Tag Archives: food equality

Don’t Call Us Foodies

22 Feb

I know I’ve dangled this subject multiple times, and thought it was time to finally tackle it: why I (and many, many others) so strongly dislike the term “foodie.”

My good friend Steve wrote me, as a post-script to his “How I Became a Food Advocate” story, this explanation:

I cringe at that term.  It seems so contrived and pretentious.  People who care deeply about music are not called “Musicies” and people who love theatre are not called “theatreies.” I am not a foodie in the sense that I go to restaurants all the time and ooh and aah over the food of this chef or that.  I am a foodie in the sense that I am OBSESSED with food.  I think about food, and my next meal, and the next thing I can cook, and the last thing I cooked, and the next thing I want to eat… ALL THE TIME.  Does that make me a foodie?  I don’t think so because food is not a hobby for me.  Food is life.

I couldn’t agree more.

To my mind, foodie is the way that people who want to dismiss food’s importance use to dismiss the new food consciousness as elitist. These are the people who don’t understand the real and meaningful connection between defending local food markets, supporting artisanal producers and experimental chefs, and food as an issue of labor rights and social justice.

Foodie implies a gourmand, a snob, a high-brow eater who dines only at five-star restaurants and turns up her nose at anything cheap. What that distinction fails to recognize is that there are a great many of us in between, people like Steve and I, who I know grew up eating a lot of that cheap food–Kraft macaroni and cheese and cans of sloppy joe mix, among other delicacies–who ate it for a great portion of our lives, and who have begun to realize that the evils of that food are not limited to a low price tag.

In fact, the evils and dangers of processed food, industrially-produced, premade, water-packed food, lies in what the corporation who made it will do to sell it to you at such a low price tag. What it takes to make food that cheaply is not pretty. It is disgusting.

But foodies don’t turn up our noses at it because we think we’re better than that–we think all human beings are better than that.

And this is the core of why I dislike the term “foodie.” Aside from being intentionally dismissive, from making us sound like elitists, it limits our passions about food to its taste or quality. While I certainly do believe there is a significant difference in taste and quality between fresh, healthy, local food and processed food, my tastebuds are not my only — or even my primary — reason for wanting that fresh food.

My body is my reason: keeping it fit and healthy and fueled. My planet is my reason: supporting its ability to support us, keeping its rivers clean and soil invigorated with nutrients.

My concern for social equality is my reason: supporting everyone’s ability to access organic, healthy, whole foods, and supporting everyone’s ability to cook it. My concern for labor rights and fair trade are my reasons: ensuring that this whole, healthy food comes from a long line of whole, healthy people, who feel respected and are well-paid for the hard, crucial work they are doing.

My imaginary future children are my reason: protecting their future bodies and the future air they will breathe from poisons.

This is why I’m trying out the term “food advocate” (make it happen, people). Because I advocate for food in every way — its growth, production, taste and uses. Food is in every aspect of our life. As Steve said, food is life.

What do you think of the term “foodie”? Love it, hate it, never cared this much to think about it? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with your fellow food advocates!

Is There Any Good News?

11 Jul

Well, yes.

It can often seem, when you’re the kind of person who cares deeply about any issue, as if you’re caught in a big mess, a whirling chaos, and there’s no way out. At the end of last week’s post on the exploitation of immigrant labor in the food industry, I reminded everyone that pointing out the problems isn’t something I do just to complain. I believe that it’s only when we face and fully understand what’s wrong that we can do anything about it.

I thought I’d kick this week off then by sharing a few nods towards success and change in the food industry. We’ll get back to the dark and dreary later, but for now, reasons to be hopeful.

First, the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers have reached an agreement to lobby Congress for the passage of legislation changing the regulations for cage sizes for laying hens. While this might seem like a small thing, it’s actually very big for a few reasons:

1. Laying hens live in some of the worst factory farming conditions that exist. The current guidelines are a miniscule 67 square inches per bird. Check out this NYT infographic to see that in actual size. So, anything here would be an improvement.

2. The proposed legislation involves a progression of improvements over time, making the change more affordable for producers (and therefore for consumers as well) so we get healthier, more humane eggs without too much hassle at the store.

3. The Humane Society. And a factory-farming lobbying operation. Came to an agreement. Both this and the structure of the deal suggest what I think is a remarkable precendent for cooperation and compromise that could very well extend to other facets of the food industry. Which is, of course, why the United Pork Producers have actually spoken out against the agreement.

Now, the law has not been proposed or passed through Congress, and with opposition from other farm industry lobbyists, that might prove difficult. But the idea of these two groups being able to work together to affect positive change may well be the most encouraging part of this story. I’ll keep you all posted on this one.

Second, the Trust for America’s Health has released its most recent report on Obesity in America. The good news here is a little harder to find, as yes, obesity rates are on the rise. Twelve states now have obesity rates topping 30 percent. The state with the lowest obesity rate now would have been the highest in 1995. And a deeply troubling racial and economic divide persists when it comes to rates of childhood obesity and associate illness.

But a small sliver of silver lining can be found here as well. This year, only sixteen states reported obesity rate increases. Last year, the number of states with increased rates was 28.

While it’s too soon to rejoice, and while overall rates are still far too high, the study’s authors suggest that this might — might — indicate that obesity rates in the U.S. are leveling off. This may be a bit of a case of nowhere to go but down, but down is where we need to go, however we get there.

I choose to see both of these stories as stories of potential. Neither of these is an outright victory. The legislation proposed by the Humane Society will still have to be passed, and will take 18 years to take full effect. Obesity rates have not decreased in a single state in the last year. But in both cases, things that were true a year ago, things that were problematic yesterday, are no longer true. The Humane Society and the United Egg producers sat down at a table together to work. And people are — who knows? — watching enough Jamie Oliver or Michelle Obama to begin seriously thinking about what they’re eating.

We must do more, we must work harder and faster, to minimize suffering and loss along these lines as much as possible. But as Jeffrey Levi, executive director fo the Trust for America’s Health said:

You have to level off before you start declining, and we’re starting to see it.

Change like this happens incrementally, excruciatingly slow. We’re starting to see it.

Ok, have at it! Am I a hopeless Pollyanna for choosing to see these as victories? What more needs to be done to convince you that things are looking up? Any thoughts about why the sands of change might be shifting in the food movement? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Feeding the Starving World

30 Jun

First, allow me to apologize for the brevity of this week’s posts. I’m traveling for job interviews (fingers crossed!) and so finding the free time for posting is more of a challenge. But I would never abandon you! I just have to find ways to be more concise — not one of my fortes.

For today, then, I wanted to share with you all a few interesting media projects focusing on equal access to sustainable food. I haven’t written as much yet as I’d like to about food justice. I’ve mentioned before that for me, being a foodie isn’t a snobbish, elitist position — it’s actually a commitment to activism.

When you begin digging into the inequities of the food system, it’s impossible to ignore the reality of how few people in the world have the luxury of choosing their diet the way we in the upper middle-class, industrialized world do. From that perspective, it feels insulting to overindulge, to consume processed junk food, or to eat at some ridiculously overpriced, over-portioned megachain, to support a corporation like Hormel that so mistreats its workers.

From that perspective, then, it’s inspiring to see projects like these unfold, wherein the people who are most forgotten by the current global food system — specifically the poor of developing nations — are taking charge, creating a sustainable food system of their own.

The problems with food in the developing world are so vastly different from those needed to reform the industrialized system. This video, the first full episode of Stove Man! a documentary television initiative of the Paradigm Project, begins to demonstrate this. Stove Man! follows two entrepreneurs on their mission to raise funds to provide cooking stoves for women in rural Kenya. In this episode,  as the businessmen travel to Kenya to follow the women on their daily journeys to collect enough fuel for a cooking fire.

And then, in this month’s Orion, a great photo and text feature on the ways in which the poor are taking charge of their own food systems. The feature focuses on a peasant-owned garden cooperative based in Port-Au-Prince, which has become both a source of food for the poor, and an arm of political leverage for the community.

Food prices are rising sharply globally, a fact we may forget here in the developed world, where we are still somewhat cushioned from that reality (though we won’t be for long). We still live in a world in which starvation and poverty are the norm for children in certain regions. In the face of all this, we need to dramatically rethink how we provide food for ourselves. New ideas are needed, especially on a global scale, both to reform the existing industrialized food system, but also to build a sustainable food system for the developing world that does not prevent growth, but doesn’t tred in our same errant path.

There are more and many ideas there, all kinds of models for urban farming that are both scalable and sustainable. But the free market doesn’t always favor these logical, compassionate solutions. It takes a village of peasants to stand up and take the land into their own hands and grow with it.


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