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The Carletonian

Jaded or Justified? On Voting

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People often throw around the phrase, “you vote with your fork.” The idea is, we can shape the food system by changing what we buy, and what we choose to eat can in turn tell the markets what to product. So, demand more local and sustainable produce and boycott Big Ag, and the system will have to comply.

Certainly this idea is true, but I think we also have to look at the choices available. Sometimes there just isn’t a good choice. Whether it be massive scale organic farms that look a little too similar to their conventional counterparts, or rural and urban food deserts in which fresh produce isn’t available, the system skews our selection. Many forces shape the food system, but given Tuesday’s recent election I’d like to look at the powerful role politics play in predetermining food production.

Every day in my inbox I get the Food & Environment Reporting Network’s “Ag Insider” survey, which sums up the latest news on food, agriculture, and the environment. Recently, at least one of the four to six sto- ries has been about the midterm election and some of the key races for agriculture policy. Voters in Berkeley adopted a soda tax, Maui banned GMO cultivation, and GMO labeling initiatives failed in Oregon and California. The re-election of Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts signals his likely ascension to Senate Agriculture Committee chairman. Other state rep. race across the country re-elected or dethroned current leaders on House and Senate Ag panels, including Minnesota’s own Collin Peterson, a main supporter of dairy and sugar industries. And across the nation, a repub- lican dominated House and Senate looks to reinvigorate a proposal to overturn Michelle Obama’s school lunch reforms.

Before these daily reports I had never considered how a Senate race in Kansas could shape the greater food system. I knew about the Farm Bill and the chairman of Agriculture and the USDA, but I had never made the connection to individuals or elections. Clearly, the people on agricul- tural boards are also the ones who support subsidies for corn and soy surpluses, restrict imports or push certain exports, funnel state money to water projects, and subsidize crop insurance that encourages cultivation on marginal lands. Decisions like these shape our current food system. They are the reason corn is in three of every four grocery store products. The reason we can grow veggies and cotton year round in drought-ridden deserts. The reason why the Dakotas have lost over 1.5 million acres of virgin grassland since 2007.

But here is the thing. I am a political science major. I work in the Center for Civic and Community Engagement. I’d like to consider myself a student activist. I was actually somewhat informed about the local candidates. I admire suffragettes and democracy and advocate for people to be active citizens, and as I write articles like this, I understand that politics make a difference. But I didn’t vote.

I know I have no good excuse. I understand this makes me an utter hypocrite. I feel pretty shamed by my peers (as I should). And I seriously regret it. So why did I convince myself I was too busy to take the twenty minutes?

After some thought about whether or not I even had the right to write this article (seeing as I voluntarily forfeited my power in the political process), I decided my foolish decision was something we could all learn from.

I think my mistake says a lot about the dangers of the Carleton bubble mindset. I am not blaming the bubble. I am blaming myself for buying into it. I thought whatever paper I had due that week or whatever e-mails I needed to send for whatever clubs or jobs I am keeping up with were more important than fulfilling my fundamental duty as a citizen. I let my most insular and immediate concerns cloud my role in a larger community.

Furthermore, it also says something about what I honestly think about politics. Even with full knowledge of the role elections have on the things I care about, I convinced myself that my vote couldn’t really do anything to change them. I justified my efforts in school, work with the CCCE, or organizing through Food Truth as more “real” or “effective” forms of civic en- gagement. These were ways I could really make a difference, not in some corrupt ineffective bureaucracy that was better at politicizing and polarizing problems than solving them. Yet, my daily FERN reports would tell me otherwise. As this article goes to show, whether or not politics are flawed, they have power. And whether or not I’m stressed or disillusioned, I have no excuse to ignore them. We cannot pick and choose the best ways to address a problem. If we want change, in the food system or elsewhere, we have to partici- pate and pursue all possible pathways.

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