Homeschooler and mother of two, Lavone Li is a “pollanist” – she’s a fan of the home-grown, organic food ethic. Li intentionally shops locally and organically, not just for the sake of her own well-being, but because she believes this shrinks her carbon footprint and protects farm workers from harmful pesticides. There’s a Christ-like integrity to this kind of eating that attracts her.
The term pollanist popped up in the mainstream seven years ago because of one influential book: Michael Pollan’s The Ominvore’s Dilemma (A Canadian version, The 100-Mile Diet followed closely on its heels). Pollan made mini waves in the world of eating, reassuring local and organic food lovers in their quest for purity, sustainability and simple consumption.
But Pollan’s waves induced some push-back. In Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet, Canadians Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu oppose Pollan’s ideas as dogmatic and unfounded. They say the globalization of the food trade has actually eradicated a lot of poverty and malnutrition. They cite scientific studies and statistics to show that land usage is actually maximized by the larger outputs enabled by GMO’s, technology and pesticides.
In fact, they caution that a return to the 100-mile diet would actually cripple the global economy, sustainability, and our march towards feeding the world’s population. Desrochersgoes as far as to say that “Locavorism is a regressive practice, and will bring with it widespread misery, hunger and famine.”
Eating is obviously a moral affair. So how do we respond as Christians? Should Christians belocavores or globavores? Or maybe the central question should focus on overconsumption. Obesity and overconsumption – of meat in particular – are the greatest culprits in tipping the global scales of justice against poverty, sustainability, and malnutrition in developing countries.
As I began to research sustainable eating, I found eating more vegetables is both pro-social and pro-earth. So if North Americans simply ate more produce over meat, we would be on our way to more effective food production and even distribution of global resources. It takes about eight times more fossil fuel energy and copious amounts of water to produce animal protein instead of plant protein. Only one sixth of an acre of land can feed a vegan for a year, while it takes three and a quarter acres of land (about 20 times more) to feed a meat eater.
Rachel Marie Stone, writer of Eat With Joy: Redeeming God’s Gift of Food throws one more wrench into the picture – a Christian perspective. While the savvy, hip, health-conscious eater of 2014 can afford to care about local, free-range, vegetarian, gluten-free options in the name of sustainability or in the name of health, the average low-income earner cannot. In the US, fresh produce is much more expensive and unattainable than government-subsidized, soybean oil and corn-syrup laden junk food and soda.
So ethical and sustainable, Christian eating also means thinking about how to prevent obesity and overconsumption on a systemic level. We need to start thinking about whether the single-parent family that lives down the block can access fresh produce just as easily as we can.
With this awareness, there is the threat of slacktivism (being active in a cause only via the internet or a social media website, with little actual involvement). But slacktivism is the least among Lavone Li’s concerns. She simply wants to make sure she focuses on areas of consumption where she can make a tangible difference. “I tend not to think about ethical shopping when it comes to clothes,” she says, “because I already have so much clothing. So I don’t think about where my clothing comes from. I shouldn’t even be consuming clothing. But food, I have to consume. Food, I have to think about.”
This post was first published in the April 2014 edition of Lightmagazine.ca