In praise of consumption

Howdy, all--

I not only couldn't resist, I ain't gonna apologize for it.  

Seems to me that we all *should* be talking about stuff like
this--the culture of agriculture, and building sustainable culture
for sustainable ag.  I don't see why this is a bozoid thing to take
up among folks who want to promote a sustainable agro-food system.
Or not appropriate for SANET discussion.

> ahh yes. . .but can we build a movement for change on the "cult of
> consumption", be it "green" consumption, which is running rampent
> through out both Europe and the US? What is missed by not
> attempting to fundimenatally address the politics of PRODUCTION
> and, instead, promote the passivity of "consumption to change the
> world", and in this case, "consumption to alter how the agro-food
> system in general is structured"? 

Hasn't sustainable ag been focusing almost exclusively on production
(including its politics) lo these many moons?--production both within
and sometimes beyond the farmgate (as folks like A.V. Krebs and
Brewster Kneen and others have done).

As for that "cult" of consumption, I'd like to see your definition of
a religion.  All that food is going somewhere.  I.e., into people's
bellies (and for some of us, hips).  A huge portion (what's the
number now? 78%?  80%?)  of the consumer food dollar goes to
processing, packaging, transportation, marketing, etc.  Is that
production sector activity?  Or is it activity in support of

People make choices about what they buy and eat, even when they are
making nonchoices about antiproducts that carry shallow meanings. 
(Some other time I'll scuffle with anyone who wants about the Twinkie
as some people's soul/sacred food...and the middle class snobbery
that'd assume otherwise, grin.)  But then they also vote like that,
so what's the surprise--it's a mass culture, people give it the
energy it deserves.

I'm not sure how consumption is passivity. Consumption, even in the
mass market, involves some creation of symbols and some negotiation
of meaning.  The food marketplace is a marketplace of ideas, too.
They may be pretty flabby ideas, all in all, but whose fault is
that? Eaters'?   Let's not forget--people eat that stuff that gets
produced.  It's one thing to talk about Beanie Babies; it's another
to talk about bulk pinto beans or Campbell's pork and.  There's an
embodied reality about eating and about food that no other category
of "consumption" (note the borrowing!) can approach.

The question isn't one, in my mind, of consumption vs. production as
the right place to put one's energies.  It's easy to dismiss
consumption as some meaningless activity that rump-sprung J. Random
Americans engage in to irritate those of us who have better taste
and finer minds and tighter abs.  Butcha just can't dismiss
consumption when it comes to food, for the love of lefse. How people
make food choices is something sustaggies got to come to grips with;
if sustainable ag and organic ag are going to survive, somebody's
gotta eat it, and we gotta talk to em and get em buying this stuff. 

> Surely this is absolutely limited in scope, scale, and the ability
> to affect change and address pressing issues like gender and labour
> relations in the larger political economy of the increasingly
> global agro-food system. Ok. . .off the soap box.

Thanks.  It was getting crowded up here.  :^)   

I guess I see things different from here in Wisconsin. Here, the
community supported agriculture movement, the development of
alternative food systems, the building of bioregional foodways, the
community gardening movement, the farmers markets, all depend on
cultivating a consumer base who will turn to those food-paths for
their sustenance.  That's to say, these new production systems can't
work without alternative consumption systems.  And it looks from here
like these new production systems *are* addressing gender and labor
relations (helluva bigger percentage of women in CSA and community
gardening than, say, in cash grain farming hereabouts) because they
are humanizing and downscaling the economic and cultural activity to
something more manageable. 

It also looks from here that one of the reasons that people *do*
decide to do their consuming thru these pathways is precisely because
of those changes...but it isn't about changing the "global agro-food
system." It's about stepping away, squatting on other lands,
reclaiming them, and building something that people will come home to
that they may never have realized they need but are always so happy
to find.

Does it help to let people know that Paul Newman thinks organic is
great?  Looks like it from here--checked the profits lately on his
line of organic foods? If people think that Paul Newman's or Meryl
Streep's food choices mean something for their own lives, based on
whatever people base assumptions like that on, I don't see why we
shouldn't want to know more about it.  Look at how people have voted
and acted just because Rush said to.  If people mediate their meaning 
thru celebrities, you can miss and poan about their shallowness...or 
use what they know to teach them something more.

Some random thoughts from high in the boughs of our elm tree.

Here.  Your box back.

Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems 
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018   FAX: (608) 265-3020
In the towers of steel, belief goes on
and on, in this heartland, in this heartland
soil.  --U2