Food is one of the most significant commodities for human existence. It is embedded culturally, economically and socially, often without the majority of us paying the true price for its production. Within the past few months, I have been exposed to a way of thinking that has completely revolutionized how I see the food I eat. Throughout the Philosophy of Food course, students were asked to track their daily consumption of food in order to analyze what they consumed and how that food made its way onto their plate. While daunting at first, I found that throughout this process, I have become extremely aware of my food values and how reliant I am on the industrialized food system.
What I noticed from observing my own habits along with those of the students around me was that the majority of food we consumed was in some way processed. The main concern for students when eating is convenience, as many university students lack basic cooking skills and knowledge of food in general. There is a prevailing view that students have little time beyond school and going out, and basic living skills are often neglected. I believe that we have bought into this idea, that it is not the case that we lack the time; rather, we just use the time for other things. We place little importance on cooking and food, other than sometimes using it as a form of entertainment. As a result, the majority of people eat processed foods that can be prepared quickly, and this feeds into the current issues facing our food system.
The lack of education that people, especially university students, have about our agricultural industry here in Canada is appalling. I am by no means excusing myself as I certainly contribute to the problem as well. Before this course, I held some knowledge of the current state of our food industry, but not to the extent that I do now. It is not just the conditions that food is grown in or that animals are raised in; the problems reach all the way to the working conditions and treatment of workers, what goes into our food, and the lack of accountability of people in positions of power. Bringing awareness to these issues and encouraging change within the system is necessary if we wish to ensure future food security within our own homes and within others’ as well.
A need for food literacy and understanding the impact of food choices on both personal and public factors is becoming more important these days, especially with the way the food system is developing. Our current system is rife with issues and a lot of them have to do with the growth in popularity of processed foods. Processing food has made company profits rapidly increase and has kept production costs down. Processing uses inexpensive products like corn, strips natural foods of most of their original nutritional value, and supplements flavour with fat, salt, and sugars. The system of production we have today prioritizes quantity over quality and makes it extremely easy to make a profit off of unhealthy, addictive foods. With the growth of the food industry and food processing in general, the structure of the system is quite intricate, creating a lack of accountability of people in power. This makes it extremely hard to address ongoing problems in the food system like fair working conditions, product quality and regulation, proper food labelling, and even exorbitant food waste which could be put to better use.
In order to make a change in our food system, the first step is to raise awareness and educate others about the issues it is facing. Students are a large demographic, where if time and effort were spent, a big impact could be made. With just some time and effort, students, being a large demographic, could make a big impact. Western residences should offer basic cooking lessons and kitchen skills and encourage home-cooking to make home-cooking less daunting. When students are able to cook for themselves and have access to raw foods as close to their natural source as possible, they save their money, eat nutritious food, support local producers, and help the food system by not buying processed food. Western University provides many great resources to help with this issue, and again, the problem is simply spreading the word. Western Dietitians offer meal planning, recipe ideas, sports nutrition, management for digestive health concerns, eating disorders, and more, and they also offer group presentations and information booths for campus events. Most importantly this program is free of charge for students. Western Foodies is another club that offers several events that focus on cooking and food literacy at their meetings. This club focuses on the social aspect of eating, which is something that often gets lost and is extremely important to appreciating good food. Lastly, Hospitality Services run several initiatives that focus on food sustainability practices and food literacy for students. Some of their events include the weekly Farmers Market at the UCC, FRESH Program for residence, and the Food Symposium.
Some small steps like promoting home-cooking among students, and eating with others in a social setting without distractions, is definitely a sacrifice, but one that makes a true difference in how we value and interact with our food. Spreading awareness about the resources currently available and supporting them give them more power to make a change. If students and young people in general take the time to consider what they eat and are aware of the problems that go into producing it, it can change how food is seen and perhaps give it a little more of the respect it deserves. The more aware we are, the less we will treat food like a commodity that solely gives us the energy we need to survive. Food is so much more than that, and the potential it has to shape our lives is great. How we as students shop, what products we choose, and how we even get rid of our waste all plays a huge role in the formation of the food industry. Our influence as consumers is immense, and we need to be more aware of these issues if we ever hope to make a change.