"K" is for Kitchen

The political power of pots, pans, produce and your pocketbook.

by Robert Nanninga
think it is safe to say most people don't have the courage to throw themselves in front of a bulldozer, chain themselves to old-growth trees, or ram whaling vessels on the high seas. Unfortunately for those of us who have the stamina for such eco-actions, our employers won't give us the time off needed to save the world. But fear not: as glamorous as those efforts are, their effectiveness pales in comparison to the power you wield in the comfort of your own home.
As we are all aware, America is all about buying power. As a consumer you rule the world, and the place to start your assault on the corporate spoilers of the environment is at the dining room table. As you sit down to plan you incursion into enemy territory - aka Vons, Ralphs, Albertsons, etc. - your battle plan must be set in stone. Any home economist will tell you that it is unwise to venture into the super market without a well thought out shopping list. That, my friends, is sage advice. However, if we're going to save the planet while saving money, we need to do a little more homework than just cutting coupons. Education is the key.
We have to learn to do without all the prepackaged garbage masquerading as food if we are to protect our health and the biosphere in which we live. Sugar, the staple of most American diets, is responsible for the poisoning of the shrinking Everglades. Because sugar production is heavily subsidized, you will pay twice for the candy bar you will eat later today. Coffee plantations are replacing tropical forests. Even the harvesting of cinnamon takes its toll on the environment. So how you shop is a political statement, and your kitchen is the polling place. There is no need to lobby your Congressional representative when your refrigerator and pantry also serve as a ballot box.
Case in point: if we are to protect the biodiversity of the worlds oceans people are going to have to eat considerably less fish in the foreseeable future. Currently, the global industrial fishing fleet consists of approximately one million large-scale vessels. We are talking about ships large enough to hold a dozen Boeing 747's, hauling in fifty tons of fish with nets that could cover the Las Vegas strip, pyramid and all. Add to that the indiscriminate slaughter caused by drift nets, and Iceland and Japan's continuing war on cetaceans, and what we have is the clear-cutting of the Earths Oceans.
How and why you shop can make the difference between extinction and survival. For example, several species of sea turtle are being lost to the shrimping industry's use of trawl nets. So remember: every time you slip a shrimp on the barbie, you are also consuming a Ridley's sea turtle and twenty pounds of nonmarketable incidental species. Dolphins are still being lost as tuna populations plummet - this after an international campaign to reform the tuna industry. According to a Food and Agriculture Organization report by the United Nations, nine of the world's major fishing grounds are in serious decline, and four have been commercially "fished out." A diet heavy in fish may be "heart smart," but it is ecologically foolish.
The oceans aren't the only habitats being clear cut. Rainforests all over the world are disappearing faster than Bob Dole's credibility. In Malaysia, teak forests are rapidly being converted into designer furniture for affluent homeowners. We have all heard the slash and burn horror stories of Brazilian cattle ranching, and the cycle of poverty that follows. But how many people are aware of the battle currently being waged on Australia's Kangaroo Island. It seems that koala bears are getting in the way of Japanese and Chinese loggers attempts to turn the island's eucalyptus forests into disposable chopsticks.
This absurd drama is also being played in North America, which is being trampled under the hooves of heavily subsidized sacred cows. This is where the politics of the plate really begins to make a difference. Waste from factory farms is just part of the equation you don't see as you choke down your bacon and eggs. Adding to the culinary nightmare is a list of pesticides, growth hormones, and preservatives, all engineered by pharmaceutical giants who live by the "Chemicals for a better tomorrow" creed. ADM claims to be the supermarket to the world; all they have actually done is turn the American heartland into a precarious monoculture, bereft of the biodiversity that created the once fertile soils.
Making a difference while declaring yourself to be an eco-warrior is easier than one would think. First and foremost, one must return to the ways of our grandparents. By purchasing locally-grown organic produce at a community farmers' market, you will be striking a blow for sustainable communities everywhere. We need to remember that America was raised on the family farm, and that agribusiness knows nothing about living in harmony with the seasonal cycles of the earth.
Avoiding exotics from around the world will help to end the consumptive frenzy that is exploiting natural resources and communities while harming the bloated cultures whose malnutrition and disease parallels the disparate people of the third world. I find more horror in the reality of an obese man being cut from his home because he has become to large to leave under his own power, than all the photos of starving Ethiopians. Somehow in America we got our signals crossed. No longer content to eat to live, we now live to eat. If you doubt this, just pay attention to the images television forces constantly bombards us with. Bill Cosby has yet to tell America that JELLO is really cow bones, sugar and artificial flavors and colors. No nutrition there.
Americans are devouring the planet. Sure we have help, but if we are to be honest, we high-end consumers make up the smallest percentage of the world population and are responsible for the majority of the environmental degradation.
Here is what we do to fix the mess we have created:
  1. Switch to a diet of seasonal grains, vegetables and fruits. This means no Costa Rican bananas for Sunday brunch in Montana.
  2. Junk food must be seen for what it is: malnutrition in shiny wrappers. This means you should sell your stock in Unbiased as soon as possible.
  3. The only animals you should consume are the ones you raised or hunted down and slaughtered yourself. This means no more Big Macs, Jumbo Jacks, or Whoppers.
  4. If it can't be composted or reused it should not be produced or purchased. This means: hello fresh foods, good-bye over-packaging.
  5. Identity should be based on how well we treat the planet, not how fast we can convert it to our selfish ends. This means replacing mega-malls with local markets.
So, ladies and gentlemen, this is your assignment if you choose to accept it. Changing the world starts in the marketplace and we are the foot soldiers. When shopping, drive past the all-in-one supermarket and stop by the community-based farmers' market. The truth is, if it can't be grown or baked locally, you just don't need it.

Robert Nanninga is an independent video producer, actor, vegan, active member of the Green and environmental communities, and a board member of San Diego Earth Day.