Monday, March 23, 2009

A Food Revolution?

In the New York Times, Andrew Martin asks whether the new administration and the new ambitions of its allies in the good food movement all add up to a food revolution. Fine interviews with Eric Schlosser, Michael Jacobson, Michael Pollan, and Marion Nestle. Good discussion of Michelle Obama and Kathleen Merrigan.

Still, take heed of Tom Harkin:
Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, welcomes newcomers to the cause but cautions that farm policy “does not have sharp turns.”
A lasting change in the government's philosophical approach toward food requires winning over the median voter. Any policy changes that move faster toward promoting organic and local than the median voter approves will be reversed with the next political cycle.

My priorities for food activists would be:

(1) For policy, focus not so much on new policies to promote organic and local food, but instead on reforms to bad existing policies that face widespread opposition beyond the good food movement. For example, reverse unproductive subsidies for rich farmers, reform ethanol policy, address unhealthy food sales in school, and rein in the federal government's commodity checkoff programs' advertising for beef, pork, and cheese.

(2) Don't focus on policy alone. Continue to work the grass roots, making local and organic food ever more appealing, accessible, and economical to a wide variety of people. Continue to think of yourselves as the up and coming industry, not the political party already in power.


Unknown said...

Parke, those are wise words! I'd be curious for your (and others')thoughts on this post:

usfoodpolicy said...

Thanks for that. I enjoyed the thoughtful links and commentary at both the Center for a Livable Future blog and Civil Eats. Will read both more regularly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to both of you. I've been enjoying reading this blog and Livable Future looks interesting also. Here's what I wonder about the "food revolution." At some level, can't we just do it? Thank goodness I do not need anyone's permission to plant a small vegetable garden in my backyard. If I didn't have a backyard, perhaps there would be a community garden nearby -- or maybe I'd stick some containers out on my deck. I've even *heard* of people planting surreptitiously in parks. Can't we just do it?

Margaret said...

Good priorities! Have you noticed that the same is true of almost everything important (peacemaking, energy use, racial justice, etc.)? For policy, focus on specific reforms that have widespread support. But mainly, work for culture change and practical initiatives at the grass roots.

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