The Privilege of Individualism

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Collective action is the way to achieve any change whether socially, economically, politically, environmentally, locally, or globally. We understand this when it comes to climate change, or political regimes. So why do we not believe the same to be true about food? One person growing their own food sustainably won’t change industrial food system. I had believed that by being paleo, going to farmer’s markets, like Pollen suggests (Pollen, “Eat Food: Food Defined”), and ordering local produce would do something to help the environment and my health.

The latter may be improved, but not the first. The produce company I believed dealt only with local farms deals actually with businesses all over North America which means that it isn’t cutting down on emissions and travel. That orange I have in my egotistically superior paleo diet is from even further away, capitalizing on low labor wages and transportation costs in other countries. Even the meat that the paleo diet is based around hurts both the environment and the countless animals they torture and breed for the sole purpose of slaughter.

A farmer’s market is a privilege I’m lucky to have because I have parents that both pay for school and luxurious food items. In America, I’m one of the few. Food politics isn’t individual, and the activities resulting from individualist efforts to do good end up doing even more harm, like how Prius drivers drive even more than the average car, emitting equal amounts. If what we’re doing was truly separate, logically there would be finite end to the commons. There needs to be regulation around chemicals, foreign food transportation, and changing dietary regulations surrounding processed food. Until there is institutional and structural change, we will find that end to the commons, and fast.

1 thought on “The Privilege of Individualism

  1. Jameson

    The author’s main point is a good one- we will not make measurable progress in combating climate change or the degradation of Earth’s ecosystems unless the approach we take is on a macrolevel. Individualism is subject to human nature- laziness, imperfection, and inconsistency, and we cannot expect enough of the public to make the hard but necessary choices to change their lifestyles in order to slow down or reverse the effects of climate change. This is what the role of a government is for- an overarching problem that can only be solved through collective action, enforced from the top down. While regulations on environmental pollutants, levels of carbon emissions, and particularly environmentally-offensive forms of transportation are important and necessary parts of a government solution to climate change, I would add that governments must use incentive programs to drive up or down public support for various industries, sources of energy, and modes of transportation. For instance, the American taxpayer currently subsidizes fossil fuel companies to the tune of around $40 billion annually, when those companies are among the most profitable and the most environmentally harmful on the planet. They don’t need those subsidies, and removing them will drive up the price of oil, encouraging consumers to use alternative forms of transportation, and encouraging these companies to begin transitioning into renewables instead of desperately milking fossil fuels to the last profitable drop.


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