I am a part of an organization called APE, Alliance for Planet Earth, here on campus, and through APE I have had the opportunity to stand up for issues I believe are important and help raise awareness on campus. Most recently, I tabled in cougar mall and helped students sign petitions to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. At our table we not only had the link and website for people to sign the petition, but we also had contact information for our South Carolina politicians so we could contact them and voice our opinions. In such big widespread national issues such as the DAPL, voicing your input and strong opinions to officials that are meant to represent you is crucial. They are the voices that are heard at the end of the day, and when enough concerned citizens contact them on an issue they react.
The reactions I received for people were very across the board and all interesting. I personally only got one person with an outright negative reaction who was in favor of the DAPL, but other than him I got a response of either enthusiasm or a cold shoulder. I believe that the students who gave us the cold shoulder didn’t do so because they had no opinion on the matter, but because going out of their way or changing their routine to discuss something with people they don’t know is too unfamiliar. I can’t say that I wouldn’t be intimidated by someone tabling and trying to get people to come over. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t given the cold shoulder to other tables that have tried to bring me in. But how do we break this urge to ignore instead of interact?
But all and all the turn out was successful, and in higher numbers that we had anticipated. And knowing that I may have made the tiniest impact on an issue I believe in is an amazing feeling!
People warned me when I told them that I was going to be an Environmental Studies minor. They told me I would become sad, would become discouraged…and also that I would become vegan. I always laughed at the last warning. I grew up in a German family and the entire food pyramid is built around meat and butter. It is what I grew up with. However, recent facts learned in class and the documentary Food Inc. make me want to rethink what I eat.
The thing that struck me the most about Food Inc. was the power that the big companies in the food industry hold. The fact that 80% of the meat in supermarkets is controlled by only four major companies was a wake up call. It is true that the illusion of diversity is upheld but it is only that, an illusion. They have grown so big that if one thing goes wrong, it will affect one fourth of our meat. That is a little terrifying. Also, it was made clear how these big companies are abusing their power when it comes to their workers and farmers. I was already aware of the terrible conditions that some animals find themselves in but I was not aware of how bad the situation was for the people. When the lady showed the crew inside her chicken farm against the will of Tyson, it struck me how brave that was of her. Companies can make sure that farmers get so in debt that they cannot afford to stand up to them is wrong on multiple levels.
Also, the way workers get treated needs to be looked into. When they interviewed workers from Smithfield it became clear that we have moved backwards ninety years when it comes to worker conditions in the meat packing industry. Consumers enjoy cheap food but have they ever thought of why their food was so cheap? It is because immigrants are being used for cheap labor and they cannot fight for better wages because plants set up shop where they know the people need the job and will not fight back. This exploitation of humans needs to be common knowledge to consumers in order to make any change in this system.
Now, not saying that I will become vegan but it does make me want to become more aware of where my food comes from. Is my meat from one of the four big companies that controls the meat industry or is it from a local farmer? Is this chicken truly a free-range, organic chicken or has it been pumped full of hormones to the point of its hearts exploding? It makes me want to learn when certain fruits and vegetables are in season and if they came from local growers. I agree when the documentary said at the end that consumers often feel powerless when it comes to what they eat. In the case of the food industry, knowledge is power, and I plan to use knowledge to at least make a minor, positive change in our environment. And maybe, if more people follow, we can even change the whole industry.