NYU Steinhardt News

Harvesting Hope: Prof. Gustavo Setrini writes article for Americas Quarterly

As appearing in Americas Quarterly

Harvesting Hope
by Gustavo Setrini

Being a consumer today is a fraught enterprise. The marketplace is no longer simply a venue for satisfying individual preferences. It is now an arena for expressing social and political identity, and even a mechanism for addressing some of consumerism’s less desirable side effects—from environmental degradation to exploitative labor practices. But consumerism’s newfound potential has bred new anxieties. The world’s shoppers increasingly feel pressure to inform themselves about how the goods they buy are produced and to take action and create change.

Agriculture, which accounted for 35 percent of global employment in 20091 and 11 percent of the average total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions produced between 2001 and 2010, has been under particularly close scrutiny. News stories, books and films have increasingly drawn attention to cases of environmental and social exploitation in the global agricultural system, prompting consumers to contemplate the fairness and sustainability of the opaque industries that deliver so much of their food, fiber and fuel; to wonder whether they are unwittingly complicit in these abuses; and to cast about for the appropriate reaction.

They don’t have to cast very far. Almost daily, they are encouraged to shop better—often by the purveyors of the very goods that made them anxious in the first place—to vote with their forks and wallets, and to do right by the planet and the poor with their purchases.