The Problem With Labels

Labels provide a wealth of information for consumers. Want to know if your bananas are organic? Your eggs free range? Your coffee fair trade? A quick hunt on the package should give you answers to a few of your questions. But there’s a problem here. The label frenzy that feeds our desire for information gives us the satisfaction of being informed, but fails to tell the whole story of our food. As alternative food movements push against the conventional tide, priorities splinter. We hear the demands for organic, local, fair, but each as a solo voice. Your coffee may not be “officially” fair trade, but boasts a Rainforest Alliance label. But with the California drought on people’s mind, should we be asking how much water that coffee takes to produce? Should we label that?

When critiquing the food system, or making decisions within it, it’s not enough for single-issue topics to speckle the conversation. The issues selected are selected by specific voices from people who have power within the current system. How do ideas that challenge the conversation even make it to the conversation at all? Isn’t that what we want?

The labels we seek create a closed-loop cycle, and makes it hard for new information to come into play. With a food system that drains our resources — environmental, economic, and personal — we need change and that won’t come from patting ourselves on the back for picking a label that suits our needs. The labels themselves exclude the voices on other issues, but we desperately need those voices to be heard.

In reality, we as consumers need to recognize that these labels can give us information, but that information is reduced. They are useful tools, but I also implore you to not feel guilt for making a purchase that doesn’t meet a specific checklist item, and find ways to get informed on the issue as a whole. Or, if you really want more information on your purchase, to dig a little to find out more about the company as a whole.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Meredith Knowles’s story.