Just back from our neighborhood farmer’s market, carrying three sacks full of kale, chard, lettuce and turnip greens. Also bought two tomatoes — it’s early for them yet, but I’m dying for some fresh tomato — and a jar of local buckwheat honey. Came home, chopped the kale, and stir-fried it with sliced chicken andouille sausage, in a little olive oil. At the whole thing with a tall glass of iced tea. Bliss. As far as I’m concerned, this is the only thing summer is good for — but boy, is it ever good. I couldn’t believe we came home with so much good, fresh food for so cheap.
Kristen at the must-read site Food Renegade sent me a Michael Pollan story earlier this week that I’ve been meaning to blog. Pollan writes in the New York Review of Books about “The Food Movement, Rising” — a review essay of food books (including one by Joel Salatin) that both document and advocate the revolutionary changes in food culture that Pollan has done so much to inspire. Read below the jump for some choice excerpts:
Cheap food has become an indispensable pillar of the modern economy. But it is no longer an invisible or uncontested one. One of the most interesting social movements to emerge in the last few years is the “food movement,” or perhaps I should say “movements,” since it is unified as yet by little more than the recognition that industrial food production is in need of reform because its social/environmental/public health/animal welfare/gastronomic costs are too high.
As that list suggests, the critics are coming at the issue from a great many different directions. Where many social movements tend to splinter as time goes on, breaking into various factions representing divergent concerns or tactics, the food movement starts out splintered. Among the many threads of advocacy that can be lumped together under that rubric we can include school lunch reform; the campaign for animal rights and welfare; the campaign against genetically modified crops; the rise of organic and locally produced food; efforts to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes; “food sovereignty” (the principle that nations should be allowed to decide their agricultural policies rather than submit to free trade regimes); farm bill reform; food safety regulation; farmland preservation; student organizing around food issues on campus; efforts to promote urban agriculture and ensure that communities have access to healthy food; initiatives to create gardens and cooking classes in schools; farm worker rights; nutrition labeling; feedlot pollution; and the various efforts to regulate food ingredients and marketing, especially to kids.
It’s a big, lumpy tent, and sometimes the various factions beneath it work at cross-purposes. For example, activists working to strengthen federal food safety regulations have recently run afoul of local food advocates, who fear that the burden of new regulation will cripple the current revival of small-farm agriculture. Joel Salatin, the Virginia meat producer and writer who has become a hero to the food movement, fulminates against food safety regulation on libertarian grounds in his Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front. Hunger activists like Joel Berg, in All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?, criticize supporters of “sustainable” agriculture–i.e., producing food in ways that do not harm the environment–for advocating reforms that threaten to raise the cost of food to the poor. Animal rights advocates occasionally pick fights with sustainable meat producers (such as Joel Salatin), as Jonathan Safran Foer does in his recent vegetarian polemic, Eating Animals.
But there are indications that these various voices may be coming together in something that looks more and more like a coherent movement. Many in the animal welfare movement, from PETA to Peter Singer, have come to see that a smaller-scale, more humane animal agriculture is a goal worth fighting for, and surely more attainable than the abolition of meat eating. Stung by charges of elitism, activists for sustainable farming are starting to take seriously the problem of hunger and poverty. They’re promoting schemes and policies to make fresh local food more accessible to the poor, through programs that give vouchers redeemable at farmers’ markets to participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and food stamp recipients. Yet a few underlying tensions remain: the “hunger lobby” has traditionally supported farm subsidies in exchange for the farm lobby’s support of nutrition programs, a marriage of convenience dating to the 1960s that vastly complicates reform of the farm bill–a top priority for the food movement.
The sociologist Troy Duster reminds us of an all-important axiom about social movements: “No movement is as coherent and integrated as it seems from afar,” he says, “and no movement is as incoherent and fractured as it seems from up close.” Viewed from a middle distance, then, the food movement coalesces around the recognition that today’s food and farming economy is “unsustainable”–that it can’t go on in its current form much longer without courting a breakdown of some kind, whether environmental, economic, or both.
Read the whole thing. It’s a pretty great overview of the movement, and its various strands. I especially liked this bit, about how the food movement is about promoting a certain vision of culture as much as it is about law and economics:
It would be a mistake to conclude that the food movement’s agenda can be reduced to a set of laws, policies, and regulations, important as these may be. What is attracting so many people to the movement today (and young people in particular) is a much less conventional kind of politics, one that is about something more than food. The food movement is also about community, identity, pleasure, and, most notably, about carving out a new social and economic space removed from the influence of big corporations on the one side and government on the other.
Though seldom articulated as such, the attempt to redefine, or escape, the traditional role of consumer has become an important aspiration of the food movement. In various ways it seeks to put the relationship between consumers and producers on a new, more neighborly footing, enriching the kinds of information exchanged in the transaction, and encouraging us to regard our food dollars as “votes” for a different kind of agriculture and, by implication, economy. The modern marketplace would have us decide what to buy strictly on the basis of price and self-interest; the food movement implicitly proposes that we enlarge our understanding of both those terms, suggesting that not just “good value” but ethical and political values should inform our buying decisions, and that we’ll get more satisfaction from our eating when they do.
In fact it’s hard to say which comes first: the desire to promote local agriculture or the desire to promote local economies more generally by cutting ties, to whatever degree possible, to the national economic grid. This is at bottom a communitarian impulse, and it is one that is drawing support from the right as well as the left. Though the food movement has deep roots in the counterculture of the 1960s, its critique of corporate food and federal farm subsidies, as well as its emphasis on building community around food, has won it friends on the right. In his 2006 book Crunchy Cons, Rod Dreher identifies a strain of libertarian conservatism, often evangelical, that regards fast food as anathema to family values, and has seized on local food as a kind of culinary counterpart to home schooling.
Like I said, read the whole thing.