Assuming Responsibility in an Irresponsible World

By Sam Aydlette          

“With great power comes great responsibility.”  Uncle Ben utters these profound words in Stan Lee’s classic Spiderman comic book series.  Although he is referring to his nephew’s new superpowers, there are definite parallels to the rest of us, the ‘non-superpower’ types.  Whether we believe it or not, our status as American citizens and dollar spending consumers wields great power.  The choices that we make with our money, time, or vote literally affect the entire world.  To illustrate this point, let’s examine the choice of many Americans to eat fast food on a regular basis.

Out of 100 Americans, at least 25 will have eaten at a fast food restaurant today.  Almost half of the country eats fast food at least once a week.  Yet few are aware of how their decision to purchase a fast food meal affects the world.  Looking beyond the obvious health concerns, the fast food industry supports a massive, powerful agriculture industry.  Mega-corporations such as Con-Agra, Monsanto, and Kraft use market leverage and lobbying to make it very difficult to run a profitable small farm.  Hence, the benign image of a family farm that milks cows that graze on open pastures, grows organic corn, and houses a dozen happy hens in a clean chicken coop is mostly just fantasy.  The reality is gigantic warehouses full of livestock packed in so tight they can barely move and pumped full of chemicals in order to maximize their profitability, and produce sprayed with deadly pesticides, grown with genetically modified seeds, and harvested by an “invisible” underclass of desperately poor migrant workers.

Appalling as it appears to be, this disturbing reality is a direct reflection of our choices as consumers.  Each time we buy that Big Mac, we enhance the power of the agro-industrial complex.  Even with our urban, hectic lifestyles we can easily modify our eating habits in a way that would significantly reduce the power of our entrenched food system.  Simply choosing to purchase our food at farmer’s markets instead of a supermarket would create a major shift in consumer behavior.  Going further than that, growing a small garden or setting up a small backyard chicken coop is quite possible in urban areas and provides fresh vegetables, eggs and meat as well as drastically reducing costs of transportation, packaging, and storage.  More importantly, steps like this would limit the power of irresponsible global institutions currently controlling much of what we eat, and put that power back into our own hands, or at least, in the case of a farmers market, in the hands of our friends and neighbors.

While powerful figures like President Obama, Speaker Boehner, or George Soros do deserve some of the criticisms they receive when it comes to the erosion of individual liberty, much of the blame can be found by simply looking in the mirror.  As heirs of the most prosperous society in history, American citizens wield enormous power.  In an age of increased globalization and interconnectedness, each dollar spent, each vote cast, or each page ‘liked’ on Facebook has socio-economic ramifications.  The choice to consume fast food instead of local produce is but one example of how our individual actions determine the broader world in which we live.  Discovering the repercussions of our actions, and assuming responsibility for them, is the only way to truly build a society dedicated to individual liberty.

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