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“A Guide to Meat Consumption for Vegetarians”

You never know what Freakonomics Radio listeners will come up with after listening to our podcasts.

Here, from Josh Miner, is a response to our recent episode “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Avocado,” in which we wondered why some people get upset over the plight of factory-farmed chicken while not many seem to care about the humans who suffer because of the extortion and violence in the avocado industry.

What makes Josh’s response so noteworthy? Among other things, it comes replete with flow chart. Read on!

I love your show — in fact, I loved this episode on the moral impact and consequences of our choices. I got so unbelievably mad, though, when you both simplified the question of how consumers’ choices about what they eat affects the food market in which they participate.

Here are some thoughts — not so well organized.

First of all, there are such things as moral avocados: my old friend Will Brokaw grows them in Ventura County, CA. Now it’s true these are luxury items, and most Americans don’t have access to them, but I don’t know that there is anything wrong with that (or at least, that is a different subject). They are grown and delicious and (reasonably accessible, even for me in the middle of the U.S., since he will ship them to you).

Now I’m no Pollyanna. I know that by choosing not to buy Michoacan avocados (or industrially-produced chicken), I am having basically no impact on whether and how those things are produced and sold. But — and here is what you both missed — by choosing to buy Will’s avocados and my other friends’ chicken, and beef from my beef guy Rod Ofte, I am making a significant impact on their livelihood simply because of the scale. My dollar represents a larger proportion of Will Brokaw’s gross sales when I give it to him for one of his avocados than it does when I use it to buy an avocado at my grocery store.

My work with local food systems over the past decade has taught me that you cannot underestimate the impact a small group of people making these types of choices can have. You do have to decide to follow the advice that you yourself gave on the show — that participating in a market absolves one from any moral quandary. I couldn’t agree more, but not all markets are the same, and by choosing to participate in some rather than others, individual consumers can know that they are doing a small amount of good by choosing to buy certain products, as opposed to mitigating or reducing a small amount of bad by choosing not to buy certain products.

In other words, boycotts are silly and don’t do anything other than massage one’s ego. The oppositeĀ  of a boycott, on the other hand, is a powerful tool indeed if wielded properly.

Sorry about the rant, but man, does this topic get my intellectual juices flowing. I even made a flow chart about it. Do you like flow charts? Who doesn’t like flow charts?