Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Radical Food Resistance: A Call to Arms against Big Food

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Radical Food Resistance: A Call to Arms against Big Food

Article excerpt

I FEEL TOTALLY TORN about what I'm going to write here. I've been working mostly from the right side of my brain since I became a food enthusiast 20 years ago, but now I feel my left brain calling me to pay more attention to logic and analysis. My right brain tells me we have chalked up a string of successes over the past two decades, and should continue building on that momentum.

Indeed, few social movements can claim as impressive a list of accomplishments as food movements, advances made almost entirely through the efforts of young volunteers, poorly paid employees of grassroots groups and mindful shoppers.

Thanks to food movements (and no thanks to the food industry, or government food agencies), the following are true:

Organic production methods are considered normal, not flaky, and sales continue to climb. Local food is seen as a good thing for jobs, taste and a deeper sense of place. Craft beer is popular and sold at all places where demanding drinkers go. Food studies courses have become standard at universities. It has become impossible to keep up with the critical books, journals, websites, blogs and movies about food. Farmers markets are sprouting up everywhere. The most acclaimed chefs and food producers are inspired by values of quality, sustainability, community and justice. Fair trade coffee and chocolate sell well, despite the higher price. Food waste is a top-of-mind public issue. Junk food and beverages are widely understood to be bad for health and healthy body weights. Schools and other public institutions are increasingly expected to provide nutritious food. It's commonplace to talk about limiting marketing of junk food to children. Hunger and malnutrition are understood to be widespread and to be caused by inadequate incomes. Inequity is increasingly understood as a food issue, especially when food deserts are talked about. Community gardens and green roofs are becoming commonplace. Unsustainable food production methods have been identified as major culprits behind global warming, water pollution and animal cruelty. Food is being understood as a city issue, and cities are issuing food proclamations, and forming food policy councils.

As if that weren't enough ... food movements are thriving on the basis of positive, even celebratory, energy. The message is that good food brings a combination of personal pleasure, empowerment and public benefits for health, the economy, and environment. Food is also a lever for solving difficult problems that go far beyond food --think farmers markets as a way to rejuvenate empty downtowns on weekends, or sustainable diets as a way to counter global warming.

As a result of successes by food movements, two radical and transformational ideas are getting a hearing.

One of these ideas holds that people do not have to trade off health and environmental benefits to get economic benefits. On the contrary, food does best when health, environmental and economic benefits are integrated, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Food is an invitation to abundance thinking, seeing the planet as bountiful, not scary.

The second radical idea holds that food can address our "higher" needs, as well as our "lower" needs. Good food practices can do much more than build strong bones and muscles. Food occasions intimacy, togetherness, mutual support and healing that thriving bodies, minds, souls and communities need.

These are achievements to be proud of. They confirm the wisdom of building food movements on positive energy and interventions. I remember internationally famous food and agricultural thinker Vandana Shiva saying that we are a movement of ands, not buts.

I could stay calm and carry on if it weren't for two things.

One, we have to confront looming deadlines set by crises of climate chaos and destruction of biodiversity. Second, we need to confront two well-known and documented realities of political economy: approximately 10 corporate conglomerates place short-term profit ahead of planetary survival when it comes to key decisions, driving planetary destruction from food-related activities; and almost all of their bad decisions will be tolerated, supported and or subsidized by approximately 200 national governments around the world. …

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