Food Matters (in More than just Delicious Ways)

This month at Postconsumers, we’re giving you concrete ideas for ways that you can step away from the big box stores and huge national brand conglomerates that drive the addictive consumerism in the western world and make choices that support local initiatives. In our first installment, we covered the obvious areas of making better choices about where you shop. Today, we’ll be talking about one of our favorite topics – food. When we think of addictive consumerism, we often think of “stuff.” But in modern society, much of how we treat food has moved from a need to a want. That means that it’s also begun to be treated like a consumer good, or more like “stuff.” It’s not just your health that makes it important that you make good decisions about how, where and why you buy your food. It’s also about your relationship with consumerism. Today, we’ve got five tips on how you can make choices about food that will help detach you from the web of manipulative consumerism.

Number One: Shop at a Farmer’s Market

Much like where you choose to buy “stuff” matters, where you choose to buy food matters. And when it comes to food, it’s not just your relationship with consumerism that can be impacted by where you choose to shop. The health of your body is largely determined by what you put into it. And when what you’re putting into it is processed and full of chemicals, then that’s not good. But it’s really the health of your mind that we’re concerned with when it comes to separating yourself from the consumer machine. Large grocery store chains employ many of the same practices as big box stores when it comes to the consumer media loop. In addition to often using practices that aren’t earth-friendly, they bombard with you advertisements and enticing pricing to create the idea that you need to buy more and more and more food commodities. We’re certainly not implying that vendors at a farmer’s market aren’t going to advertise at you, but it won’t be in the same systematic and mass way that larger, chain grocery stores will. Plus, you’ll be supporting local economies, which is really the key to defeating the consumer media machine.

Pro Tip: Going to a farmer’s market isn’t just about buying food. It’s an entire mental and sensory experience. Learn more about the less-often discussed benefits of farmer’s markets here.

Number Two: Eat Locally, Not at Chain Restaurants

This one is often one of the hardest ones to accomplish. Not only are chain restaurants a place where the familiarity with the food and menu can draw you in, but often because of economies of scale they’re able to offer slightly more competitive pricing than local restaurants and take-out places can. We’re not going to pretend as though, in this economy, every dollar doesn’t matter. But not only are you (most likely) eating something that’s less healthy when you go to a chain restaurant, you’re not having positive ideas about “enough” and the negative role of the media dancing in your head. Chain restaurants are designed to give you the most food for the lowest price. If you’ve read any Postconsumers articles at all, you know that it’s never a good intent or result when that is the building block of a business. And most chain restaurants rely heavily on media campaigns to make you believe that more is better, always. Support local restaurants with realistic portion sizes and prices as well as more limited media budgets.

Number Three: Stop Putting Food and Retail Miles on Your Car

Food miles are the number of miles and the carbon footprint associated with them required to move food from its source to your door. While you, individually, play a role in this number in the amount of miles that you drive to get to a grocery store, you’re not the bulk of the miles. The bulk of food miles associated with a typical purchase happens when moving the food from its source (often a west coast state or South American country) to the grocery store itself. Think trains, planes and trucks criss-crossing everywhere. When you shop at a farmer’s market or look for the locally produced products within your larger market, you create a significant impact on food mile generation overall.

Number Four: Buy Food, Not Brands or Packaging

Are you visiting that restaurant because you love the food, or because you feel a sense of connection and warmth with the mascot? Do you really want cookies, or is it just that enticing images on the package make you think that you can’t go another minute without them? Learning to control your consumer process with food isn’t any different than learning to control your consumer process with “stuff.” It begins with building an awareness of how much of what you want is really what you want and how much is a reaction to smart and often manipulative marketing. We’ll discuss tactics for becoming aware of these processes in another installment of this series. For now, simply begin to be more present in the moment when you’re buying food (or, for that matter, “stuff”). Take the time to slow down your purchasing and ponder whether you’re in control or the media machine is in control. Once you begin to regularly recognize and actively participate in that process (as opposed to the passive participation most of us engage in), you’ll immediately begin to notice changes in your purchasing habits.

Number Five: Simply Buy Less

Of course, this advice can apply to “stuff” as easily as it can apply to food. However, where the idea of bulk shopping and “super-sizing” has become the most prevalent is within the food sector. Are you really going to eat an entire palette of donuts? Are you really so thirsty that you need an individual beverage that is a gallon of liquid (hint: it might actually just make you thirstier). The mantra is always buy less, but when it comes to food it can also impact your health and well-being as much as your mental state.

Today, we talked about relationships between food and addictive consumer behavior. That’s actually one of the more fun (and we think fascinating) topics. But not everything you need to do regarding making shifts in consumer mindsets is about something fun and playful. Be sure to return for our third installment when we talk about the role that self-education can play in supporting local economies and getting untied from addictive consumerism.

Did we miss a way to shop locally that you’d like to share? Tell us about it on the social media channels below.

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