I’ve just finished reading Ellen Gustafson’s We the Eaters: If We Change Dinner We Can Change the World. I’ve read a lot of books about food, eating, food policy and the food movement, and I can honestly say that is the single best book I’ve read. Carefully researched and engagingly written, it gives an excellent overview of the industrial food system and the consequences it is having on the world, while remaining optimistic and recognizing that despite all the assets available to the system to manipulate the way we eat (and live), the ultimate power still lies with the consumer/eater and we have the ability to make the changes that will redirect the course of the world for the better.
Drawing upon her time working on international hunger relief, Ms. Gustafson describes the effect our food culture has had on the developing world, evidenced most notably by skyrocketing rates of obesity and displacement of indigenous food cultures. Diets of empty calories are producing societies of people who are obese, yet malnourished.
The book’s central argument is that we can begin the process of remedying the problems the industrial food system has created, simply by choosing our food more carefully. It is full of excellent practical advice on how to do that. Most of us can easily imagine that eating better will make us healthier and improve the quality of our lives. And that, of course, is an excellent reason to eat well. But Ms. Gustafson imagines the entire world made better as a result of better food choices by we the eaters/consumers. Just as our poor decisions have created a food system that is making the world fatter and sicker, while ruining indigenous agriculture and local food cultures, by making better food choices we have the power to reverse those consequences and to make the world a better place. By changing our dinner (for the better) we can change the world.
I appreciate both her sober assessment of the health crisis created by industrial food and the optimism that underlies her practical call for change. The power lies with us. If we collectively begin making smarter choices when deciding what to eat, we can change the world.