About Erica Wohldmann, Ph.D.
Dr. Erica Wohldmann holds a joint Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science (Philosophy of Mind) from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is an Associate Professor at California State University, Northridge where she teaches classes about ecopsychology, psychological and social influences on food choices, best practices in sustainability, and cognition.
Erica also teaches workshops on herbal and medicinal beer brewing, wild-food foraging, and other primitive skills in her community. As an educator, food activist and community organizer, Erica works to create the world in which she wants to live—a just world that is socially and environmentally conscious – See more at: http://www.planetexperts.com
People often feel powerless when it comes to large-scale social change. That’s because in many situations, we are. For example, we rely almost entirely on our elected officials and industry leaders to act on our behalf when it comes to large-scale systems such as energy, transportation, and education. Typically, our involvement is limited to writing letters, signing petitions, and attending meetings in hopes that our voices are heard and listened to. Occasionally, our actions are effective at the local level, but on the national level there is essentially nothing that any one individual or family can do to induce change within certain social systems.
The food system is an exception. That is, individuals can have a huge impact on the food system with minimal efforts through both our consumer choices and collective actions.
As one person, we can vote with our dollars—our forks—being mindful of the food we purchase and decide to eat. For most of us, that means making conscious and informed choices roughly three times a day. We can choose to reduce the number of miles our food travels by supporting sustainable and local agriculture, thereby reducing the amount of petroleum necessary to grow and transport our food, and at the same time decreasing the amount of chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides needed to produce what we eat. We can also choose to eat less meat and dairy, or eliminate it from our diets entirely, given that the meat and dairy industry produces about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to water pollution and competes with biodiversity. We can purchase food in larger containers or in bulk to reduce our use of single-use plastic packages, which never biodegrade and eventually end up polluting our water, and even our own bodies. We can plant a garden, shop at farmers markets, or start a food swap. All of these individual changes are powerful and essential to creating a more sustainable food system.
As a collective, we can join or form groups with others who want to see change in our food system. There have been huge victories thanks to groups of concerned citizens, for example, those working to improve school lunch programs, reduce food waste, and even get measures that are intended to help consumers make more informed choices on election ballots.
While our individual and collective actions can and do make a difference, we also need the help and support of our leaders. This, too, is something individuals can facilitate. If you are looking to engage in the food movement at a deeper level, consider working on policies that promote sustainable agriculture, and educating policy makers about changes they can support. There are many national organizations that you can join, such as the Community Food Security Coalition, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Slow Food USA, and the Environmental Working Group. Find out what your state representatives are doing to support healthy food options and encourage them to support sustainable food initiatives, frequently—I have mine on speed dial. You might also get your church, work, or school involved, join a local food policy council, or work with an organic farming organization in your area.
However you decide to be involved in working to create a better food system, just remember that every time you lift your fork or grab a handful of your favorite snack, you have an opportunity to be a change-maker. What kind of world do you want to create?