Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thoughts on Conclusions

I read Fast Food Nation during this past winter break and I wrote this in response to its conclusion and the conclusion of another book. I was reading these books and they would talk about many of the problems involved in food production. These books would never discussed real solutions though and that frustrated me.

The conclusions of Fast Food Nation and Stuffed & Starved instructs readers to make better food choices. Readers are told to try not to support the food industries. Neither book answers the question of how to get a large number of people on board. Change won't occur if just a few people change their decisions about food. Neither conclusions mentions a way to instill change in culture with a wide scale bottom up approach. A way to get a large number of people on board. Fast Food Nation talks about how law can change people's behavior for example they suggest that congress ban advertising to children which would stop the kidnapping of children's desires by fast food companies. It also talks about how fast food companies respond quickly to consumer demands but not how to go about making them. Stuffed & Starved talks about coalitions of small farmers but that is only one side of the food industry hourglass. How can general consumers (the other end of the hourglass) become involved so that the bottleneck doesn't control the whole food system the way it does now.

One way some might try to shape consumer behavior is lots of education. Most people won't read Stuffed and Starved unless they are already interested in the way the food system works. Readers of this book probably also are informed of some of the problems that occur in the food industry. Maybe the book should suggest it's readers pass it on to another person who isn't already aware of the issues when they are done reading it. Then another problem arises. Even if someone learns about all these issues for the first time from this book they still may not accept it. How do you get those people to push for more food independence? I think if enough people throughout society change the way they eat it will catalyze a chain reaction of change in others. This group of initial adopters has to be a cross section of society otherwise there will be groups left unaffected. The conclusions should have made more reference to this so it could be a vehicle of change instead of merely an interesting informative book.

There are also ways to raise awareness in people of the problems in the food chain without having them read any book. If something were to disrupt the supply line every consumer affected would get a crash course in the food system. Maybe a strike by the workforce at the bottlenecks of the system? Another possibility is some sort of forced cutting of supply lines like a seizure of a food processing plant. This kind of direct action would lead to endless CNN and MSNBC specials about how the food system works leading to people across the country and many people around the world being made aware extremely quickly. This would also show the strength of having local food supplies as people will be clambering to their local farmers markets for food. Many people will stay with local food even when the industrial food system returns. Another way this could happen is if oil prices suddenly increased. Maybe this could happen with an oil tax which is never going to happen or a disruption of the oil supply.

Once this awareness is raised consumers can finally effectively utilize the power that they've had all this time. The power of consumer demands in the fast food industry has already been demonstrated. Fast food companies even respond to the expectation of consumer complaints. If consumers can cause fast food companies to change they in turn can cause food suppliers to improve their practices. Consumer power is a vast untapped reservoir of positive change. Both books present this truth but neither give any real ways to tap it. Although this information is missing I don't think these books are seriously lacking without it. Both books do a good job of being an overview about issues that are present in the fast food and general food industries. Hopefully in reading other books I'll be able to learn what the next step is.

post based partially on ideas from:
Stuffed & Starved by Raj Patel
Fast Food Nation Eric Schlosser

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I'm not sure I agree that Fast Food Nation doesn't give suggestions on how to change the situation, though. The last chapter ("Have it your way") is all about what we can do to change the situation. Of course, all citizens can pressure their Congresspeople and Senators, but Schlosser seems to think that pressuring fast food companies directly is even more effective.

    Boycotts are really effective, in a lot of cases. Just a few years ago, there was a huge boycott of Taco Bell, in support of tomato pickers in Florida, who worked in terrible conditions. It worked! Taco Bell agreed to pay more for its tomatoes, with the money going straight to the workers in higher wages. The boycott was organized by lots of different local groups supporting the workers. When I was in grad school I remember that there were always students handing out flyers in front of Taco Bell saying why we should boycott it. So that's one example of how we can make change - and I think that's essentially what Schlosser is arguing.

    At the same time, though, I think that a lot of the problems with the food system are extremely complex and difficult to solve. There aren't really easy solutions that can be summarized at the end of a book. So let's keep looking for the next step - knowing there are going to be a lot more steps (and probably a lot more setbacks) after that.