Invite a few food lovers over for a meal, and the question “where did you get this [insert ingredient]?” will probably pop up, and eaters interested in knowing what garden or what farm a certain item of produce came from. As consciousness about the food system grows, we’ve become more and more aware about where our food comes from and the impact that our food choices have. You may have asked yourself about the provenance of a certain dish or a certain ingredient, and sometimes, where food comes from will even dictate our food choices, opting to pass on the apples that were grown on the other side of the globe.
But fashion is different. Think about that same dinner party. “Where did you get your [insert item of clothing]?” someone might ask. Yet while when we inquire about food, we’re concerned about its origins, whether or not it’s organic, or a variety of other things, when it comes to clothing, the same question isn’t about origins. Instead, we’re asking what store we should go to in order to buy the same thing.
Both our food and our fashion choices have impacts. How we clothe and feed ourselves is dependent on producers, dependent on makers, dependent on the earth. What we eat and wear comes at a cost; an environmental cost and a social cost.
In a world that is ever more connected – by communications, transportation and technology – we are becoming increasingly disconnected from the things that make up our everyday lives. Global agriculture and textile industries have separated us from the sources of what we eat and what we wear, leaving us with price tags we know cost more than the retail mark up.
Cheap price tags in fast fashion and fast food have turned us into heavy consumers, figuratively and literally. We buy twice as many clothes today buying 60% more items of clothing than we did 15 years ago, totaling over 80 billion items of clothing worldwide. After increasingly short lifespans, three out of four of those will end up in a landfill or incinerated. The average American throws away about 70 pounds of clothing and textiles every year. We also waste our food, throwing out about $165 billion worth every year, most of which ends up rotting in a landfill, accounting for an enormous amount of methane emissions.
Our food and fiber systems have been built on low wages, both at home and abroad. Today, an American Fast Food CEO makes upwards of 1000 times more than a fast food worker, and the salary of the average American fashion CEO is equivalent to the wages of 16,000 garment workers in Bangladesh.
While there’s a growing awareness for locally grown food, our fashion choices haven’t shifted much. For every dollar spent on clothing, 37 cents of it goes to China, and while the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 shortly caused consumers to rethink their fashion choices, just one year later, imports from Bangladesh had actually risen.
Our food and fiber systems have been an integral part of our survival as humans for centuries. For much of human history, we have fed and clothed ourselves in a way that was in balance with the earth and the community around us. For as long as we have lived, we have harvested food to feed us and fiber to clothe us. What we eat and what we wear is grounded in place. The dirt that a farmer digs into, the plants that a dyer uses for color, the earth that provides us good food to eat. As the industrial movement has changed how we produce food and products, our consumption habits have changed, and not for the better.
The Food and Fibers Project is here to look at some of the many connections between food and fashion, whether it’s through natural dyeing, agricultural pesticides, carbon farming or local manufacturing. We believe that if we don’t find a way to create and support things like sustainable food and fiber sheds, knowing where things come from will be a thing of the past.
We believe that in order to pursue a sustainable path forward, we must look at the food and fiber system as a whole, and we must make the connections between the two. If we care about what we eat, why not about what we wear?
We hope that you will join us as we explore some of these questions, through text, images and video.