I have a broad, inclusive view of food activism. In my definition, food activism is about making empowered choices around food, in the widest sense.
Food connects us to wellbeing on all levels: social, personal, physical, environmental, cultural, spiritual.
Empowered food choices can be fun, interesting, delicious and life-affirming.
Activism is about making a positive choice to act, with the intention of changing the status quo. By status quo I mean the current situation, at any or every level, from personal to local, to national to global food systems.
Food activism isn’t one single thing. It can be about joining groups, campaigning for animal welfare, or supporting businesses in the local food economy. And it can be about growing some of your own food.
Waikato food activists
Food activism in my local community includes community gardens, people teaching about traditional Maori crops, food rescue and redistribution, and much more. Find out about food activists in the Waikato here.
There’s also Community Fruit Hamilton, which organizes picking and redistribution of fruit tree surplus.
Food activism doesn’t have to be non-profit. Many (perhaps most) of the food producers at the local farmers’ markets could be called food activists. One example is Marea Smith from GoodBugs, who produces excellent traditionally fermented sauerkraut and other pickles, and also offers classes teaching people how to make live fermented food. Marea recently featured on a television documentary.
Soil researcher Jim O’Gorman of Kakanui (also known as the Dirt Doctor) is another food activist. His life’s work is about finding practical solutions to soil degradation, for healthy food production. And he grows and sells superb vegetables. Here’s more about Jim’s research.
OrganicNZ is both an organization and a national magazine celebrating food activism.
An act of love
Food activism can also be as simple and personal as choosing not to consume refined sugar. Or drinking fairtrade coffee. Or choosing not to go on weight-loss diets. (NB these are examples. I am not telling you what to do.)
Almost any food decision that’s a positive choice counts as food activism.
For me, food activism is an act of love, to myself, to my body and to the world around me.
Why food activism?
The food system globally is unhealthy, unrewarding, exploitative of people and animals, addictive and very often environmentally unsustainable.
There are many chronic health problems related to food. And many people struggle with disordered eating patterns.
Many people (including those with plenty of money) are so busy and stressed that they don’t have time to think about food and make positive choices. Until something goes wrong.
Often we just go to one supermarket and buy all our food there. Because we don’t have another framework to make food decisions. Keep reading and you’ll find out about my current food choice system.
We also make food choices through family habit. We do what our parents taught us. Or we rebel and do the opposite. Neither of these positions is a positive, empowered choice.
In the status quo, we often make food choices based on advertising. We’re usually unconscious about this. E.g. the custom of drinking orange juice at breakfast dates back to marketing by mid-20th century US orange growers.
Addictions and cravings are another factor behind food choices. Sugar, refined carbohydrates, deep fried food, chocolate, caffeine and many sugar substitutes are addictive substances for many people.
Anyone who’s ever been on a low calorie diet will know about food cravings. I spent ten years of my young adult life on weight-loss diets, before I finally got free.
Eating crap food is demoralizing and disempowering. I know this from personal experience.
Who knows best?
Food choices are often made based on the advice of experts, mainstream and non-mainstream. I used to do this too.
But this is hugely problematic.
Nutrition experts may be in the pockets of advertisers or food manufacturers. When food products are endorsed by health or animal welfare organisations, that means money has changed hands.
Also, expert recommendations may be based on faulty or outdated science.
When I was a young adult, nutrition experts told us that animal fats were the cause of health problems including heart disease, and recommended margarine as a healthy option. In recent years it’s been acknowledged that unprocessed animal fats contain important nutrients, while most margarines contain processed fats, which are not natural substances and cause health problems.
Meanwhile, researchers who pointed to refined sugar as a cause of multiple health problems were being suppressed and attacked. Here’s a Guardian article about what happened to British scientist John Yudkin.
I also know people who are scared to eat egg yolks, because of expert advice about cholesterol.
Nutritionists used to tell Pacific Islanders not to consume coconut cream, and to eat margarine instead. These days coconut cream is being touted as a superfood with many health benefits.
I think any food recommendations or diets endorsed by experts should be taken with a grain of salt. Some will be good advice, but some won’t.
That includes diet programs that claim to solve particular health problems.
Listen to your gut
There’s no easy way around this. And there’s no single answer. The solution is to wake up, and start making our own food choices.
Food is a huge opportunity for pleasure and positive change. But we can only do this if we start listening to our inner guidance – our gut.
If you think you’re too busy, stressed and/or tired to make positive food choices, this is your wake-up call. Please start choosing now. Don’t wait till you get sick.
You can’t out-source this.
You don’t have to make lots of choices. Just one or two to start with.
See how that feels. Then make another food choice.
Want some ideas where to start?
My food choices
These are some of the main factors I’m currently using to make food choices. They may change over time. They work for me because they’re positive, rather than “this is bad, avoid it”.
They help me make decisions around food that reflect my values and aren’t solely based on price/ convenience/ advertising/ expert opinions.
- Animal welfare – NB my definition of animal welfare may not be quite the same as yours, but I’ve thought it through, done some research, and I can live with it.
- Local food economy where possible – check out my local food blog, the Waikato Foodbasket.
- Seasonal, fresh fruit and vegetables
- Organic and/or environmentally sustainable farming/ horticulture when possible
- Fairtrade when imported food. Trade Aid is a local fairtrade organization.
- I mostly cook and eat basic ingredients rather than processed foods
- Small amounts of sugar
- Smaller quantities of animal products than in the past
- I eat live, naturally fermented foods regularly (e.g. yoghurt, sauerkraut, etc)
- I eat wheat occasionally, but not every day. Bread is mainly traditional sourdough. My gut likes that better than most gluten-free products.
What are your food choice factors? They’re bound to be different from mine.
I hope you’ll keep going with this!
Read more about my food journey here: How to eat
And here: My life with green salad
And here’s my post about the economics of local food in New Zealand.
And here’s my blog celebrating the local food abundance of the Waikato region of New Zealand.