After all, was Goliath such a bad guy?
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 5

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 5: Can Bigger Get Better?

Dearest Pete and Jimmy,

In Chapter 5 of The Ethics of What We Eat, entitled Can Big Get Better?, you look at McDonald's and Wal-Mart as the prime case studies for Big Food.  You certainly hit the nail on the head there.

But I have a question for you.  In the first paragraph of the chapter, you state that "[w]hen French farmer José Bové wanted to protest against globalization and the Americanization of French culture, he chose a McDonald's restaurant to drive his tractor through."  Answer for me please oh please WHY I CANNOT FIND A VIDEO OF THIS EVENT.  Hmmm?  Is it a McDonald's conspiracy?  Are they so powerful that they have scrubbed all of The Internets?  Well... maybe it just happened before everyone in the country over the age of six had a smartphone... since they didn't exist yet when it happened. Harrumph.  THWARTED.

It's weird to me that McDonald's is some kind of front-runner in animal welfare efforts.  I mean, it makes sense in a way.  They are food industry leaders, most sensitive to consumer demand and most influential when they make a change.  I just wish they'd make bigger changes.  Like for instance not using animal products at all.  And paying people a living wage.

You are correct to point out that "a hamburger from a locally owned restaurant is not likely to be any better for the environment, nor for the animals, than the meat McDonald's serves."  McD's and its ilk fueled the creation of the system from which nearly all of our meat now comes.  By anyone's best estimate, less than 1% of commercially available meat in the US comes from somewhere other than a factory farm.  So unless it's part of a restaurant's mission to source its meat more sustainably and ethically, why would it be any different?
SO much more.

And then there's Wal-Mart.  You pose the question, "[i]f so many people do it, can there be anything wrong with shopping at Wal-Mart?"  Of course there can.  As we've discussed previously, that many people do something is not a justification for that something, just a convenient excuse.  That said, we cannot have a conversation about Wal-Mart shoppers without addressing privilege.

I've shopped at Wal-Mart maybe three times in the past twelve years.  Because of my ethics in a variety of areas, I want to give my money to other companies and withhold it from Wal-Mart.  And - here's the thing - I can.  I've lived only in large cities with many shopping options.  I earn enough money that I can shop where I choose and have transportation to get wherever I like.  For people who are barely scraping by financially, or depending on SNAP, or living in a small town where there is literally no where else to shop, it is wrong to judge people for shopping at Wal-Mart.  While I think it's important for all of us who are able to vote with our dollars, it's crucial that we realize that, for myriad reasons, not all of us are able.

You allude to the idea that Whole Foods is very different from Wal-Mart, and honestly I wonder how true that is.  WF's products are more expensive, but many of them are of only slightly higher quality than the foods sold at Wal-Mart.  I do think the differences can be argued, and I'd love to know why you find them so radically divergent.

Ta ta for now.


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