April 7, 2017

Vote With Your Fork.

By Margaret Chu

Yesterday, my extern mate and I attended an event sponsored by the Council on Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics (C-FARE) in partnership with the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) titled Tackling the Challenges of Innovative Trade and Maintaining Robust Markets, Capitalizing on Big Data, and Advancing Consumer Health Symposium. The morning opened with discussions about trade. Their economic models indicated that free trade and investment foster billions of dollars in US export profits every year, over a third of which are from agriculture or agriculture-derived profits. Additionally, free trade allows a diversity of agricultural goods to enter the US to give us a diverse and nutritious diet as well as workers to supply our farm labor shortage, particularly that of dairy farms.

Talks then transformed to agricultural technology and big data farming. Not only does adapting new technology allow farms to be cleaner, more humane, more efficient, more productive, and more resilient, but integration of innovations also promotes data collection. Much of the technology on farms nowadays has the ability to collect individual farm data that when synthesized with other farms’ data and processed through various models can give economists and scientists a better idea of the needs and inefficiencies of modern farming. This allows all of us to benefit as the government, industries, and other nations can target technologies and policies to reflect these data. Additionally, science such as genetic modification allows farms to have a smaller carbon footprint and to be more productive; however, use of technology is ultimately dependent on educating farmers and consumers on its value.

So we come back to voting with your fork. All of these technologies and models are just theoreticals until you show businesses that you want them through consumer demand. Trade does not happen between countries but between the firms that are situated within them; these firms need to have a financial incentive to import goods into the US. When you buy your coffee or limes, almost all of which are imported, you are voting with your fork and vocalizing you want these foreign goods. When you go to the grocery store and choose to buy your organic or conventional production, you are voting with your fork. And with the financial privilege to vote in this arena, your vote becomes reflected in the less food secure; goods like organic foods become symbolically better because the wealthy can afford them for their kids whether they are truly healthier or not. So, I implore you to do some research the next time you reach for something in the grocery store. Consider where your food is from or whether choosing organic is actually the right choice for this particular product. Consider whether you want to pass on meat or if it is better to support farmers that raise their animals in a way you condone. It’s important to understand that many alternative facts or social myths are out there concerning food. Organic does not always mean more sustainable, healthier, or humane. Antibiotic-free or outdoor production systems does not always mean more sustainable, healthier or humane. Base your choices in scientific facts, and serve as an example to those who are less privileged and do not have the education and financial background to have access to this research.

If you would like to learn more about the goals or speakers associated with the symposium, please follow this link.