I’ve written here before about the food movement–the range of initiatives and concerns, many distinct and even inconsistent–that relate in some way to the American way of growing, raising, manufacturing, marketing and consuming food, and the larger economic and political developments in the food economy.
This piece from The New Food Economy collects reflections from 20 perspectives, marking the 10th anniversary of Michael Pollan’s groundbreaking book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Those responding to the request for input include writers and academics, as well as farmers, activists and organizers. They were asked about the most important or surprising changes in the last 10 years, and the things that need to change but haven’t.
The editors note at the outset that “food movement” is “a broad term for a political, social, and economic revolution,” with “no one leader, no single belief system, no agreed-upon primary goal.” Those of us who have been paying attention have noticed the lack of anything like a national food policy that moves us toward a better, more sustainable, environmentally responsible way of feeding ourselves collectively
And yet, the signs of the food movement, or movements, are apparent everywhere around us–from local farmer’s markets, changes in what is marketed at grocery chains (such as organic produce, gluten-free and non-GMO food products), the politics of food labels and agriculture subsidies, the arrival of vegan cafes and the expansion of healthier fast food and meatless options, and many, many other changes and developments.
What is the impact of all of these on the larger food culture and economy? Where are we going?
A few of my favorite observations from the post are below:
Today, I can hardly visit a college or university that does not have courses, programs, or departments devoted to food culture or food systems and an organic garden to boot. Did Omnivore’s Dilemma have anything to do with the hordes of students eager to study about food? Absolutely. These students are the future of food system transformation and reason for optimism that it will change, and much for the better.”
[O]ur food isn’t allocated by choice, desire, values, or even by need, but through market demand. Capitalism is the silent ingredient in our food. It means that the 50 million people living in poverty in the richest country on earth—many of whom grow, harvest, process and serve our food—can’t afford to be foodies; they’re too busy worrying about where their next meal is coming from. If we care about people as much as we do about food, and if we really want to change the food system, we’d better become fluent in capitalism.
A critical mass of concerned eaters are now demanding food produced in a healthier, safer, more dependable and humane manner. The challenge going forward will be to continue to help consumers sort fact from fiction, even as Big Food keeps spinning out advertising copy to promote its industrially produced products.
But one thing that has not happened? The meaningful coalescence of a broad-based political movement based on reforming the food system, one that is powerful enough to prompt changes in the very policies that Pollan did so much to expose. Journalism can go only so far. Entrepreneurs and their customers can do only so much. More substantive change has to come through a political movement akin to the Farm Bureau, or the NRA with its millions of members on email lists and speed dial. And frankly, that has yet to happen. Without it, change will be piecemeal, hard fought, and slow to arrive.