Anne Lappé once said:
“Every dollar we spend is a vote for how we want the world to be.”
And, to a great extent, this is true—especially when it comes to food, for example.
Were it not for consumer demand for unadulterated, whole, organic food, the Slow Food movement would not exist, and farmers who raise organic produce, pasture-raised meat and eggs, and whole, raw dairy would still be very few and very far between.
The market for organic and pasture-raised food grows exponentially every year, which means that more and more land is being tended sustainably and contributing to carbon sequestration and clean air and water.
And it means more small farmers are making a decent living than ever before. All of this goodness has been almost entirely driven by shoppers.
But, while I realize that my dollar has power, not for one minute do I think that the way I spend my money is going to really change the world.
Case in point: Although the Real Food movement has tremendous traction, the corporate shills in our state and federal agencies still see fit to regularly raid and criminally charge small farmers who are providing raw milk, heritage pork, and other traditional healthy, whole foods—even when there has been NO incidence of illness or harm.
Similarly, despite the fact that more small farmers and homesteaders than ever before are taking up the plow, farm policy still mainly supports Big Ag and factory farming.
Boycotting Monsanto or buying only organic and local food will not even touch this problem.
Nor can shopping do anything about the massive bee die off going on that threatens our very ability to produce food at all.
And shopping can’t make a dent in air pollution, mercury pollution from coal plants, fresh water pollution, depletion of fresh water, or deforestation, among other pressing problems.
In fact, to curtail these problems, we need to shop less, not more.
So, Can Shopping Change the World?
In a word: No.
As Annie Leonard explains in her animated video, The Story of Change (above), socially and environmentally responsible shopping is a great place to start, but a lousy place to end.
To create the sustainable, peaceful, healthy world we want, we need to do much more than shop. Shopping might be enjoyable, easy and necessary, but I would argue that being an informed and active citizen is much more fulfilling—and these days, desperately necessary.
I mean, would you rather be treated like an American Consumer or like an American Citizen?
In The Story of Change, Leonard explains how social movements that bring about real, lasting change need three things: a big idea for how things can be better, commitment to work together, and participation in action. Leonard says we’re missing the last factor.
Why should you have to choose between your values and, say, having a phone? Or between spending your precious dollars on expensive, nutritious, organic food vs. cheap, federally subsidized, factory-processed junk?
Leonard says we will never find solutions to these conundrums through better shopping or nagging each other. Rather, “we get there by engaging as citizens to ensure our policies and laws put safeguarding people and the planet first.”
“A passive and ignorant citizenry will never create a sustainable world.” —Andrew Gaines
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead
The causes, policies and laws that matter to you need all kinds of help. Whether you can offer your body in protest, your voice in testimony at City Hall, or your skills at data entry, legal assistance, collecting petitions, website management, public relations, answering phones and more, there is a way for all American citizens to make a difference in creating a sustainable, healthy future for generations to come.
If we don’t, who will?
What are you going to do this year that will make our country a healthier, more sustainable place?