Welcome to our first edition of Food, Fiber, and Fashion Quarterly, a magazine devoted to exploring various aspects of products we commonly consume to clothe or nourish our bodies. In this issue, contributors seek to reveal dimensions of products that typically remain hidden to ordinary consumers. In the academic discipline of economics, this imbalance of information — where one party sees a full picture and the other party sees only part of it — is called information asymmetry. Writ large, the economists tell us, this uneven distribution of information can lead to power imbalances and market difficulties among economic systems. For ordinary consumers, it can mean unwittingly supporting industries whose products, production functions, or business models wreak havoc on the environment, employees of the industry, our health, or society more generally. Information asymmetry can also mean purchasing products that purport to solve a particular problem but end up causing other, equally problematic situations even as they solve the original problem. Finally, consumers’ lack of knowledge can lead to purchasing products that seem to be a good deal, but in the end, fail to deliver on their promises.
To ease your reading experience, we have grouped articles by topic:
Alternative Diets explores some of the ways we have tinkered with specific foods or developed diet systems aimed at accomplishing specific goals, ranging from improving our own health to caring better for the environment. An apt question for the articles in this section is “To what extent are these food-related innovations succeeding in their project?”
The Other Side of Indulgence takes a close look behind the curtain of comestibles that carry with them mood, mind, or physiology altering substances. How are these specialized — and often costly — products brought to market? Who wins and who loses in their production? How do we distinguish between high quality and mediocre or worse products?
In The Life Cycle of Food we take a close look at the production of food on family farms, the distribution of food to those who are food insecure, and the fate of food that eludes consumption for one reason or another. This section seems to be concerned with efficiency in production, distribution, and consumption; yet perhaps more important than efficiency itself should be a careful consideration of the ends to which efficiency leads. Just what are the goals of our prized efficiency? Are they the right goals? The best goals?
Last, but certainly not least, we turn to the clothes on our back in our section Fashion. In this section, articles consider the natural result of our near-constant consumption of clothing. Here, one might reasonably interrogate the many costs of a system that produces clothing so cheap and plentiful that it can be consumed on an on-going basis without a second thought.
We are all unavoidably consumers in a complex, globalized world, and we cannot hope to know all things about everything we buy. Still, we hope our magazine will shed some light on a few consumables and help guide your purchasing decision as a consumer, for we believe that informed consumers are a step in the right direction of building a healthier, happier, more sustainable world for all.
~Eric Metzler and Perspectives on American Consumerism seminar participants