Friday, March 22, 2013

Voting With Your Food Dollar: A Story of Three Foods

Just a quick rant today. I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of "voting with your food dollar". Voting with your food dollar is just what it sounds like... when you buy a particular food, you're essentially "voting" for it. You're telling producers that you like it and you want more of it. But beyond that, you're supporting the entire process that made that food available to you at your local grocery store. This is obviously true of anything you buy in a free market system. You have the opportunity to vote every time you buy anything. Anything at all. Whether it's fitness equipment, a new leather purse, or the new Justin Timberlake album, your dollar essentially votes for what you buy. Just think of the consequences if nobody bought JT's new album (which I know isn't true since I already bought it)... Justin would end up a complete failure. He'd likely enter a downward spiral involving drugs, Taylor Swift, and his first emo album, until he's finally relegated to neighborhood bar gigs opening for Good Charlotte.  But worst of all, nobody would adopt his new hairstyle.

Okay a little off topic there.  Where was I?  Oh yes, when you buy a food at the store, you support everything that went into putting that food on your grocery store shelf.  In addition to supporting the food itself, you support the production methods, the processing, and the transportation costs.  I'd like to take this opportunity to go through a few different food options and talk about what it means when you choose to buy them.

1) Doritos
One of my favorite childhood foods.  I could eat an entire bag of this stuff as a teen.  Of course they're yummy, but let's talk about where Doritos come from.  Here's an ingredients list...

Now I don't have time to go through all of these or else I'd be here all day.  The corn is genetically modified, along with the corn oil and soybean oil.  There's partially hydrogenated oil in there (trans fat), there's MSG (monosodium glutamate), and there're artificial colors (yellow 6, yellow 5, and red 40).  I know you buy Doritos because they taste good, and that is the ONLY reason the food manufacturers want you to buy them, because looking any deeper at the product would scare you off. That's why they hide all of the scary information in the ingredients list; and you'd need some training in nutrition to even interpret it.  That's why I'm here.

So unfortunately, when you buy Doritos because they taste good, you're also supporting GMOs, trans fat, MSG, and artificial colors, many of which are banned in Europe because, unlike Americans, they actually care about the quality of their food and the health of their children.  See example here. There are more natural options available, you just have to look for them, and yes they DO taste good. And when you're cocky-ass friend makes fun of you for buying organic chips, just tell him to fuck off.

2) A Grocery Store Chicken
On to some real food.  To the lay person, a roaster chicken may seem harmless.  At least it's a real food, not some packaged, processed corn chip like Doritos.  But nevertheless, when you spend your food dollar on a grocery store chicken, there are some unsavory consequences. Factory farmed chickens typically spend all of their lives indoors.  They're genetically bred to have oversized breasts because consumers, like men, prefer breasts.  As a result of these large breasts and the fact that they may never leave their cage, they often can't even stand up.  Not to mention the fact that nearly their entire diet is made up of genetically modified corn and soy.

Not to freak everyone out, but I think it's important to know what you're dollar is supporting.  When you buy chicken at a grocery store, you vote for this system, whether you mean to or not.  Free range chicken is just a little better, and organic may be a little better on top of that.  Unfortunately, though, your best option is to find a local farmer producing chicken the right way.  I know it's time-consuming and inconvenient, but the option is there.  But hey, if we vote for this kind of chicken more often, we might start seeing it in our grocery stores!

3) Blueberries in the Winter
Or oranges in the summer.  Same difference.  Blueberries are in-season in July.  Oranges are in-season in December.  Yet we still see both available year-round.  Why?  Because in the winter, blueberries are shipped in from Chile; same with oranges in the summer.  And it costs a lot of money, and wastes a lot of gas, to fly those blueberries from Chile to the United States.  The distance from Santiago, Chile to New York City is about 5,125 miles.  That's far.

This blogger here did some calculations to figure out how much energy it takes to transport one package of blueberries... ONE PACKAGE... and I quote, "You would have to run your blender for 11 hours, continuously, to use the same amount of energy."  That's just insane, and completely unsustainable.

Sad but true, even our healthiest, seemingly most natural of options can put our money in the wrong place.  It's nice to have the option of fresh blueberries in the winter, but the implications on the environment are pretty strong.  Local, in-season fruits and vegetables are always a more sustainable choice.

And another quick rant turns into a long-winded one!  Sorry if I just ruined your life with education. But this is important to me.  Most Americans are ignorant of what their money is truly supporting, and the food industry would love to keep it that way.  But we have the power to change things, if only we all understood where our food comes from.  I know the barriers to this stuff go far beyond education; it's often much more expensive to put your food dollar in the right place.  But even a little bit helps.  You don't have to go all out and buy 100% of your food from a farmer's market... Maybe start by leaving the name-brand snacks on the shelf and opting for a more natural, organic option with fewer ingredients.  See where that takes you.

If you take away nothing else from this post, I hope you'll at least now take the time to think about what you're buying.  Every time you put something in your grocery cart you're taking a vote; I think it's important you know what you're voting for.


  1. Along the lines of out-of-season produce - I find the fruit at wholesale clubs like SAMS to be outrageously gross. They're sprayed with preservatives and the apples have wax so thick you can basically scrape off a layer as though it was covered w/ caramel. Nassttyyy

  2. As a libertarian, this post really appeals to me :P