Friday, July 24, 2015

5 Years of Corn Free July

It's the fifth time I've done this, and over the years, as I describe the project to new people, the explanation has gotten easier and easier. Not because I've perfected my elevator pitch. If anything, the opposite is true. Self-promotion will never come easily to me, and on top of that, as I've fallen into the Corn-Free July habit, I've gotten too close to see the whole picture, and often have a hard time articulating why I do it.

And yet, people just get it. Back in 2011, when Sean Bean was the star of Game of Thrones, we thought Mitt Romney might be the next president, and LMFAO's Party Rock Anthem was the jam of the summer, sustainable food wasn't quite as trendy as it is now. The Corn Refiners Association's desperate ploys to exonerate HFCS in the court of public opinion were still a recent memory. Things like kale and quinoa were just slightly unfamiliar health foods instead of punch lines to jokes that you secretly hope are about you.

In 2011, when I told people I was going off corn for a month, I got a lot of confusion about what was so bad about a starchy plant that tastes great grilled. In 2015, I get wise nods and buzzwords of agreement. "Mm, yes. GMOs. Factory farming. Subsidies. Monoculture."

Is the fact that this issue has gotten more widely recognized encouraging, or simply evidence that the problem has gotten too big to ignore? Are we really doing anything about it on a large scale?

One optimistic piece of evidence is the consistent reduction in our nationwide demand for red meat. Beef is, by far, our least efficient source of protein, in terms of energy, water, and land resources. If demand slows enough, we may reach a point at which there is no longer a need for the factory farming system we now have, and more and more beef cattle can be raised on pasture. This would be a significant win, I believe.

But why has that demand gone down? It has to do, in part, with economics, as middle and lower class wages continue to not keep up with inflation, and the price of red meat continues to rise. And of course it has something to do with increasing awareness about the conditions under which cattle are raised and the associated health concerns. But I wonder how much is the ethereal X factor that takes hold and makes something unpopular simply because it's unpopular? How many people are opting for chicken instead of beef just because it's what everyone else at the table is ordering? And is that a problem, or is that what we want?

I've been saying since I started this blog that we'll only really see a large scale change in our food system when responsible eating becomes the default setting and not something you have to go out of your way to do. Are we getting closer to reaching that tipping point, or is concern for where your food comes from still for hippies and weirdos?

What about you? Have your food choices gotten more conscientious in the last five years? Have you noticed a significant rise in the availability of more responsible food choices? Let me know in the comments section!

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