Why the big deal?

Before anyone gets confused as to why a middle class mid-20’s white girl is getting excited about going to a local farmers market instead of a supermarket I thought it best to outline that I am a notoriously horrible eater. In fact there was a two (or four) year period where I believe I was probably addicted to pepperoni pizza (obviously from Pizza Hut). It made economic sense to me to buy large pizza’s in bulk on a ‘cheap’ Tuesday and store them in the freezer- dinner sorted for the rest of the week! Although I feel that my diet has come a long way since being a VIP customer of Pizza Hut, my cooking and dietary abilities are still very intermediate, if not beginner level.
Making a commitment to eat better, is actually not that easy for me, additionally it could be suggested that pledging to buy organic, ethical and local food is just buying into a current trend. Advocating for ethical, local or organic food is not a radical action in itself. However, there is a stigma associated with the sort of people who favor these kinds of eating habits. For example, Portlandia sums it up quite well in the following skit:

And further more, buying from farmers markets is listed as number 5 on the blog ‘Stuff White People Like’.

With this in mind, it is not unreasonable to suggest that there is a slight air of pretentiousness when it comes to promoting organic produce and local eating. However, I believe that the state of the industrial food system, which most first world countries are dependent on (as I’ve stated numerous times before), is significantly degrading the earths natural resources and damaging our ecosystems to such an extent that joining pretentious hipsters in advocating for change is the least of my worries. (Appropriate reference here to the newest climate change study by the world bank)

On the flip side, for some staunch ‘greenies’, the kind you may encounter at friends of the earth or vegan restaurants, it seems unsettling that environmentally conscious lifestyles are becoming more ‘trendy’. From my personal experience, I have encountered many a hostile or awkward exchange at an organic market or ethical produce store. The problematic nature of Gen Y ‘clicktivist‘, highlighted by the phenomenon on Kony 2012 campaign, where through use of marketing strategies an important social or ethical issue becomes a trending topic on social media followed by a mass amount of misinformed support. Kony 2012 is a prime but not a isolated example of the kind of trending or fad activism that perpetuates the more traditional activist concern for the legitimacy of the support for the chosen course. Social media enables users to become an official supporter of an unlimited amount of causes simply by clicking a few buttons, having an understanding of the details or background to the chosen cause is optional. Seemingly, all the hard work is taken out. There are obvious benefits to having a well marketed and publicised campaign, however one of the major criticism over ‘clicktivism’ is that the traditional long term sustaining commitment or activism towards the cause is jeopardised by the nature of ‘trending’ on social media.

To counter these concerns, the Recycling movement is a great example of how a seemingly trendy topic or ‘fad’ can move towards becoming a social norm, even supported by government legislation. Before the 1970’s recycling household waste (in the capacity we do today) was almost unheard of outside of wartime thrifty-ness or economic necessity. Further to this, the issue of pollution and waste disposal was rarely considered in an ‘average’ Australian home. During the post-war ear of the 1940’s and 1950’s, saw modern Australian (and most of the west) become a disposable state with the birth of mass produced disposable plastic consumer goods and an the creation of the mass consumer market. Plastic goods were designed to be a modern convenience. For housewives of the 1950’s, paper plates and plastic cutlery meant never having to do the dishes again. Using plastic to produce goods meant it could be made cheaply and made quickly. During this period the consumer mindset of replacing rather than repairing emerged.

Needless to say, the beginnings of this were starting to gather:

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Photo credit: begreen.botw.org

However, with awareness raising campaigns about the destruction inefficient waste management and in particular excessive plastic waste can cause, household attitudes towards waste started to change. Recycling, at the beginning of the movement, was seen more as a ‘hippie’ activity rather than something that every Australian should be concerned with. Today, every household has a recycling bin and substantial fines apply to people who do not dispose of their waste correctly.  There are many contributing factors to the success of the recycling movement, however I believe it is a prime example of how awareness campaigns such as the modern ‘clicktivist’ may encounter, can promote widespread and long term social and lifestyle changes, especially within the realm of environmental issues.

Recycling has come a long way from merely separating household waste into two bins. The culture of recycling is not only a social norm in contemporary society but has spread into other aspects of waste management, for example, reduction in purchasing of household plastics all together.
The recycling movement and the local food system movement are very similar campaigns by nature. Both are essentially lifestyle related issues and both have long-term health and environmental benefits, but most importantly, both need to be acted upon urgently to reduce the amount of long term damage we are causing the earths ecosystems. The same kind of culture needs to be created for local and ethical food production as it has for recycling.

To tie all my loose ends: This is why it is a big deal. For most of my existence I have based my diet around habit and convenience, and everybody knows how difficult breaking a bad habit can be. Making a choice to eat with a conscious, consider what and where the food has come from and to reduce the impact the food that I choose to eat has on the planet should be just as socially acceptable or social normative as recycling or showering regularly. By means of social media and collective activism, I believe (maybe still a little naively) that the local food system movement can become a household everyday concept, not just a pretensions hipster hobby.
Finally, although ‘clicktivism’ can be annoying (I am not implying that my blog is at all a clicktivist site), creating a social dialog or environment in which causes can be discussed and promoted is not in itself a bad thing. It’s just what happens there after that is questionable. Creating engagement with an issue such as the local food system, promoting alternative solutions to the industrial food system and raising awareness of the many alternative options that are available by means of social media is one small set in creating permanent change.

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2 comments

  1. Great post. And I learned a new term: clicktivism! Thanks, Amy

  2. Really interesting post! It really sounds like we need to make conscious eating convenient and habitual for everyone.

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