Thoughts on Conservation & Omnivore’s Dilemma

Photo Credit: Ariel Schalit (AP) via The Guardian

“…whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy. That always gets their attention. Then I explain that with our food all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water–of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap…You can buy honestly price food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food” (Joel Salatin, quoted in Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan).

This book changed the way I eat, how focused I am on where my food came from and how it came to be. Eating can be a great act of conservation, but is most often a story of destruction. From the palm oil plantations causing habitat loss to the conversion of Amazonian rainforest to cattle pasture, our eating choices affect far-flung ecosystems. It’s easy to pay lip service to wanting to protect the rainforest, but make no connection between the vague descriptor of ‘habitat loss’ as a reason for a species’ decline and their purchase of Oreos, baby food, or a Starbucks coffee. Not that companies are offering up transparency either or making it easier to avoid palm oil (often labeled ‘vegetable oil’). And not that it’s easy to track down the origin of the innumerable consumer products floating through our daily lives. But, we have the information to be better consumers, both ecologically and socially, yet we often lack the time and consciousness to act on that information in meaningful ways.

“But imagine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things:  What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost.” (Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, p. 411)

I don’t believe it is hyperbole to say that our appetites shape the landscapes of the world, and have, with noticeable frequency, pushed species towards and into extinction. What we eat every day matters. I’m already a farmers’ market fiend, but I am going to pay more attention to where my coffee comes from, and what labels say about added oils.

And, no more Starbucks.

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