Eco-Eating: Being Good Food Citizens

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We are all humans, struggling to squeeze a whole meal into a fraction of time. We can only do what we can do.
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"Food citizens are eaters who take an interest in food beyond its affordability and availability. Food citizens are concerned about environmental sustainability, the health of farmers and consumers, issues of justice for farmworkers and the poor, and democratic participation in determining where our food system is heading.

Eco-eating is no easy affair. It takes care and work to
make informed decisions. Every day, there is something new
to learn about our foods — how they are grown or
raised, what the governmental policies are or are not, and
how farming affects families all over the world.

The sad state of our food system can feel daunting; yet I
believe that together we can visit the issues and celebrate
our choices for change. Every day new projects emerge from
creative people offering up potential solutions to
food-related problems. Our job, as shoppers, is to
encourage them and to buy the fruits of their labor.

Many of the issues lead to value judgments and difficult
ethical choices. Do we feed the hungry by developing
higher-yielding crops, even if it might harm the Earth? How
can we make good, clean food available to all, not just
those who can afford the higher cost? Do I have the “right”
to purchase genetically modified (GM) foodstuffs for school
lunches when I am responsible for other people’s children?
These are some of the questions being asked in
conversations across the country, and ones we each need to
ask ourselves.

Our individual decision-making power helps create our food
system — each buying decision we make influences what
is marketed to us. We need to act as “food citizens” by
taking personal responsibility for shaping our food system.
The Wisconsin Foodshed Research Project has defined a food
citizen as follows: “Food citizens are eaters who take an
interest in food beyond its affordability and availability.
Food citizens are concerned about environmental
sustainability, the health of farmers and consumers, issues
of justice for farmworkers and the poor, and democratic
participation in determining where our food system is
heading.” So if we decide to take on this responsibility,
how do we start thinking on a personal level about the food
ethics and values?

Scholars study agricultural ethics and citizens’ groups
take on the topic, too. In March 1997, the Soul of
Agriculture project was launched; Paul Thompson, Purdue
University professor and agricultural ethics author, noted
at one early gathering: “We need a production ethic for
agriculture in which we are all producers, one in which we
come to understand ourselves as partners with nature in
reproducing the social and ecological environment where our
children will themselves face the challenges of production
and reproduction.”

We all need to be engaged in this movement, no matter where
the connection comes from. We are the producers of our own
fare by acting as decision-makers. No matter how we look at
it, every moment we ingest another morsel, it reflects a
choice we have made. It is either good for the Earth and
all of its beings, or not.

Of course, we are all humans, struggling to squeeze a whole
meal into a fraction of time. We can only do what we can
do. And yet, I know I feel best when I have made a personal
choice that seems right. When I choose antibiotic-free
chicken for pasta, or when I see my son chomping down on an
organically grown apple, I feel good. When we run out of
milk and have the genetically engineered version from the
local gas station’s quick-market, I cringe when the
children fill their cereal bowls. I just don’t feel good
about it.

We can each do our part by being a good food citizen: by
caring about what happens to the source from which our food
comes and by choosing food that has been raised with
fairness to all people and sentient beings.

Excerpted from The Eco-foods Guide by Cynthia Barstow. Also available from New Society Publishers.