Who Really Holds the Power in Our Food Industry?

Our last post discussed how demand for food is distributed surprisingly equally across our population. Even the most gluttonous Homer Simpsons of our society at worst might consume four or five times the average calorie intake, a demand level that's a tiny fraction of the skew of wealth across even the world's most egalitarian economies.

However, just because something is distributed evenly doesn't mean it's democratic and fair. In fact, rather than a democracy, I'd argue that food demand looks more like a mobocracy.

And while mobs of people occasionally do smart things, they are particularly good at doing really dumb things.

That's why it shouldn't be a surprise to see unguided mobs of consumers supporting dubious food trends. Millions of consumers eat a shockingly unhealthy diet of hyperpalatable and heavily-advertised second-order foods. And thanks to the high salt and sugar content of these foods, too many members of this "mob" are heading towards a life of obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and other health problems.

Well, that's where we come in. Yep, those of you out there reading, writing and commenting in the world of food blogs.

The thing is, it really doesn't take all that much to start genuinely useful and healthy food trends. It just takes a few bloggers who take the time to write about their experiences and invite others to join them. A smallish crowd of smart, forward-thinking consumers can establish a genuinely useful trend like the slow food movement. A few well-known food bloggers can help encourage huge crowds of consumers to adopt environmentally conscious eating habits like low-meat eating. And just about anybody can set a goal of, say, eating a healthy diet on less than $30 a week (or going a step further and doing it for $25!) and blog about it for the benefit of others.

Whether we like it or not, you, me, and all the readers of this and other food blogs are leaders of consumer culture. We can help guide the mob. We can spread ideas and recipes that help our readers eat extremely healthy food for next to nothing. We can help consumers increase the influence they have on food growers and manufacturers. We can avoid spreading doubt and Malthusianism, avoid whining and complaining, and instead offer real, helpful and creative solutions to food issues.

This is how food bloggers can have an enormously positive impact on our food supply, our health--and the health of millions of other consumers.

Casual Kitchen is grateful to these books for spurring many of the ideas in this post:
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay

Related Posts:
Why Spices Are a Complete Rip-Off and What You Can Do About It
Malcolm Gladwell Was Completely Wrong About Cooking
A Rebuttal of Malthusian Thinking in "The Last Bite"
Survivor Bias: Why "Big Food" Isn't Quite As Evil As You Think It Is

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Mobocracy is a good 'coined' word - and it not only applies to the food industry, but just about every other industry as well as politically-motivated events.

Sadly, it's become a way of 'thinking and doing' which is why we have those obese people; those unruly and mouthy children - parents equally unruly and mouthy, and a country (USA) seriously on the decline.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... As a Chinese-American, we eat EVERYTHING. That is, every part of the animal except for the bone, which of course, is too hard to eat. So I suppose I'm one of the mob but if it means that I can eat my meat and innards and whatever else I want then I don't really mind being one of "those people". By the way, no one in my family is overweight nor have health problems. =)

Daniel said...

Happy: Thanks for the comment. I wish I could take credit for the word "mobocracy" but I can't--it's been around for a while.

However, I do disagree that the USA (or society in general) is in decline--although it may appear so based on the news or the media. Keep in mind that practically every generation claims that their society is in decline. There's even a famous quote attributed to Socrates where he makes such a claim--from 400 B.C!

Jersey Mom:
Forgive me, I wasn't making the claim that if you eat meat you're a member of the mob. Regular readers of this blog know that we at Casual Kitchen eat meat too. I was just giving (a rather limited list of) examples of ways to lead others towards healthier eating. It's by no means an exhaustive list--in fact I'm all ears if readers have other ideas that they would "lead" with.