Monthly Archives: January 2010

Guest Post: Emily Nelson “Eating as a Political Act”

I had a few emails about one portion of my post last week and I asked Emily if she wouldn’t mind sharing her research concerning politics, lobbyists, fast food and personal choices! I have been meaning to research and write a post of my own on this topic, but Emily did such a great job that I’m happy to give her the floor on this one as it is a fascinating essay and way to present this information.

Emily and I welcome comments and questions!


As we all compared what we eat [in class last semester], it wasn’t the actual food choices that peaked my interest, but rather it was all the varying reasons WHY we ate what we did. Some people eat because of tradition, convenience, taste; some choose what to or what not to eat because of their religion, ethics or concern about the environment. But what if everyone saw eating as a political act?

This topic could be expounded upon at length and it can easily permeate a wide variety of issue areas from health care to the war in Iraq. I clearly cannot cover all of these topics in less than ten minutes but what I’d like to impart upon you all today is the way in which every single one of our individual consumption choices has an effect that goes beyond the pleasure we derive from it, or the time we save or the tradition we uphold. I realize that this has the potential to be an uneasy topic so I’d like to preface by saying that I’m not trying to preach to anyone or imply that any of your individual choices are bad, wrong, violent or unethical. I’m simply offering a perspective, a way of thinking that has influenced my food choices and me.

As I’d imagine we’d all agree that it’s fascinating to look behind the scenes of our food!

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You know you had a good semester when…

I am still reflecting on the words of my classmates from my Food, Culture, and Society class last semester.

The people, conversation, readings,  professor, and of course, food made it truly a great class!

Anyway, I asked them to summarize their final presentation where we reflected on the most important or most interesting thing we learned over the course of the semester.

Here are some of my classmate’s thoughts:

“THE VEGETARIAN VOICE: The most interesting thing I can take from the class is an improved ability to have the conversation about vegetarianism with meat-eaters (and the same for other food choices). My confidence in my decision to not eat meat has been fortified by class discussions and readings, and this makes me more confident in sharing my reasons with those who ask. I’ve learned to accept the fact that there is an inherent and assumed elitism in my vegetarianism that will always effect my conversations, but that if I keep this in mind, I can still have meaningful conversations with people who have maybe never considered the ethics of their food choices before. Probably most importantly, I’ve gotten a chance to hear logical and ethical arguments from meat eaters about their food choices, as opposed to a lack of understanding and questions based in a lack of knowledge. Hearing this perspective makes me a little less frustrated to be a vegetarian in a meat-eating world, knowing we’re all just taking the steps we think are correct and doing what we can.” -Dana

“(On [the project I chose in which I did a] three-day water only fast…) I had a sinking spell in my 11:00 class yesterday morning and one of the first things that came to mind was that it was probably about lunchtime for elementary school kids. I thought about how many kids, even in Madison, there were who did not have food at home. They might not have eaten since lunch the day before, and would feel just like I do now, or worse. I’ve got 22 years of good eating stored up. How are those kids able to focus in class, when I couldn’t? How are they able to play at recess?” -Maggie

“Indicative of the market transformation is the change of locally owned farms into large sheep grazing estates, owned by an aristocratic few.  Common lands disappeared from the landscape.  Capital, published in 1867, explains many of today’s problems.  Through the scope of shifting agricultural systems, Marx tells the story of the exploitation of the proletariat, painting a bleak picture of the ills of capitalistic societies.” -Xavier

“Eating industrial food is much, much more than just an environmental or health issue. It is a social justice and human rights issue. Anyone who cares about social justice should realize that their food choices have an impact. Eating a hamburger from McDonald’s is supporting a meatpacking industry that shows no interest in the well-being and safety of its employees, but is only concerned with turning a profit. Money is more important than human lives to these companies and by consuming these products we are allowing these injustices to continue. Though we didn’t talk about it in class, there are also many human rights issues related to industrial agriculture and immigrant workers as well.” -Brianna

“A quarter of the US’s daily need for oil (five million barrels) comes from the highly volatile Middle East. The US government could drastically reduce the need for all their five million barrels, and staunch the flow of much blood in the process, simply by consuming less meat. National Geo estimates that you could drive a car from LA to NYC on the oil required to farm and bring to market just one cow. With such a hunger for tasty and convenient foods, we don’t realize that what we’re really demanding is more oil and in turn, more violence and war. Our politicians are given unhealthy influence over the economics of food commodities and the market forces that drive food consumption. Companies with interests that lie within these bounds get to play puppet masters and we just keep buying tickets to the show. … See how that all started with your decision to eat Taco Bell?” -Emily

As you can see, these presentations were not your usual, fall-asleep-except-to-wake-up-and-applaud end of the semester projects! I was deeply influenced by some of the things my classmates have to say and I remember thinking that I hope every college student has an opportunity to take a class (or many classes) that feels real and meaningful beyond the GPA and graduation. I felt as though the students in their presentations and throughout the semester opened up and allowed the class to see part of who they really are… which is something that sadly doesn’t happen too frequently at a large university.

I wish I had my notes to share some more of this with you, but 222ers who read this, feel free to comment with any responses you think I should include, and otherwise, thanks for a great semester!

Wishing all students a meaningful and enriching semester!


Holiday Hiatus

I’ll be back soon!

Hope everyone had wonderful holidays and a happy new year!

Stay warm,