F*ck You, I Won’t Do What You Tell Me

Okay, so I put the asterisks in there to make the title work safe. Because this is not about Rage Against the Machine lyrics, but a not-especially surprising trend amongst food shoppers who are just tired of the whole local, sustainable thing.

In a piece from the Canwest News Service in the Vancouver Sun titled Consumers Fed Up With Food Politics, people are revealing that they’re overwhelmed by the expectation that they’ll research every single morsel they put into their mouths.

The proselytizing extends to almost every aisle of the modern grocery store, leaving few choices safe from the critical gaze of a food evangelist. As a result, experts fear the pleasure is being sucked from one of life’s most pleasurable activities.

“We have food police here,” says Mary Bailey, a bestselling Canadian food author. “We’re caught up in this pattern where every time we turn around, something else is ‘bad.’ “


As one of those people prone to inducing guilt in others for their food choices, my first response is a chagrined, “but…” although I’m also fully aware that those of us who are advocates for the food movement live in a little bubble of our own making that doesn’t translate to “the real world”. Not that people are right to ignore where their food comes from, but from apples to chicken to sustainable seafood, it can all become incredibly overwhelming. And while we can see it trickle down, bit by bit, into the mainstream consciousness, most food advocates don’t have the patience to let people move at their own pace – because their own pace may never catch up to the most devout level of effort. The majority of people just don’t have the time. One of the biggest criticisms of the 100-mile diet when it first appeared was that it was utterly elitist, because the time and effort it would take to source all of one’s food from within that radius meant that it was only accessible to people who were independently wealthy and didn’t have to work a 40-hour week.

And what all of this preaching has created (and yes, I’m aware of the religiously-charged words I’m using here) is a backlash. People are just fed up with being told what they’re doing is wrong. Or not enough. Because a lot of the movement doesn’t seek to guide by example, but to criticize or lay blame – everything from childhood obesity to the destruction of the rainforest is because of the average consumer’s laziness and gluttony and ignorance. Or so you’d think.

So what we’ve got now is people who have given up on the idea of making any kind of effort and instead are retaliating by eating more and scarier junk food. They’re flipping the proverbial bird at every locavore, every grass-fed cow, every free-range chicken, every organic vegetable. I mean, this is what I write about for a living and I can’t keep up with it all. How the hell can we expect the average person to know what’s what?

I’m not saying that I agree – with the giving up, that is. And I definitely believe that changes need to be made in our food systems. But I can absolutely see how people are sick and tired of being told what to do, and of being made to feel guilty for not doing more.

I believe all that stuff about the need for making changes, for eating sustainably, for paying more for our food… I’ve preached it all myself. But if _I_ sometimes feel like grabbing the closest pretentious, pious locavore and screaming, “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” and smashing a Twinkie in their face just as a way to assert my independence, then I can’t really blame the average person for being fed up and pissed off at the whole preachy, holier-than-thou lot of us.