Friday, December 10, 2010

Slavoj Zizek - Cultural Consumerism

I've been meaning to post this for weeks. Slavoj Zizek is a sociologist specializing in Marxist theory. The majority of the video is not about food, but in the first five minutes or so, Zizek describes the cultural phenomenon that he's come to call "Cultural Consumerism," which is this idea that our guilt surrounding our crazy consumerist ways drives us to act responsibly, and that interestingly, our way of acting responsibly to combat our over-consumption is by consuming responsible products. That's a terrible summary, so here's the link:

He talks about big corporations like Starbucks encouraging you to act responsibly by buying their product. The rest of the video is not as food-related, but still brings up some issues of culture and society that we've covered in class, particularly equity amongst classes.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Climate Change and Food Prices

When people talk about climate change, not much attention is given to how global farming practices could be affected. This article ( discusses how global warming could lead to a doubling of food prices and cause many more people to suffer from malnourishment. This is not just a problem to be worried about in the future; scientists have found that change is already happening in some areas. For example, in India, warmer temperatures are maturing the wheat too quickly, resulting in reduced yields. The corn belt in the US could also see a reduction in productivity due to climate change.

As productivity and yields decrease, prices for grain will inevitably increase. This will only exacerbate the problems for people who already have trouble affording food. Experts suggest that some of these problems could be alleviated by developing higher yielding varieties of corn, wheat, etc. and having more flexible trade in food commodities. As we discussed in class, malnutrition is not caused by food shortage but by people not having equal access to food. We are producing more than enough food to feed all the peoples of the world. I’m glad that this article does not suggest producing more food in newer areas as a possible solution for this problem. Maybe this means that people are starting to realize the true causes of hunger.

After reading this article, I started wondering whether a reduction in productivity in the corn belt might actually be a good thing? A lot of the food problems we’re experiencing occur because we have too much corn. If less corn was produced, wouldn’t less corn be available for industrialized beef, hog and chicken industries? This would reduce the number of animals grown on these CAFOs and the pollutants released from these feedlots which would help reduce global warming. Quite the cyclic process.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Eating Ethically on Campus

I happen to be fortunate enough to have a scholarship that covers room and board for me at RPI. However, since I now live off campus this means that I can only use it for my meal plan, leading to me having a meal plan when I rather not.
Because of this situation I have been asking myself "How can I eat ethically when my food options are chosen for me by another party?"
It is very hard to avoid supporting factory farming and unsustainable food practices when the only options I have available when I go into my dining hall are food choices that come from sources I'd rather not eat from. So, I would like to point out several of the options available on campus that are available to those who wish to eat more ethically.
The most obvious options would be to eat only from the salad bar, and to choose the vegetarian option that Tofu Tim offers, while it is hard to know how the greens one is eating are grown, it is a healthier and more moral choice than eating the meat that is offered, but the reality is there is not much in the way of choice with Sodexho.
However, this doesn't mean that there aren't better alternatives on campus. Sodexho is proud to point out that the coffee it offers all over campus is fair trade, and every Wednesday you can go to the Terra Cafe, which offers excellent organic and local food, and whether you choose the vegetarian or meat option you will be getting an amazing meal.
There are some options for good sustainable food on campus, but there are better ways to ensure ethical eating with your limited choices on campus, the key option being to actually talk to Sodexho. Communication is usually the only way anything gets done, and what better way to improve your limited eating options than talking to the actual food provider? Since the food quality at RPI is a running joke, I'm sure Sodexho is always looking for alternatives for food options, and I know they are willing to take suggestions, the changes with Sodexho's pizza delivery service is some proof of that.
Also, in the case of Java ++ Sodexho is desperate for student input in how to make their venues profitable. I know at one time Sodexho was willing to turn Java ++ into an outlet where organic food was served to attract more students, but the idea fell apart because it didn't get enough student support.
So, the moral of the story is this: if you are tired of going into the food halls and seeing the same unsustainable food options there are alternatives around campus, but if you are looking for long term improvements talk to Sodexho themselves. They may be a scary big company, but they do listen to students, and if the are motivated correctly (i.e. give them a way to make Java ++ profitable) then Sodexho will be more than happy to listen to you.