After viewing Food Inc. and writing about it for one of my classes, I found myself continually coming back to some critics and bloggers who dismiss the film's message of consumer empowerment as naive. Personally, I didn't feel that the film was naive, but found it refreshing that the film asked its audience members to do something about the issues raised in the film. Well, maybe more than refreshing. As a person interested in the problems of consumerism and a believer that ordinary people do have power to make large scale changes, I want people to watch a film like Food Inc and actively make changes in their lives. I frequently watch documentaries about social, environmental, and political issues that work to educate audiences, yet can leave an individual feeling overwhelmed and powerless to change anything. Documentaries of this sort are usually made with a goal to shape opinions, but wouldn't shaping action be even more effective?
Some might argue that it would be impossible to go all organic or all local, and I would have to agree. It would be very time consuming and very expensive to undertake such a lifestyle, although some can do it. Personally, I am not going to give up everything that's not local, and my trips to the 99 Ranch Market to purchase honeydew soymilk shipped from Hong Kong definitely disqualify me from being a locavore. However, I am not silly enough to buy things like strawberries, oranges, or raisins from outside of my currently location in California, since all those things are made right where I live. So what does it matter if I get my produce locally? Would that even make a dent in corporate food? If Steven Hopp is correct in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, then by eating one local meal a week, it could change the food economy up to 10 percent, and "reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels."
I also think back to a consumer culture course I took a couple years ago. Most people think about consumer movements as Upton Sinclair's Jungle or the addition of labeling on food products, but we talked extensively about the links between Civil Rights actions and consumerism. Bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins were an intricate part of protests and action against segregation. The pressure placed on national chains that had segregated branches in the South were the most effective because the pressure placed on them was national. Additionally, the U.S. government used commerce to get its way, in Katzenback v. McClung, in which the U.S. Supreme Court, deemed segregation at restaurants illegal because it violated the interstate commerce clause.
I think in such a consumerist society that purchasing power can make a difference, and I don't think its naive to ask people to know how their food or other products are produced.