Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Food and drink: Decisions, decisions, decisions

Who are you voting for with your food dollars?

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Years ago, I caught myself saying something about “voting with my dollars” for some product I believed in. The context was some kind of argument, and I was going to buy it, dammit, whatever it was, to support the concept and whoever or whatever produced it, no matter what it cost.

I can’t even remember what it was that I was so riled up about and why I thought it was so deserving of support, but at the time I was struck by the cleverness and originality of the idea of voting with my dollar. I’d never heard of it before.

Later, I heard the same expression used by a TV commentator and I just about fell on the coffee table. He’d appropriated my expression! Well, who cares, right? Maybe it was one of those serendipitous things, like cultural artifacts that pop up in a hundred different places at once. Whoever invents it and however it enters your lifestyle is irrelevant. It works.

Right now we’re up to our sweaty brows in pre-election fevers of all sorts. If you’re feeling cynical that your vote or a US Democratic vote won’t count anyway, it’s a good time to consider how we all vote, every day, whenever we make choices about what we eat and drink, or anything else we buy, for that matter.

So who and what are you voting for with your food dollars these days? What companies, what chemicals, what trucking outfits, what research or farmers or package designers did you just prop up with your hard-earned bucks when you bought that can of soup, that head of lettuce, that egg salad sandwich? What systems and values? What regions? China? Columbia? British Columbia? Your neighbour’s farm? A family-run coffee bar?

And what did you neglect, pull the plug on, say ix-nay to? What did you weaken by not buying into it, by not giving it any money — capital it can expand with, grow bigger, stronger, more dynamic with?

See? Simple grocery shopping never looks the same after you think of it as voting. It’s like taking your power back.

So in the sprit of this mighty fecund election season, I bring you the following facts, with apologies to Harper’s Index. They might help you decide how to vote in your next daily food election.

 

Glenda’s Handy Consumer Voters’ Index

• Proportion of gross domestic product the World Bank designates as the food and agriculture sector: 10 per cent

• Approximate value of that sector: US$4.8 trillion

• Amount the world’s five largest global supermarket chains (all of them US or European) expanded between 1980 and 2001: 240 per cent

• Number of corporations that control 60-80 per cent of global food supply along with integrated systems, such as transport and warehousing: 4-5

• Value of packaged food sector, according to Euromonitor International: $1.6 trillion

• Revenues of Kraft Foods Inc., one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies: US$37 billion

• Proportion of US houses that contain Kraft products: 99 per cent

• Number of countries that sell Kraft products: 150

• Number of brands Kraft sells: 59

• Proportion of people in the world employed in agriculture in 2007 vs. 1996: 35 per cent vs. 42 per cent

• Decrease in number of farms in Canada, from 1996 to 2001: -10.7 per cent

• Amount greenhouses have increased in area in Canada between the 1996 and 2001 census: Doubled

• Number of organic farms in Canada as of 2001: 2,230, or about 1 per cent of all farms

• Percent cancer could be reduced worldwide by a diet of plant-based food: 30-40 per cent

• Percent increase in the risk of people developing pancreatic cancer who eat large amounts of processed meats, including hot dogs and sausages: 67 per cent

• Year that the European Union adopted compulsory labelling for GMO foods: 2003

• Amount of genetically modified materials that food products contain in the EU that triggers labelling and traceability: 0.5 per cent

• Proportion of Canadians who feel that genetically modified foods will make their lives worse in the next 20 years: 50 per cent

• Amount of money that Monsanto feels its “seeds and genomics” section will generate in profits in 2008: US$3.8 billion+

• Percent increase that is over Monsanto’s 2007 profit for that sector: +25 per cent

• Amount of money Percy Schmeiser and his wife spent on legal feels battling Monsanto when the company’s GMO canola seeds blew into their field and grew “illegally”: $250,000

• Number of people worldwide, besides the Schmeisers, who have received the Right Livelihood Award from Sweden: 123

• Value of global seafood market according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): $400 billion

• Estimate of proportion of large fish stocks such as tuna and shark that have been fished out of the oceans: 98 per cent

• Number of wild Atlantic salmon Canada has compared to farm-raised ones: 150,000 to 15 million

• Percent of rivers that wild Pacific salmon stocks have disappeared from: 40 per cent

• Number of local wild salmon populations that have disappeared from the western coast of North America: 100

• Amount of bycatch of “trash fish” (rays, eels, flounder — this doesn’t include things like starfish, sea urchins, turtle grass) mangled and discarded for every 10 pounds of Gulf of Mexico shrimp scraped from the sea floor: 80-90 pounds

• Number of plastic water bottles added to landfills worldwide every year: 38 billion

• Number of tons of plastic that adds up to: 2.5 million

• Number of barrels of oil it takes to make all the plastic water bottles used in the US alone in one year: 17 million.

• Number of Canadian cites that have banned the use of plastic water bottles in their facilities: 2: Nelson, B.C., and London, Ont.

 

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who reminds you it’s just as important to vote in the regular elections.

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