¿Conscious Consumption?

William Shain - Ecuador


January 28, 2019

What did you eat for breakfast this morning? How many of the products in
your meal could you have driven to with a tank of gas and harvested
yourself? I’m going to be presumptuous and assume few if any of the
products were grown close to you. I’m also going to assume that not only
did you have no idea where your food came from, and you just checked or
made a note to check, but also that you have not thought about this
recently. Of course, I could absolutely be wrong, and you could buy all of
your produce from local farms, but in the off chance that you don’t, this
blog is for you.

I want to begin by stating that I belong to the first group I mentioned. In
the US, I shop at Costco, Safeway, Trader Joe’s – all of which are big
names in the United States. Some of these are better than others, but for
the most part, they rely on 18-wheelers to tug their products across
various states before being stacked on the shelves that we browse
aimlessly. And it’s also worth saying that we as humans in a Level 4 income
society demand these products of comfort. We desire fruits when they are
out of season (that’s a thing), we demand products that don’t grow in our
region, and we consume such a high volume of many products that the only
option to achieve a state in which supply meets demand is through mass
importation.

Did you know that today, 40% of the global population works in agriculture,
making it the single largest employer in the world? Did you know that in
the US alone, there are more than 2 million farms? Have you ever Googled
what the natural banana looks like compared to the one you buy in the
supermarket?

Today more than 80% of the US lives in cities. And if you don’t live in the
city, it’s safe to assume you live less than 25 minutes from one. Now,
before I continue, I want to acknowledge that living in cities is actually
one of the most productive living situations. Cities maximize efficiency,
promote innovation and utilization of space, and constrain the geographical
degradation that humans are causing to this planet. Cities are positive
societal constructs. I myself tell people that my home is Oakland – one of
the largest cities in California. However, cities promote ignorance of
consumption. They limit one’s exposure to “factory towns,” mining
companies, and farms. This lack of acknowledgment from “city folk” to
“countryfolk” leads to a feeling of forgottenness from the latter group – a
valid concern that their challenges go both unnoticed and uncared for. This
feeling is one of the main reasons that Donald Trump won the 2016 US
presidential election. Being forgotten is not fun, especially when you know
that your work is essential to the livelihood and basic survival of the
very people who are forgetting you. How would you be reading this if not
for the electricity produced from burning the coal mined in those “hick”
towns that are often reduced to nothing more than concentrations of
rednecks? How would you have eaten your aforementioned breakfast if not for
the farmers planting the seeds, raising the plant, fumigating against
disease or insects, caring for the crop for months, and finally harvesting?

I do not mean to come across as aggressively cynical. There is little
chance that I would be thinking about this at all if I was not venturing
into farmland on a weekly basis. The reason I am stressing this point,
however, is because it is essential to our future. The environmental
impacts of western agricultural & meat industries are astronomical. The
amount of land needed for grazing, the water required (thousands of gallons
a day for many farms) to satiate game and crops, the methane released from
cow belches and excrement, and of course the carbon footprint of shipping
these products around the country and world are causing more harm to this
planet than any of us realize. The meat industry alone causes more damage
to the environment than the transportation industry. If everyone on Earth
lived like those on Level 4, we would need 8 planets to satisfy our needs.

There is no correct answer for what we should do next. Having everyone
become vegan overnight is not feasible, and neither is continuing our
current eating habits. Just as veganism and farmers markets have recently
become cultural fads, we can support movements like “Meatless Monday” or
“Weekday Vegetarians.” The only solution for what to do next is simple: We
have to be more aware. Many things are going to take years to change,
whether naturally or through policies, and though you cannot change the
fact that the carrots you buy are pre-packaged, for example, you can bring
reusable bags to the store to prevent even more plastic from being used.
You can look up vegetarian recipes that are healthy and cheap and cook them
more often. You can research where your food comes from to appreciate it
more, or try to buy from more local producers. Making a difference is not
that difficult, it all just starts with you.

William Shain