician, Big Corporate can only maintain its fraudulent reign so long as Consumers continue to fall for its deceptions—Consumers like you and me.
Big Corporate works in tandem with The Media to coax, persuade, and otherwise brainwash the public into biting the bait they’re selling, dangling an evermore enticing carrot in front of the Consumer-run hamster wheel that churns $$$ into a few select big purses.
Think about it. When you go to the grocery store with your concept of health in mind, what makes you choose the products you do? Do claims such as “All Natural!” “Heart Healthy!” or “Good Source of Fiber!” sway you to buy one brand over another? If you’re hard-core-health-focused, is your buzzword “organic?” That would be the bell-ringer for me—I want my food fresh from the earth, nutrient dense, and free from chemical pesticides. I mean…that is what organic means, right?
When I turned to Merriam-Webster for the definition of “organic,” I found: “of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.”
Okay, good to know. In a nutshell, I get that “organic” means only natural farming practices are used in the food cultivation process. No chemicals, no hormones, nothing toxic. Thanks, M-W.
I continued my inquiry on the USDA website, where I found a surprisingly idyllic, though vague, definition: “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering [or the creation of GMO’s] may not be used.”
The USDA takes M-W’s concept of organic a step further, alluding to cultivation methods like crop rotation and the balancing of soil composition—essential practices that set organic farming apart from conventional agriculture. While the absence of GMO’s and chemical pesticides is an important aspect of organic, the core of the concept lies in how the farmer nurtures the soil that produces the food that nurtures you.
One might then ask, “What is a GMO?”
The acronym stands for “Genetically Modified Organism,” which in most basic terms means that the thing you’re eating wasn’t designed by Mother Nature, but by some drone in a lab coat. Through genetic manipulation, the GMO in question is bestowed with supernatural powers of pesticide resistance and immunity to crop-diseases. Big farms take advantage of these crops’ X-Men-abilities by heavily spraying them to keep the pests away. If the thought of eating food with mutant DNA isn’t enough to make you say “ew,” perhaps a hefty infusion of death juice will do the trick.
So, as we have established, “organic “ is supposed to mean that the crops are cultivated using natural and sustainable farming practices that ensure nutrient density. These crops would ideally be grown on small, independent farms that supply to the local community. This kind of farming was once the standard, but Big Corporate and The Media have since debased the concept of organic to a level that barely even meets Merriam-Webster’s standards of “pesticide-free.” Let’s take a look at a particularly lucrative yet cringe-inducing sector of the organic food-industry: processed foods. The National Organic Standards Board, (which is arguably rigged with a Big Corporate bias), determines every food item that makes the “certified organic” cut, which ensures “that the product has 95% or more certified organic content,” according to USDA website. Hmm…just 95%? Well…what’s included in the other 5%?
Degraded carrageenan is a particularly contentious additive that has been approved for use in processed foods with the organic seal. Science has repeatedly demonstrated that carrageenan has carcinogenic properties and causes inflammatory responses in lab animals and even humans. The farm policy research group Cornucopia Institute conducted an in-depth investigation on carrageenan and how such substances could pass regulation, citing multiple research studies that suggest its carcinogenic effects—but because the ingredient helps products sell, the warnings are swept under the rug and Big Corporate prevails.
When it comes to talking about organic produce, however, the facts become even fuzzier. Critics enjoy citing studies that claim conventional produce has no nutritional superiority over organic produce. I would like to argue that there just isn’t enough evidence yet because studies decrying GMO’s and pesticides would throw a wrench in the hamster wheel, so Big Corporate will not fund them.
It is true, however, that regardless of organic or conventional production the nutritional value of our food supply has declined on the whole. In her New York Time article “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food,” investigative journalist Jo Robinson discusses how agricultural advancement has resulted in a less nutritious food system, as crops have been tailored over time to produce the sweetest, starchiest fruits. Soil quality also determines nutrient value, and overworked plots of land produce crops with less nutritional density and diversity than the uncultivated food our ancestors ate. Soil degradation combined with genetic modification and chemical spraying renders produce that is not only nutritionally deficient, but that is also loaded with harmful pesticides!
Despite the pitfalls in our food system at large, there are still small, independent farmers persevering in the name of good food, using rich soils and natural fertilizers to produce crops that far surpass today’s standards of organic. One could argue that these farmers are at the forefront of a new “super-organic” movement, as we have come to the point of needing a new term to describe “nutrient dense food.”
If you can’t grow your own food, the next best thing is to trust the people who do. By talking to the vendors at your local farmers market, you can learn about the farming practices they use and make informed decisions about who you give your dollars to—your $$$ is your power as a Consumer. Farmers markets offer a bounty of fresh, in-season produce that is grown with integrity and does not involve the multiple tolls of shipping. Aside from the health benefits you will reap from your market findings, the most significant aspect of buying local is that you are simultaneously “buycotting” Big Corporate.
With a final piece of advice, I bid you farewell, wheatgrass-hopper. As you venture back into Consumerland, beware the siren songs of The Media. As Jim Morrison once said, “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” Do you want Big Corporate in charge of your mind? If you want to be a Conscious Consumer and take initiative in a movement towards a better future—from your own health to the health of the planet—be conscious about whose purses your $$$ is filling. Do your own research, investigate the facts, and be aware of faulty science. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.