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Food as a Political Tool

Last Tuesday, we had the pleasure to attend one of the amazing Webinars that Francesca Zampollo hosts in her Youtube channel. We had the opportunity to show some of our projects and also have an enriching conversation with her regarding many topics around food design and the futures of food.

One of her questions has become the trigger for this month’s article. Francesca asked us what we had learn from the world of food since we’ve been actively working on the field. My answer was that even though we already knew about it, we were blown away by the fact that everything regarding food is political.

“However, if veganism doesn’t go hand in hand with other political claims such as feminism or classism (intersectionality) it is not complete.”

Sure, we already knew that many things connected with food (and with many other issues) are political. But we didn’t know to which extent this was true. During the talk, I mentioned a few scenarios where we can easily see how intricate these relationships are and what political implications our personal choices regarding food may have. Today I’d like to expand and explain more about it.

Veganism is probably the most common political trend revolving around food right now. It is mainstream and its purpose is clear: to avoid using animals at all to our benefit. It’s mainly a food trend but let’s not forget it also includes not using leather, or not going to the circus or to the zoo. However, if veganism doesn’t go hand in hand with other political claims such as feminism or classism (intersectionality) it is not complete.

It should go hand in hand with feminism, for example, because cows are the ones more radically savaged and enslaved, forced to have cubs again and again so we can have dairy products. Same happens with hens and eggs, female pigs and other animals. The world of food should also embrace feminism as, historically, women have always been the ones in the kitchen, while we see few relevant female names when we look and compare it with the amount of (male) chefs.

Veganism should also have into account that it is not the same to base your daily diet on fancy avocado toasts with sesame seeds or expensive meat alternatives than to base it on cereals, potatoes and chickpeas because that’s what you can afford given your current economical situation.

As we see, food can tell us much more about a person’s political choices and cultural and economical background than we could initially think. Relatedly, we could talk about the huge health gap between rich and poor people: we see this every time on social media. While your rich influencer is eating a healthy quinoa bowl with salmon, avocado, vegetables, fancy rice and soy sauce, you may be eating a ham and cheese sandwich, stressed about not gulping it down fast enough to go back to work. This is also the reason why illnesses like obesity or diabetes are also so common among the middle and lower class.

“While your rich influencer is eating a healthy quinoa bowl with salmon, avocado, vegetables, fancy rice and soy sauce, you may be eating a ham and cheese sandwich, stressed about not gulping it down fast enough to go back to work.”

This does not only happen from the consumer perspective. Workers all along the food chain suffer from several issues. In Spain, day labourers of the strawberry fields, for example, live in misery, far from basic human rights and proper working conditions. The same happens most of the times with cacao, coffee or avocado farmers, whose labour conditions are insane. This, too, intersections with different, yet political problems surrounding the food industry: racism and colonialism.

Most of the companies behind the biggest chocolate or coffee brands are western companies that were able to create vast empires thanks to miserable working conditions, when not direct slavery, of the indigenous people of the lands where these products are harvested. This is why, as a consumer, it is important to be aware of as many issues as possible and then act accordingly: for example, by buying fair trade, bean to bar or tree to bar chocolates or speciality coffee. That’s the only way to be sure that the farmers are not only paid enough but also to acknowledged for their work.

But if we go to the end of the food chain, something similar happens too. Riders’ working conditions and salary are, in most cases, not enough to sustain a healthy, balanced and dignified life, to say the least. It is not a coincidence either, that most riders are migrants or from marginalised communities. However, protests here in Spain have led to the a pioneer law by which all riders from Glovo and other apps are considered workers of the company, and not freelancers. 

And finally, and even though there are many more political issues related with the food industry, there’s of course the impact on the planet. Meat production is already one of the number one industries in CO2 emissions: sure, we know that. But indiscriminate fishing practices, the massive use of plastics and globalisation are also urging problems that we need to tackle asap. Also monocultures like soy, (mostly to feed cattle) and palm oil (destroying large areas of rainforests that are home to many wild animal and plant species) are well known damaging practices that we could easily avoid. 

“Boycotting certain companies and voting for politicians that promise to act upon these issues is probably the best way in which we can help solve many of these problems.”

In this regard, refusing to use plastic packaging for food products, buying from local stores and nearby farms and reducing, if not completely quitting, the consumption of animal products (both meat and fish) are the most important individual steps we can take. But let’s not forget that even though our personal responsibility matters, and matters a lot, the biggest part of the problem lay both on private companies and governments (Bolsonaro supporting the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, for example). Boycotting certain companies and voting for politicians that promise to act upon these issues is probably the best way in which we can help solve many of these problems.

We hope this article makes you reflect on all the politics and intricacies behind your plate.