Bad Fashion Won’t Kill You, Bad Food Will

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There are a lot of parallels that we can draw between food and fashion (I’ve written about it here), and in a world where more and more people are conscious about where there food comes from, why not expand that to where their clothes come from as well?

I read an article this week knocking Vivienne Westwood down for comments she had made both about eating and dressing ethically. “Clothes should cost more – they are so subsidized,” she had said. “Food should cost more too – you know something is wrong when you can buy a cooked chicken for £2.” I agree full heartedly, but a Guardian columnist had taken issue with her statement, pointing out that many of us can’t afford to eat well or shop ethically.

She had a point. Many people live on the poverty line, where access to healthy food is but a slim, if not nonexistent, possibility. The same people probably aren’t in a position to buy the latest from the eco-friendly runway.

The columnist continued:

When people are struggling financially, there is no use getting on your high horse about ethical consumption, as I did after the Bangladeshi textiles factory collapse in 2013. Traumatised and angered by an image of a dead, dust-covered couple lying in each other’s arms, I was furious when a friend of mine continued to shop at Primark. Eventually she broke down in tears. “I can’t afford to look nice otherwise,” she told me.

And therein lies the problem. We are told that to dress ethically and look good, we must buy certain brands, shop at certain stores. And in order to eat healthy, we must buy certain brands, and eat certain foods.

But you can’t buy yourself into an ethical lifestyle. In fact, if anything, living more sustainably, with our shopping and eating habits, is about minimizing.

We live in a mass consumption culture, where quantity trumps quality.

Sure, a pair of $200 ethically produced jeans sounds expensive, but that’s because most of us are used to buying a few pairs of jeans at a time. If you’re used to buying 3 pairs of jeans at a time, then $200 is expensive. But what if you only bought one pair? And if you couldn’t survive with just one pair, what if you chose to buy used instead of new? I know plenty of fashionable, “nice” looking people who buy second hand. There is always an alternative, it’s just that marketing and advertising would have us believe otherwise.

The same goes for food. We overeat. We love that $2 chicken because we can’t just buy one, we can buy 10! What if we trimmed our diets, focused on the stuff that’s truly good for us and cut out the rest? You don’t have to be able to afford packaged, spiced kale chips to eat well. The reality is that it’s not adding exotic, imported superfoods into your breakfast that makes you a healthy, smart eater, it’s loading up on the more boring, local, whole foods. Bad foods out, good foods in.

“I can’t afford to look nice” could just as well be “I can’t afford a cold-pressed juice.” Living ethically has become a fashion in itself, something that if we spend enough money, we too can access. Puffed quinoa breakfast bars and soy single origin lattes. But real food isn’t a fashion accessory, it’s a necessity. Without good food, we perish.

And that’s where food has one thing that fashion doesn’t: we need to eat. Certainly, we need to be clothed, but let’s be honest, no one ever died of bad fashion. Bad food, however, is another story.

Pizza, hamburgers, Big Gulps and Slurpees will in fact put you on the fast track to bad health. But you don’t need to buy the latest and greatest packaged health foods in order to avoid going down it. All you need are healthy, whole foods. Cut out the processed stuff, buy more leafy greens and legumes.

As for your jeans? They too have an impact, and if you’re committed to knowing where your food comes from, start thinking about where your clothes come from too.

Most of us in the Western world could easily live with less, in our closets and our pantries, but we have to make the conscious decision to do so. Are you up for it?

Originally published on EcoSalon

Image: Troy Morris

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