We The Eaters


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.

Highly recommended.


13 comments on “We The Eaters

  1. avwalters says:

    Things are changing. Even my little local grocery carries organic eggs and milk–with occasional forays into organic produce.


    • Bill says:

      We’ve seen a dramatic change in our community too. Just a few years we were largely ignored at the farmer’s market. Now our table is sometimes mobbed and we sell nearly everything we have. And whereas we were the only chem-free (f/k/a organic) vendor just a few years ago, now there are several. The times, they are a changing.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. shoreacres says:

    Top-down regulation and the imposition of rules may bring compliance, but no change of heart. That’s one of the reason I like your mention of her optimism and emphasis on individual — informed — choice.

    Of course, that implies better information, and we have a role to play there, too. Just this morning, someone mentioned the inordinate amount of chicken juice she had to deal with after a recent purchase. I took the time to point out that peaches have juice. Chickens have water added during industrial processing to add weight, and cost to the consumer. The solution is to buy chickens where you know you’re buying meat, not water. Step by step.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Exactly! Well said Linda. That’s what I believe too and it was refreshing to see it in this book. I’m not interested in change by coercion. Most real lasting meaningful change is voluntary and rises up from the bottom. Our primary role as producers is to make sure we have a table full of top-quality ethically-produced food every Saturday, but our secondary role (just as important as the primary role) is to educate people so they can make informed choices.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ain't for city gals says:

    Looking forward to reading this…thank you.


    • Bill says:

      I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It took me a while to read it because I wanted to read it slowly (and because I kept stopping to read paragraphs aloud to my wife). It resonated with me and I think you’ll enjoy it too.


  4. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, the only eating habits we really can control is our own. If each person took it upon themselves to do as you say and eat better than the food industry would have to change. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening but still, I can change one life and maybe influence others around me to eat better, that’s a victory in my book. I don’t have a platform like you and Cherie do but I get chances now and then to talk about gardening which would be a better way to eat food indirectly. I’m not a standup podium speaker but get me one on one with some one that really wants to learn and I can do that. I used to think that I wasn’t a teacher but in retrospect, we all are teachers even if we don’t have the gift of gab. Just by our actions, we can be teaching others around us when we don’t even know it. Kids especially watch what the grown ups do and learn more from actions than words. So basically we all can change the world just by doing the right food thing one person at a time.

    Have a great changing food choice day.


    • Bill says:

      Amen Dave. That’s what I believe too. It reminds me of the quote I shared recently. The question we need to be asking is what can I do about that, rather than saying something needs to be done about that.


  5. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Thanks for this Bill; sounds like a great read! And Dave is SO right! Walking the Walk; Leading by Example; doing, showing, being are the things that count, and most especially with kids, ’cause they can spot a poser a mile away; ) Heck, how much time does it take to plant a packet of seed, anyway?
    Personally, I’d start ’em off with Scarlet Runner Beans ’cause they’re an easy to handle, cool looking Heritage seed that’s fast to sprout; tough as nails; will climb like crazy, if you give them somewhere to go (a few old branches lashed together or tied to a fence make a quick trellis; ) attract all kinds of Pollinators; look funny; are easy to pick and taste GREAT whether fresh or steamed, pickled, or dried, freeze well AND you can save seed for next year! Oh, and did I mention they make a great privacy screen and “instant” protection for shade-loving veggies?


    • Bill says:

      I’m with you Deb. Runner beans are great. I usually tell people to start with something that’s one of their favorite foods, and that’s not too difficult to grow. Beans are a good choice, as are potatoes or tomatoes. Garlic is something that’s very easy to grow and is also a good start for novice gardeners I think.


  6. Indeed, ‘the times they are a-changing.’

    Liked by 1 person

  7. EllaDee says:

    Excellent. Thank you. I’ve added the book to my getting longer to read list but in the meantime also signed up to the We The Eaters website, Pinterest & FB pages.


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