Insights by Goldie
Explorations in ethical eating

Sound Consumer | September 2007

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

I can pinpoint exactly when I first began to examine my personal roles and responsibilities as an eater. It was 34 years ago this month. I had just read a little paperback book, “Diet for a Small Planet,” by Frances Moore Lappé.

The little volume laid bare the disturbing facts of the industrialized food system — its injustices and the damage being done to our health, environment, communities and food security. But the facts also were empowering. Lappé presented hope, guidance and suggestions for positive and direct alternatives.

I reflected on my own responsibilities, choices and roles — as eater, as parent to three young children, as the main food shopper and preparer, and as a citizen. I felt ethically compelled to take swift and direct action to disconnect from the globalized food system as much as possible and to re-direct where I spent our food dollars.

In particular, I was incensed by how my taxes were (and still are) spent to subsidize expansive monocrop landscapes of feed corn and soy — grown mainly to feed meat animals in cruel and unhealthy conditions. I’d always eaten meat — a lot of it — but decided I no longer could participate in that system.

I already was shopping at Pike Place Market — the only farmers market in 1973 — and occasionally drove to farms in the Puyallup and Sumner area for fresh milk and vegetables. But most important, I knew I needed to support a food cooperative. I joined PCC that fall of 1973 when I finished reading “Diet for a Small Planet.”

Determined and supported by lots of potluck parties with others making changes, we tried many new food combinations and used more beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds than I’d ever seen! Within six months, we left most meat behind, except for the near-obligatory Thanksgiving turkey. We continued to include occasional fresh fish, dug clams whenever we could, enjoyed wonderful fresh eggs from a friend, and sought out local dairy products.

Our kids were enthusiastic as our shopping and eating patterns were deliciously transformed, becoming much more interesting. I learned to make breads and pastries from whole grains with raw honey. We shared in gardening and composting and eventually eliminated our back lawn for more garden space.

The kids competed in foraging for fallen apples and plums for sauce and fruit butters, and willingly picked wild blackberries. We timed summer camping trips across the mountains to bring back boxes of fresh, tree-ripe fruits, some of which we froze, dried and bottled.

A new vision
Our consumer-owned PCC and other cooperative models — in retail, wholesale and worker/producer co-ops — all were instrumental in supporting the agricultural changes of the 1970s and 80s. We provided critical support for farmers going organic and the organic movement. We worked for policy changes that helped transform land use.

I’m so grateful for Lappé’s pioneering work, for challenging our world view, turning it upside down, and for the guidance in redirecting my life, personally and professionally. As I’ve continued to learn and share with others, I’ve tried to stay focused on the vision that we do have the power to create a more just, sustainable and community-based food system. We need only to claim that power.

Today the global industrial food system is more destructive than ever, and more vulnerable to disruption and collapse. Polluted by toxic pesticides, genetically engineered crops, cloned animals, irradiation, antibiotics and unsafe mega-farming methods, it is overseen by a bloated and ineffective regulatory system.

Yet, in spite of such problems, I’m optimistic. I see a brilliant “new crop” of “fed up” eaters today! More and more people are reading, speaking up, organizing and making ethically based food decisions.

The cause they’re taking up is giving impetus to a more sustainable model than the failed yet dominant food system. A wonderful local example to cheer is www.sustainableballard.org. Viva!

No mere trend, we’re witnessing a true mass movement, with surging, transformative power. It’s our best hope for fundamental healing changes in our communities — and this small planet.

Some speak of this as a time of great turning. I see it as an instinctive human response, a great yearning to return culture to a deformed agriculture.

More about: co-op, food politics, food systems, organic food, subsidies

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