This first video, "True Cost Accounting: The Real Cost of Cheap Food" (it's three minutes long; go watch it if you haven't yet), is so, so important, because it's really the linch pin to the sustainability movement. It's the the first step necessary to stepping away from that cheap produce section at Walmart. That's a hard step to take! Money is a limited resource. Most of us, even if we're privileged enough to be financially comfortable and stable, still have to make choices about where our money will go: asparagus? Beer? A night out with friends? A new mattress? Whatever your priorities are, odds are, you can't have it all. And for most of us, it seems like there's never quite enough money for the things we really want but don't quite need: a new guitar, to take yoga more often, an updated wardrobe...
With that situation staring us in the face, it's pretty hard to see people who choose to spend MORE on their food than they need to as anything other than sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, elitist, fun police. I've no doubt I've been accused of at least a few of the above!
And here's the thing: some people who are trying to eat sustainably ARE sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, elitist, and/or fun police. So, that's not helpful, obviously. There are also lots of MISINFORMED people out there attempting to do their part: buying nothing but California-grown certified organic food, or collecting 'All Natural' labels like they're going out of style (oh, if only...).
So, as tough as it is, when we get an eye-rolling, or dismissive response from somebody when we mention that maybe they should go for the certified humane eggs, or the apples at the Farmers' Market rather than the ones from New Zealand (Why is this a thing? WHY???), there IS a reason for it! We have to know the baggage our well-meant message is coming with. So, how do you handle it?
Well, if this person is willing to give you a chance, you unpack that baggage, and lay it all out where you can both see it. Acknowledge the image this person has of your choices, and why. Then and only then do we get to unpack and lay out the baggage behind their choices.
Unpacking that baggage is true cost accounting. There are consequences to cheap food, but our society is designed to keep them hidden, in ways that aren't even subtle! Ag gag bills, anyone? Yeah, those charming pieces of legislation attempt to make it a felony to film what goes on at factory farms, since when those films come to light, more people choose not to pay for and eat that food, AND the perpetrators sometimes (not nearly often enough) find themselves subject to animal cruelty penalties. BECAUSE FACTORY FARMING IS ANIMAL CRUELTY ON A MASSIVE SCALE AND THAT SHIT IS ILLEGAL HELLOOOOOOO!!!!!! Ranty Emily, go sit down. That's enough.
And the thing is, until we really figure this stuff out, we're complicit in keeping this stuff hidden. We don't WANT to know. If we KNEW we might have to do something about it, and our lives feel confusing and complicated enough. And don't get all holier than thou about this, ether. Maybe you're a vegan, but are you supporting small, diverse family farms? Are you only purchasing clothing not made in sweatshops? Do you have an iPhone? (Guilty!) This stuff makes us complicit in suffering! We don't want to acknowledge that, so we choose, subconsciously, to be complicit in silence instead. Don't ask; don't tell. And when it IS briefly revealed to us just how much harm we're personally causing? It feels insurmountable: pointless to struggle against, so we do our best to go back to forgetting about it. Maybe we can't AFFORD to buy clothing not made in sweatshops and local food 100% of the time, so we think we shouldn't do anything.
This is important for you to know, and for anyone you educate about these or other important issues to know: Of course you can't do EVERYTHING, but that does not make it helpful or ok to give up! If there is still any small thing you can do, then, You. Have. To. Do. It. You are not exempt!
It is hard, and confusing, and complicated to do true cost accounting, but if we all keep right on doing it, eventually, those costs will be properly figured into the cost of our food (like they are at the Farmers' Market), and we won't have to do it. Take it one step at a time, and if every now and then it's just too much and you buy yourself a bunch of bananas and some new cute socks and then post a tumblr on your iPhone, that's ok. Do what you have to do. Get back into the good fight tomorrow. We're in this together. We're changing the world. Keep fighting the good fight!