Does “Voting with Our Dollar” Really Make a Difference?

Both Michael Maniates’s “Individualization: Plant a Tree, Ride a Bike, Save the World?” and the book from our previous lesson, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food grapple with issues covered in systems theory- albeit in very different ways. Pollan’s book dismantles the reductionist theories that are ever-so-present in “nutritionism,” saying that foods are more than a sum of their vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. In this way, he incorporates systems theory with regards to biological processes. Yet, Pollan still espouses the type of individualistic behavior that Maniates rebuffs with regards to how to confront the industrialized food system; he recommends buying organic produce, not buying packaged food, and going to the farmer’s market or even planting one’s own food when possible. He doesn’t take on the industrialized food system itself, as Maniates would suggest doing.

Maniates is critical of the individualization emphasized in the environmental movement, which focuses more on consumers “voting with their dollar” to buy ecological products and individual efforts such as recycling over changing government and industrial policies. Maniates’s stance is something that I really resonated with and was shocked to find someone who agreed with me. I am all for helping the environment but believe that larger systems and policies need to change to make it easier for us all to act more environmentally friendly. For instance, instead of everyone buying hybrid cars or even riding their bikes more often, I think that more public transportation systems run on renewable energies need to be constructed. Rather than focusing on individual blame and guilt, broader, system-level actions are needed to enact real change.

I think that both works can be of much use to us. I found In Defense of Food to be quite illuminating and an important read for anyone who eats (i.e. everyone). Whether or not we really can “vote with our dollar,” maintaining our individual health is still obviously an important endeavour. Maniates’s piece can take our thinking further beyond our wallet and into grander ways in which, collectively as a society, we can try to enact change without shaming each other for habits like not recycling.

Works Cited:

Maniates, Michael. “Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World?”

Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food. Penguin Books, 2009. Global Environmental Politics, vol. 1, no. 3, 2001, pp. 31-52.

1 thought on “Does “Voting with Our Dollar” Really Make a Difference?

  1. lmays44

    I think you bring up some great points in this post. Especially about how regardless of whether or not eating with your dollar makes a difference, maintaining your individual health is still important. And while I mostly agree with Maniates’s essay I think it doesn’t give enough credit to “voting with your dollar”. To make a major impact in the way we as humans interact with the world yes there needs to be policy changes, because it is unlikely that corporations will give up their profit margins to protect the environment, or provide decent rights to workers willingly. However, many people feel they don’t have any influence over policy therefor voting with their dollar may be the only recourse people have. We can use the fair-trade industry as an example of how successful this concept is. As we saw in the video and lecture in lesson 4 free-trade is giving people the chance to buy semi-directly from farmers, which in turn has improved the farmers lives as well by allowing them to sell their product at a decent wage. I am not saying this is a perfect system but because it is having a positive impact in the world it should not be ignored either.

Leave a Reply