One of the most striking aspects of the discussion surrounding nutrition and “buying green” was about how we are lulled into a false sense of security and fulfillment based on the products we consume. In Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, and in this article by Jennifer McNulty, the idea of how we consume is explored and there are significant connections to be drawn. For example, Pollan talks about how the western diet has made people gradually less healthy, but despite the obvious warning signs westerners continue to consume the same general diet. Instead of a substantive dietary change, we substitute foods into our diet that are advertised as being more nutritious, or we subscribe to food-isms that we believe make us healthier. In short, we could be healthier by eating more whole foods and less processed products, but instead we eat things that have been processed more because of their perceived nutritional value.
This is very similar to how McNulty discusses “buying green” in her article. We are satisfied by buying so called “green” products, and in doing so we feel no further obligation to do anything for the benefit of the environment we live in. I think a lot of this comes down to the marketing used to sell these products to consumers. Using the same communication and marketing techniques employed to sell any product, we know that consumers will buy products that differentiate themselves in a positive way, and that make the consumer feel good about themselves in the process. This is exactly what is happening here in the marketing used to advertise “green” products.
Environmental and nutritional issues face the same issues as any that arise in politics: collective action. Just as an average citizen feels engaged and civically satisfied by voting, they subsequently don’t take the time or effort before and after to advocate for positions they care about. Similarly, we are guilty as consumers of slipping into complacency, telling ourselves that our buying, recycling, or composting habits absolve us of all environmental sin. Both as voters and consumers, it is also easy to tell ourselves that our own small contribution won’t make a difference, and therefore it is futile to contribute at all. We sit comfortable knowing that surely other people are working hard on this issue, and it will be resolved positively in the end. However, this mentality perpetuated across an entire generation is one of the greatest threats to our health and environment.
For this reason I am working to challenge myself and you to do more. Whatever you are doing now, try to do one additional thing to be more environmentally responsible and more personally health conscious. Then do one additional thing after that, and another from there. The critical part is to never feel like we are doing “enough.” If we can create a collective societal itch to do more, then that is when real change can occur. For in reality, it is in the moment that we think we are doing enough that we fail to make meaningful progress.