Nutrition Articles

Vote with Your Fork

Create Change, One Bite at a Time

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One-quarter of Americans are obese. Sixty percent live a sedentary lifestyle. And this generation of kids is the first generation since 1900 that may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. The health of America, the world’s richest nation, is failing. And what we eat (or don't eat) could be to blame. A bag of Cheetos is cheaper than a bag of apples; unhealthy processed foods are more prevalent (and less expensive) than whole foods; families eat dinner away from home more than ever before. When you hear stats like this, it's easy to feel discouraged. But changing our food landscape isn’t just advisable—it is essential.

If you’re unhappy with the way things are, consider how they got like this in the first place. McDonald’s doesn’t make cheap hamburgers because laws require them to. They make cheap hamburgers because people buy them. Clearly, both the problem and the solution are in our hands.

The decisions we make every day—what to eat, where to shop, how to commute—may seem small, but they send a clear message about what is important to us. If you think that change only comes from the top, and voting only happens at the polls, think again. Every time you buy food, clothing, fuel, or entertainment, you are, in essence, voting for the company that produced, packaged, and marketed it. Every time we spend money, the recipient of our dollars gets the message that we approve of their product and we want more of it. But the inverse is also true. Some cases in point:

You might not be old enough to remember Rosa Parks and the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, but you certainly learned about the success of that 11-month nonviolent protest. People carpooled, walked, and biked to send a powerful message that it was time for change. Every dime that wasn’t tossed into the bus company’s coffers was a vote against racial segregation. In the end, the U.S. Supreme court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional. 

You surely aren’t old enough to remember the 1791 sugar boycott in England, but it’s another example of how small decisions can really add up. At the time, Britain’s largest import was slave-produced sugar, but there was a growing anti-slavery sentiment in the nation. When Parliament refused to abolish slavery, a boycott was organized. Sales of slave-produced sugar dropped significantly, while sales of Indian sugar, produced without slavery, rose exponentially. Women, who didn’t even have the right to vote, brought about awareness and change by simply buying a different “brand” of sugar.

Election Day happens every day. You have the opportunity to cast your vote and change the world at almost every turn—or at the very least, every meal. What would you vote for if everything was on a ballot: Lower rates of obesity? Healthy food that's affordable? Humanely raised meat? How about healthy school lunch menus, more accountability in the food industry, pedestrian and bike-friendly cities, or more community vegetable gardens?

Here are 10 simple ways that you can "vote with your fork" every time you shop, eat, or dine out.

Vote for lower health care costs. Most of our country's health problems stem from lifestyle diseases that are preventable. So let's all do our part to prevent them and cut everyone's health care costs. Feed yourself (and your kids) fresh, home-cooked meals more often. Exercise regularly. And don't smoke.

Vote against disposable bags at the grocery store. Keep paper and plastic bags out of landfills by bringing your own shopping bags every time you shop.

Vote for healthy food choices at restaurants. When you do choose to eat fast food or dine out, choose the healthy options. This helps send a clear message that people want healthy meals, making it more likely that restaurants will keep these dishes on the menu—and add more like them.

Vote against unhealthy food choices. Have you ever noticed that chips, cookies, sweets and candy take up more space in the grocery store than healthy foods do? If you're tired of unhealthy foods tempting you at every turn, then turn them down yourself. Part of the reason these foods are so prevalent is that people do buy them. Send your message loud and clear by not supporting companies who don't seem to have the health of their consumers in mind.

Vote for locally grown produce. Your local farmers market offers seasonal food that's fresh, healthy, and eco-friendly. When you spend your food dollars at your local farmers market, you're voting for the farmer, his farming methods, the farmers market and your community. Buying local food casts a vote against conventionally grown produce that's imported or shipped thousands of miles to your supermarket even though it's already available close to home.

Vote against the inhumane treatment of animals. If it bothers you to think about the conditions where your meat, poultry, eggs and milk come from, then don't support it. Choose meatless meals more often, or spend your dollars on companies and local farmers who raise animals more humanely.

Vote for organically-grown food. If you believe in the health, environmental or nutritional benefits of organic food, then dedicate a portion of your food dollars to supporting it. You'll be voting against pesticides, the companies who develop and produce them, the industrial agribusinesses who use them, the effects they have on people and the environment. Sure organic is more expensive, but that's partly because demand is high and supply is low. When you buy organic, you tell farmers and retailers that organic matters to you—and that can change the selection and prices in your favor.

Vote against eating on the run. When you buy ingredients and cook at home, you're telling restaurants and eat-on-the-run food manufacturers that you don't agree with their cooking methods, ingredients, or fast food philosophy. There are so many benefits to eating meals at home, from saving money to bonding with your family to eating healthier. Plus how much can you really enjoy the experience of drinking soup from a container that fits in your car's cup holder? Let's bring food back where it belongs—the kitchen table.

Vote for smaller portions. We often see big portions as a good value, but are they really? If you can't finish it, the food goes to waste. If you do finish it, you're eating more than you should (and likely paying for it with health problems and medical care later). Buy smaller portion sizes when they're available to tell restaurants and manufacturers what you really think about burritos as big as your head.

Vote against food waste. Fast food, convenience foods, bottled beverages and single-use cups generate a lot of waste. When possible, choose foods that use less packaging, and bring your own reusable containers for leftovers, coffee and water. You'll be helping the environment and cutting food costs by spending less on packaging.

If you get frustrated at the current food environment, do something about it. Every dollar you spend, every food choice you make, and every meal you eat is an opportunity to vote for what you believe in. We can't change the way our food environment is structured overnight, but we can make a difference three times a day by voting with our forks.

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Member Comments

  • ELRIDDICK
    Thanks for sharing
  • ELRIDDICK
    Thanks for sharing
  • Once again, facts that I knew but have chosen to forget or ignore. A swift kick and a poignant reminder!
  • Love this mind set!
  • YMWONG22
    I'm making small changes gradually over time. I believe every positive change counts no matter how small it is.
  • It's an interesting concept. Many of those things I do. However shopping locally here in Tucson is hard. There is very little that grows well in the desert. It is too hot and to sunny for just about everything that my doctor will allow me to eat. The natives lived on corn, mesquite beans and cactus juice for a reason.
  • Supergood article! Thank you so much! I will spread the word.
  • Really appreciate that you included kindness to animals in your article. Thank you! Even those folks who still eat meat and dairy can do so less often and make choices to support more kind, sustainable ways of doing so.
  • This not only applies to the fast food and junk food industries but the meat, dairy and egg industries as well. Billions of animals suffer so that humans can have pleasure eating their flesh, breast milk and menstruation. Every time you buy an animal product you are paying for someone to rape, murder, and abuse another being. If you feel defensive reading this it's because you know it's true and you feel bad about it. Don't feel hatred towards me, instead make the change to stop the abuse. I'm sure this comment will end up reported and deleted but hopefully before that happens it can change the way one person thinks about how their food choices destroy the lives of other living, breathing, loving beings that feel pain just like we do.
  • Thanks for this article. I've been on spark people for many years and haven't seen many pieces like this that link food to politics in the way this one does. More of this!
  • PURPOSEPOWER95
    I know for a fact that organic freggies are high as well as fresh produce. The Gov has taxed us enough. I DO NOT think that what we choose to eat is there business. Period. W live in the Free world and we have choices. It is true we need to educate our families etc. I have some challenges with my health. I eat now healthier. But I am no way perfect. Some people know some foods are harmful and eat them any way. It is a mindset thing, a desired to get healthy etc. Some people are just set in there ways and end up suffering from their choices they make with food. Then are other factors like emotional eating etc. etc. consequences. I think a Mayor or Governor in one of the states tried to put a tax in sodas and he failed and was not mayor any more. Lesson stay out of folks plates
  • Cheetos regular price is $3.00-$3.19. I bought a bag of ORGANIC apples at Aldi for $3.99, and the non-organic apples were at least $1 less.
  • ETHELMERZ
    It has been proven time and time again, that organic foods are not nutritionally "better" than other produce you buy, especially if you are an average person and not the yuppies that go to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. And, no one ever mentions the fact that fresh produce just does not taste that good, PERIOD, and that is why we have years of nagging behind us, just admit that, for once. We eat a lot of produce because we have to, pure and simple, not because it tastes great, frankly, it's boring, I don't care what silly herbs or sauce you put on it.
  • I agreed with a comment below that this is the best article I've ever read on Spark and I've been around a long time. I'm pleased at all the positive comments too although I have to disagree with the "anti-bottled water" post.

    Not everyone has access to a source of "pure" water during the day. I don't want to drink from the public water fountains that we have either at work or in other locations I visit during the day. Some are actually quite nasty.

    I always bring my bottle of filtered tap water from home to start with, but keep bottled water as a back-up for when that runs out.

    I always recycle and it's certainly better than a plastic bottle of soda or juice or an energy drink.
  • Excellent article! The decisions are ours to make. Yep. A bag of apples may cost more than a bag of chips, but I bet that bag of apples lasts longer and makes more 'snacks' than those chips do! Everyone here is conscious of their health to some degree. Kudos to Coach Nicole for reminding us so succinctly how many times a day we have to make the healthier choice!

About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.