One aspect of the enormous wealth we have and generate in the First World is the ability to underwrite a vast array of arbitrary choices. You can drive a car of any color, for example, unlike the Model T. You can choose housing from an often bewildering range of styles and sizes.
And you can choose food for whatever reason you wish. The latest issue of The Economist has a brilliant article summarizing this trend:
HAS the supermarket trolley dethroned the ballot box? Voter turnout in most developed countries has fallen in recent decades, but sales of organic, Fairtrade and local food—each with its own political agenda—are growing fast. Such food allows shoppers to express their political opinions, from concern for the environment to support for poor farmers, every time they buy groceries. And shoppers are jumping at the opportunity, says Marion Nestle, a nutritionist at New York University and the author of “Food Politics” (2002) and “What to Eat” (2006). “What I hear as I talk to people is this phenomenal sense of despair about their inability to do anything about climate change, or the disparity between rich and poor,” she says. “But when they go into a grocery store they can do something—they can make decisions about what they are buying and send a very clear message.”Although I neither buy nor grow these specialty items, I welcome their addition to the grocery shelves. The choice of food ideology is no less sacrosanct than reproductive ideology or scientific ideology.
Results, as they say, may vary:
What should a shopper do? All food choices involve trade-offs. Even if organic farming does consume a little less energy and produce a little less pollution, that must be offset against lower yields and greater land use. Fairtrade food may help some poor farmers, but may also harm others; and even if local food reduces transport emissions, it also reduces potential for economic development. Buying all three types of food can be seen as an anti-corporate protest, yet big companies already sell organic and Fairtrade food, and local sourcing coupled with supermarkets' efficient logistics may yet prove to be the greenest way to move food around.Adherents however may be surprised by the consequences of their success. Our present food system evolved to satisfy the same goals they espouse, by people just like us making rational decisions. And as I have mentioned before, at some point somebody has to start doing the math and realizing what a staggering achievement it is to provide almost every conceivable foodstuff almost everywhere at comparatively low prices.
Our food system ain't broke. It's just not cute enough for some.