Vienna Teng at The Power Center


August 22, 2011

Adventures in Local Food #9


Value Systems

With all the media coverage about the devaluation of the dollar being added to the chorus of news reports about the perpetual budget cuts, job cuts and cuts to social services that inexplicably have become way too popular right now, it makes me think more and more about our value systems. Specifically, this hailstorm of economic negativity makes me wonder what we want to fund instead if we, as a society, don’t want to fund anything that is beneficial to the vast majority of people? What do we think most “deserves” our hard-earned dollars?

Perhaps we need to do a better job of asking ourselves these questions when it comes to our food in an attempt to uncover our own value systems. We all should know who we would rather give money to—whether it’s global mega-corporations, national chains or vibrant, local businesses. Because, after you peel away the justifications of low sticker prices and the “convenience” of one-stop shopping, you actually can see how and why these decisions matter so much. For instance, do we really want places like Walmart and McDonald’s having the huge amounts of economic and political power that they do? (And if you do, you’re probably reading the wrong column.) But if not, you (like the rest of us) need to train your brains to remember to stop shopping at establishments like those since, by purchasing their products, we hand them power on a silver platter—regardless of whether we had to rationalize those “big box” purchases on the grounds of “low sticker prices.” We need to always be aware that when something is mass-produced and available for cheap that the sticker prices do not reflect the actual costs of production. Once we can do that, we will have reminded ourselves of our own individual power and agency to affect change and that that change is as easy as remembering that there is a way to consume that doesn’t involve faceless corporations that are totally anonymous without their brand logo.

We have a choice when it comes to our consumption habits (and it is not the choice between Pepsi or Coke and Pizza Hut or Taco Bell). It is the choice between buying local, where the money generated will be re-invested in its community of origin, or buying from global or national chains, where the majority of the money made will leave the community. It’s really as simple as that. Want to see a more vibrant downtown in your community? Then stop shopping at places that take money out of it.

Right now I know some of you are trying to think of that one corporation that tried to make “good” on taking money out of communities by funding some sort of local project. For instance, you might be thinking of how many coffee companies make the claim that a percentage of the proceeds of your coffee purchase will go to something like funding a school in some far-off, impoverished place that you have never heard of and will never go to. But, in many cases, a percentage does not go to those places. It is simply a clever marketing tactic that makes you feel “good” that your purchase was “ethical” in some way.

But don’t lose heart. You don’t have to consume in ways that put money in the pockets of corporate CEOs that cut, automate and outsource people’s jobs away. Although, yes, it is true that we are living in a time with the largest wealth gap between rich and poor in contemporary history and it is also true that those with the most money are neither sharing it with us (in the absence of taxes) nor creating jobs here, you can have an impact. All we have to do is be aware of what we value and what impact those values have (either consciously or subconsciously) on how we consume. We live in a country where people spend way less on food than people do elsewhere, and this norm of purchasing and consuming the cheapest food has thrown off our whole conception of the value of food—as it has thrown of the value of our health (only in the U.S. model does it “make sense” to have potato chips produced in a factory and seasoned with lab-derived artificial flavors cost less than fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables). To change this situation, we must bring our consumption patterns more in line with our value systems, and we can start with the simple food choices we make every single day.





About the Author

Stefanie Stauffer
Stefanie Stauffer
Highly active in the local food movement and resident urban farmer, Stefanie is our local food fighter. She writes our ever popular "Adventures in Local Food" and various Foodie columns. You can find her at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmer's Market or just about any other community event. Like hot sauce? Reach out to Stefanie and order some of her very own from Nightshade Army Industries.

Vienna Teng at The Power Center

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