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Wednesday
Sep212011

Response to "It's Not Just About Food" by Eric Schlosser

In The Nation's food issue, Eric Schlosser responds to Frances Moore Lappe's essay on the food movement today. He writes It's Not Just About Food:

Without a fundamental commitment to social justice, the estimated 1–2 percent of Americans who eat organic food will be indistinguishable from the 1–2 percent who control almost all of this country’s wealth and power.

The one to two percent who eat organic food? Even in the rough economy of December 2010, three-quarters of U.S. families reported buying some organic produce, with 41% saying they were buying more than the year before, according to a survey by the Organic Trade Association. This doesn't include people who grow some of their own food using organic techniques.

Schlosser concludes:

Food is a good place to start when seeking to make change. But it’s only a start. I hope that the food movement will continue to grow and thrive. More important, I hope that it will become part of a larger movement with a broader vision—a movement committed to opposing unchecked corporate power, to gaining a living wage and a safe workplace and good health for the millions of Americans who lack them.

I'm active in food politics and the "larger movement," as are nearly all of the food activists I know. People such as Jill Richardson and Mark Bittman have a "fundamental commitment to social justice." After all, the ecological world view that makes sustainable agriculture work makes us think in terms of whole systems.

In fact, I switched my focus from electoral politics to food because it seemed to be the most direct and effective way to make a real difference. I challenge you to read Tomatoland and not conclude that you'll do more good faster buying local, sustainably-raised tomatoes than by marching against big oil.

It's time for the larger movement to vote with their forks. Many otherwise politically-savvy people scorn food activists. Even at progressive gatherings, the food served often works against the goals of those who eat it.

Take the Bacon and Bourbon reception at Netroots Nation this year.  The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union served up a spread where even the cupcakes had bacon hats. What's wrong with that? Industrial pig farming is an environmental disaster and bacon is a serious health risk. Perhaps worse for the UFCWIU, the pork-laden buffet sent a "not welcome here" signal to activists who were Muslims, Jews, the 7th Day Adventists, and vegetarians. When I wrote to the union suggesting that next time they could be more inclusive by having a Bacon, Bourbon, and Beans reception, I didn't get a response.

Schlosser is right in saying:

The corporate monopolies and monopsonies, the contempt for labor unions, the capture of federal agencies, the corruption of elected officials, the lies routinely told to consumers, the disregard for the environment and for public health—none of these things are unique to the food industry.

But so what? We all get a chance at every meal to support healthy food, good working conditions, and the environment. It's easy and delicious. Let all activists for justice work from the strong base that healthy, affordable food provides. Let those activists inspire apolitical farmers and food activists to become more politically active by supporting them every day.

Don't just blog about the importance of jobs; buy a basket of organic apples.

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