Tag Archives: Food Revolution

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!

How Far Should Food Industry Regulation Go?

7 Feb

For this week’s dialogue post, I’ve found a recent and particularly controversy-inspiring editorial from Raj Patel, writing in this case for The Atlantic. Patel makes the case we’ve heard before paralleling the food industry with the alcohol and tobacco industries to argue for the regulation of junk foods, but he goes one step further and wonders whether there isn’t a case for fully abolishing the food industry as we know it. If you can make the argument for tobacco, Patel says, food is close behind.

First up for conversation of course, is the validity of a parallel between tobacco and big food, which Patel supports with mounting evidence of the neurological addictive properties of sugar. A study released last week in the journal Nature provides the strongest case yet for significant and severe health consequences from sugar. The authors of the study advocate alcohol-like regulations as a result of their findings.

Second comes the matter for debate of whether tobacco and sugar are marketed in parallel ways. That is, do we have more of a choice when it comes to junk food than tobacco? I’ve discussed in a previous post the resemblances between old-school tobacco marketing towards children, and the food industry’s strategies, and Patel elaborates on this in the editorial. Recent evidence has demonstrated the overly-sugary properties of the foods marketed most heavily towards children.

Third, and finally, we have to ask ourselves whether moderate regulations are not sufficient to counter any of those dangers. We’ve explored here before individual municipal initiatives like the San Francisco Happy Meal toy ban, and cities across the country have tried similar sin-tax approaches to restricting the sale of soda, for example.

Of course, small government proponents aren’t fan of that idea, and economic research suggests the tax might best be targeted towards the producer, rather than the consumer, of the problem product.

For Patel, all of this points in one direction:

The breadth of products controlled by the food industry — amply toxic and less so — is itself a symptom of a deeper problem that has public health symptoms, but a political economic cause. The food industry is an oligopoly that has transformed not only what we eat but how we eat it, and what we think of food.

and thus, we could make a case for completely upending the system as we know it.

What do you think? Do we need complete, from-the-ground up reform, or should we try moderate regulation first (or at all)? Which, if any, of these individual claims would you dispute, or provide an alternate answer for? Leave a comment and join in our conversation!

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week

3 Feb

Quite a variety of happenings in the world of food this week.

The Good

An illuminating new report out by the cooking & nutrition charity Share Our Strength provides concrete evidence that low-income families do cook at home more often than they eat fast food, and would like to be able to do so even more. I like Marion Nestle’s coverage, as she’s not afraid to nod towards some of the corporate influence the report contains. Good news, nonetheless.

Colorado is considering a state-wide ban on trans-fats in school lunch programs. Colorado is also, interestingly, the least-obese state in the nation (you can’t really say “thinnest” in a country where obesity is over 30% across the board). Coincidence?

In more school lunch reform news, the USDA announced this week its new rules (yes, actual rules here) that will increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables, and eliminate some meat requirements in its school lunch program. As Mark Bittman says, imperfect as the new rules may be, 32 million kids are about to start eating better.

Jane Black has a nice piece in The Washington Post discussing the rise in flexible CSA options. While I think her editorial brushes off the consumer benefits of a regular CSA too dismissively, I’ve loved my past flexible CSAs for the access they provided someone who couldn’t afford a full share.

The Bad

This article isn’t bad so much as slightly annoying. A new study out of the Washington State University purports to help reform the beef industry’s image by claiming cattle ranches are significantly more environmentally-friendly than thirty years ago. File under — yes, and…?

I mentioned one lawsuit Monsanto is currently facing. Here is another! A class-action case that claims the company spread toxic substances all over a town in West Virginia in the course of producing a chemical component of Agent Orange. The toxic substances listed are mainly dioxins, which have been linked to cancer.

and the (very) Ugly

The Humane Society of the United States (which has, in the last few years, done a really impressive job ramping up its advocacy of livestock animals along with homeless pets) released a new undercover video documenting standard pork industry practice for raising pigs.

Graphic images included.

Tom Philpott’s analysis cuts to the core:

The remarkable thing…is how banal it is. What we have here is the everyday reality of pigs’ lives on a factory farm, without regulations flouted or spectacular violence committed. It is abuse routinized and regimented, honed into a profitable business model.

The video even got NYTimes sustainability blogger Andrew Revkin interested. He’s got a response from the Oklahoma Pork Council (which suggests that images were “taken out of context,” leaving me to ask — is there a context in which these practices are acceptable?) and takes the opportunity to wonder if this might continue to make the case for test-tube meat. Not if the omnivores here on We*Meat*Again have anything to say about it, right?

Happy Weekend, All!

 

What’s Conventional About This Agriculture?

2 Feb

About a year ago, Whole Foods Market announced its decision to end a nearly twelve-year battle against the contamination of organic crops by genetically-engineered crops. At the time, this was seen by many in the sustainable food community as a cave from a major player in the natural foods market to industry pressure.

But the reason this is news now is that on January 31, family farmers took part in the first phase of a court case filed to protect farmers from genetic trespass by Monsanto’s GMO seed, which contaminates organic and non-GMO farmer’s crops and opens them up to abusive lawsuits.

You can learn more about the problem of GMO-contaminated crops in this great article from TIME. But for now, I think that it’s important to see all the ways this particular conflict mirrors the bigger one, the enduring agricultural struggle of our time.

Big vs. small.

Many call this conventional vs. organic. But at a conference a few years ago, a fellow writer (and therefore, analyzer of words) commented to me how strange it was that organic — the natural process unimpeded by human-made chemicals — would be considered unconventional.

The question of Whole Foods not being able to protect organic farmers from Monsanto, to me, echoes the question that has been more recently explore by Tom Philpott and Andrew Revkin of whether Wal-Mart can play a role in the sustainability movement. Or the question of organic subsidary brands owned by multi-national food corporations.

The real question is: Can industrial and natural agricultural practices co-exist in the same food system? Or do we need a new one all together?

I don’t know the answer, but I’ve always sort of leaned towards revolution… What do you think?


Links Roundup & Food Rules Giveaway Winner!

27 Jan

First, your weekly dose of links from around the world of food…

Gary Hirshberg, CEO of organic pioneers Stonyfield Yogurt, announced this week he will be stepping down from that position to take full part in the new Just Label It! campaign to promote GMO-awareness.

On Mother Jones, Tom Philpott has two great articles detailing some of the momentous GMO-related announcements the USDA tried to sneak in before the new year (along with the earlier-reported cave on antibiotic regulation). One on how Dow Chemical is teaming up with Monsanto here, and another on Monsanto’s new GM-corn here. You can read the original USDA announcements here.

This one’s not current, but I just found it this week, and thought I’d share: Best Colleges Online has a list of the 10 Most Impressive Farm to School programs.

And along those lines, CBS This Morning had a great segment on the notion of “the nanny state” and the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign. Watch the whole segment for the amazing Chef Jose Andres and his eloquent, concise explanation of why the answer is yes, yes they should.

And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The winner of We*Meat*Again’s first-ever giveaway, for a brand new copy of the illustrated edition of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules!

Our winner is #5: John!

When asked what his favorite food rule is, John wrote:

Buy local, fresh, *often*. Maybe daily.

A problem with buying real food — especially local organic food — can be the price, and the fact that the food goes bad in the fridge after a few days and you end up throwing half of it out. Well. If you can find a convenient place, especially on your way to/from work/school/whatever, just plan for the night’s meal en route and buy what you need for that day, that day. Making daily stops at the local grocer or co-op can be much more cost-effective than trying to work too far ahead, when it comes to fresh fruits and veggies.

Of course, We*Meat*Again LOVES John’s take on the food rules — words for us all to live by! Congratulations, John! I’ll be in touch regarding details of delivery soon.

In all seriousness, though, the giveaway was to celebrate the recent blog milestone of 10,000 site visits. I’m so thrilled and humbled that this little blog is worth that much attention. When I started it last May, I had no idea we’d be here — and I have all you to thank. So thank you for being a part of our We*Meat*Again community, come back often, and as always, let me know what you’re thinking, what you’re wondering, or what you’d like to see more of!

What’s Coming for Food in 2012?

10 Jan

Welcome to 2012, We*Meat*Again! Sorry for my lapse in posting, all. The holiday hiatus was more all-consuming than I thought it would be, and I’ve missed a lot of food news. Rather than try to cover it all, I wanted to catch us up with a post about what I think is coming for the food movement over the course of the next year. There is both good and bad news, and in some ways, the two go hand-in-hand.

Food Consciousness Goes Mainstream

I’ve been engaging in a mini personal research project for my book, investigating how and why the average person has become more food conscious, and the answers I’ve been receiving have been remarkable, compelling, and truly important. What I’m hearing is that people like you and me, people with regular jobs and regular incomes, large or small, are finding the many, many ways in which food affects their lives. Their reasons include health & fitness, parenting, economic limitations, social justice concerns, and community investment.

NPR recently had a great piece echoing this on a larger scale, the notion that we’re interested in local food as a source of authenticity in an increasingly out-of-control world. And to me, that’s a very promising trend.

Government Still Behind the Curve

The end of 2011 was mired, for me, by a decision by the FDA that demonstrate what is still wrong with the government’s positions on food policy, especially in terms of changing large-scale corporate agricultural practices to improve health & safety.

Late in the day on December 22, the FDA quietly issued an announcement that it would abandon its pursuit of (again, voluntary) regulation of the use of antibiotics in livestock. The FDA has been pursuing this mission since the late 1970s, and we’ve covered here on the blog before why this is important for the health of consumers. The fact that the FDA backed off this mission can be seen as nothing other than giving in to very real industry pressure, just at the time when more and more meat is contaminated with diseases that are dangerous to our health, after a year of at least one major meat recall per month.

We have more people becoming aware of the importance of a food revolution — and a government still shying away from doing anything about it. So I think…

2012 is the Year of People Power

TIME magazine’s person of the year was The Protester. We’re angry. We’re exhausted. We’re broke. And we are prepared to do something about it. In 2011, we saw floods of people globally taking to the streets to begin to try. Mark Bittman’s column last week was a wonderful examination of the ways in which food is a part of this larger trend. Perhaps 2012 can be the year we harness the power of the local food movement to protest the government’s failures to act on our behalf.

The Weird & Wacky World of Food Marketing & Policy

29 Nov

Sometimes, as a composition teacher, I get very sad at the world.

Sometimes I have to walk around in a world where many people speak, think and behave in the very ways I try to convince my students not to. They use flawed illogical assumptions. They repeat ideas without verification or citation. They trust a single source without questioning its authority or credibility. And they build their own knowledge base with this rotting foundation.

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of food policy.

This is a world where it makes more sense for the government to spend trillions of dollars we don’t have on direct subsidy payments to farmers to grow corn we don’t need, and allow corporations to profit by injecting this corn into every known food substance to the detriment of the nation’s health — rather than  to change the policy.

This is a world so upside-down-backwards-on-its-head that very little makes sense any more. And I think of this whenever I try to have a conversation with someone who hasn’t spent as much time in this world as I have, whenever people ask questions like “Why is it such a big deal for my vegetables to come from Mexico?” or “But isn’t corn-fed beef the best kind, you know, according to the USDA?

So I have a brief policy roundup for you all today, to use as fodder whenever you are up against opposition that’s so dramatically different from your world view you don’t know where to start. Because we have to start. It’s up to all of us who care about food to have those tough conversations, and to have them with compassion, not condescension. The education has to begin by explaining just how weird food policy becomes when Big Ag marketing strategies and lobbying budgets get involved:

  • The Freakonomics blog calls a relocalized food system “inefficient” in comparison to modern industrial agricultural systems. Nevermind that industrial ag grows corn that becomes steak or salad dressing emulsifier or bread-browning agent or gas that costs more to make than its worth, whereas locally grown produce becomes, you know, food. That would be inefficient. (Anne Lappe has a great take-down of the Freakonomics post featuring actual economics, here.)
  • Congress failed to pass new regulations mandating certain amounts of certain types of actual vegetables in school lunches (considering the existing standards adhere to federal dietary suggestions from 1989, and include items you may have seen in headlines like the tomato pasta in pizza sauce) in a patently obvious fold to industry pressure. The frozen food industry didn’t want to have to repackage their meals to be “less palatable” to children, so instead our children get to eat whatever the frozen food industry can produce cheap and easy (see above. Corn is a vegetable, right?). This is where all those “Pizza is a vegetable” headlines are coming from.
  • A national marketing strategy document for the innocuously-named “Center for Food Integrity,” (sponsored by, among others, Monsanto and Smithfield) suggests the following for responding to consumer trends towards more sustainable farming methods:

As consumer values change, the food system needs to evaluate and potentially modify current practices and fundamentally change the way it communicates in order to maintain consumer trust.

See the rest of the document yourself to decide whether you think the CFI is looking to modify its practices or just to change communication strategies to make themselves sound more sustainable. See Tom Philpott’s coverage of a Sara Lee rebranding plan for Hillshire Farms to see proof of these communication strategies in action.

My point here is that the modern agricultural industry is an industry. I do not believe everyone who works for Monsanto is evil, nor do I believe that large corporations have no place in a new food system. I don’t think there is a giant, nation-wide conspiracy to force-feed us all corn (well, I kinda do). But industries behave like industries. The job is a CEO is to turn a profit, and he will do this with a billion dollar lobbying budget, campaign financing, public relations and marketing strategists and any other tool at his disposal.

So when we hear information on food policy, even from the federal government, we must trace that information back to its source and run a credibility check. If the author of a marketing memo stands to turn a profit from getting his audience to believe that “corn sugar is just sugar,” perhaps we should find out whether “our body can’t tell the difference” from a medical, rather than a marketing, expert.

Nibbles: What We Didn’t Eat This Week, Inspired by Food Day

28 Oct

This week, on October 24th in particular, the United States celebrated our first ever Food Day with events around the country including cooking classes, garden planting and awareness-building campaigns. The notion behind Food Day was to model the highly successful Earth Day campaign to help the food movement transcend social and political boundaries. Here’s to many, many more, and the development of a fully realized movement as part of the general public consciousness.

In the spirit of Food Day, then, here are some links from around the web where we can all get our food consciousness raised.

Promising (if somewhat far-off) trends for the future of food this week coming out of Maine and Chicago, where politicians (or their wives) are finally beginning to take action for food. At a Let’s Move! food desert summit in Chicago, first lady Michelle Obama made a pledge to eradicate food deserts in the U.S. by 2017. And in even bolder legislative news (I know, right?), Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced a bill of sweeping structural reforms that would break down existing barriers and build infrastructure for small-scale local producers.

Pingree’s legislation is particularly remarkable for its recognition that these reforms would provide a much-needed boost to local economies. An essay by Tammy Morales this week explains the connection between job creation and  small-scale food entrepreneurs. A saying about two birds and one stone comes to mind…

Similarly, Mark Bittman reposted a letter from George Faison, New York area meat wholesaler, making the case to restaurants why investing in slightly more expensive organic, sustainable products is worth it in the long run (both economically and environmentally).

Let us not forget, however, that there is still work to be done. As a follow-up to last week’s mention of the House hearings on the Interagency Working Group’s recommendations to reduce junk food marketing to children, Marion Nestle posts a breakdown of how the talks are going. And it’s looking more and more like the agency will cave, giving up bits of even its relatively toothless voluntary regulations.

So keep up the pressure on your representatives, people. I promise you, Tony the Tiger is this decade’s Joe Camel. In twenty years, it will look ridiculous that we ever allowed our children to be sold this way.

Taking Action for Kids’ Health

17 Oct

Marion Nestle is reporting rumors that after last week’s House hearing on the voluntary food marketing standards, the White House may be caving to industry and dropping the suggested standards. As she notes, the rumor is not yet confirmed, and may well be false. We can only hope.

I’ve covered before the so-called “voluntary regulations” themselves, and have already ranted at you all about why they are crucial and benign. What’s at stake here is a larger issue that I am getting pretty fundamentally sick of.

That even from the White House of the Let’s Move campaign…

From the first White House to put a garden on the grounds

From the White House of the candidate who promised to pursue labeling GMOs

From the White House which has, against political will, stood up for children’s health insurance practices…

And, frankly, in the midst of a growing anti-corporate movement…

I am tired of seeing my government actively put the needs and desires of corporate lobbying powers above those of the people that government has been elected to represent. I know this is the way our electoral system is structured — I know that whatever my vote in the last election may have been, it was corporate money that paid for the campaign. I get it.

But we are talking about a clear-cut case here of universally better for the health of our children versus slightly inconveneint for big business. And when big business gets the government’s vote on that one? Well, that’s what the protestors on Wall Street are pissed off about.

And if this rumor ends up being true, I’m right there with them.

Some of my best friends in the world are parents now, or are about to become them. And I want to join them someday, soon. And I want to know that these beautiful children are being born into a world where people will look out for them, not a world where we allow ourselves to forget what’s really at stake here.

I’ll be following this rumor closely, and whatever I find, I will share with you. And if the White House appears to be backing off the notion of regulating this industry, I’m going to ask for a big push of emails and phone calls from you all. It’s time to stop being complacent about the way of doing business around here.

Eating Well on Wall Street

14 Oct

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the Occupy Wall Street movement (as it has certainly become more than an individual protest now) and I find this pretty rad. I could certainly go on about just how inspiring it is to finally see my generation standing up for something, and to finally see this whole social media experiment working to some positive mobilizing effects, many many people have already written about it and have done so much more articulately than I could.

But I thought I’d use this week’s link roundup post to feature some of the great writing that’s been done connecting the food movement to the Wall Street uprising.

Civil Eats had two great posts today: one on the connection between the anti-corporate sentiments of the protests and the food movement, and another on the push for social equality in food justice alongside corporate accountability.

Similarly, Tom Philpott this week writes about the misperception that agriculture isn’t big business, and takes the Farm Action Bureau to task. It’s heartening to see smart people finally calling out Big Ag as the corporate lobbying powerhouse it is.

I wrote last week that I believe the social justice aspects of the food movement were perfectly compatible with the desire for good, artisanal food, and I see the two pieces coming together in Occupy Wall Street in a way that’s really promising for the future of the movement. The Food Committee has developed a pretty fancy makeshift kitchen in the park, full of donations, many of which are from local and/or socially-conscious businesses.

GOOD magazine has a really cool short piece on the symbolism of protest food, launching from pizza on Wall Street.

Word is, the city of New York plans to remove the protestors this weekend, at the request of the park’s private owners. We’ll see how this plays out, both on and off Wall Street. But if you were waiting to help, to contribute, to participate, now is the time. Get your activist on!

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