But in my opinion, three food issues of great importance finally made it into mainstream American consciousness in 2012, giving us hope for real change in the food system. Food waste, humane animal treatment (including antibiotic use) and food labeling all took the leap and are now common household topics.
And in all three cases, people are using the internet and a host of apps to discuss these topics, to educate the public and to inspire each other to act, and buy, better.
1. Food Waste
A tremendous amount of attention is finally being paid to the amazing amount of wasted food in the world; by some estimates a full third of what is grown never makes it to the table (or to the animal trough, as the case may be). The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, just released a new study on “crop shrink” – the difference in the amount of food produced and that which is available in the market. Turns out a full 30 percent of fruits and vegetables are often not even harvested (especially fruits like nectarines and plums), and another 30 percent maybe tossed simply because they don’t look perfect (yet are still perfectly edible).
This year too, a number of online resources worked to educate people about the issue and help them tackle food waste. Love Food, Hate Waste is a UK based site providing resources to learn to waste less food. Wasted Food is a blog which links readers to even more resources by Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland. Tristram Stuart, who wrote Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, was invited to the prestigious TED Conference this year and gave a passionate, and convincing, talk about food waste. New services to help limit food waste are also becoming available via the web – check out Compost Cab, for example, or the Gleaning Network developed by the Society of St. Andrew.
2. Humane Animal Treatment
Two popular American groups came out swinging in 2012 to promote better treatment of farm animals: the Humane Society and Consumers Union (a division of Consumer Reports). Both helped bring important issues into mainstream consciousness and used social media to spread the word about their campaigns.
The Humane Society (in the U.S. and internationally) have long been critical of factory farming. But in 2012 they took the fight up a notch and successfully pressured many large scale fast food and grocery chains to end the use of gestation crates in hog facilities. The group has used its website to help promote “Humane Eating,” meat-free meals, and runs an impressive YouTube Channel with an entire section dedicated to issues in factory farming.
Consumers Union, on the other hand, is working to end the use of antibiotics in meat production. The group has conducted independent tests, written countless articles and has appeared on major news networks speaking out against the practice. They also began the “Meat Without Drugs” campaign online, where more than 550,000 people have now signed a petition requesting Trader Joe’s source and sell meat and poultry raised without antibiotics.
3. Food Labeling
Like the demand for better animal treatment, consumers are increasingly demanding better labeling of food products.
In California, the “Right to Know” initiative to label genetically engineered foods made it onto the ballot by collecting nearly one million signatures and launched an impressive social media campaign, trending 4 times on Twitter in the U.S. and receiving more than 2 million click-throughs on Facebook from CalifornNEWS.GNOM.ES aged 18 and over.
In the end, the campaign lost by only 400,000 votes, but the fun has not stopped there. Now Just Label It has launched a nation wide campaign to require genetically engineered foods to be legally labeled, and are running an online petition asking Congress and the Food and Drug Administration for better labeling. Currently the petition has 1.2 million signatures and the campaign’s video has been watched almost 100,000 times.
But labeling demands are not only for GMOs. Several class action suits made it into court this year questioning “all natural” labeling, and brands as seeming diverse as Ben and Jerry’s, Frito-Lay, and Tropicana are all currently defending how processes and ingredients not found in nature can be called “natural.”
Of course, technology has responded by making information more readily available about the food products lining your grocery shelves. The Non-GMO Project (available for ipad/pod/phone only) lists foods certified “non-GMO,” and the Pesticide Action Network has released an app to help consumers better understand pesticides (also only for apple products). And the Fooducate app and website can help consumers wade through the existing labels on specific products to learn what is in them and what those ingredients and claims mean.