Food has changed a great deal in the past 50 years. We went from a country filled with small farms, milk delivered door to door, and grocery stores that contained simple, minimally processed foods. Somewhere in between then and now, we went through a fast food revolution, where speed and convenience trump quality. But a new food revolution may have started in 2001, with Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation . This was soon followed up by Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan, and movies like Food, Inc. Most recently, the First Lady has placed an emphasis upon eating fresh, organic produce and bringing families back to home cooked meals in an attempt to combat obesity.
There was a great article on AlterNet, written by Pollan , that suggests several books about the changes in our food system, and addresses a number of issues surrounding the new food revolution. Here’s my condensed version.
Food Made Visible: Seems kind of silly, that something we engage in three times a day hasn’t had a ton of press in the past 30 years, in the political sense at least. Shockingly, only 10% of the average American’s income is spent on food. Additionally, only thirty minutes per day for meal preparation? That’s all three meals plus clean up. It practically takes me 20 minutes just to clean up after myself after cooking dinner. If this doesn’t prove that American’s priorities are a bit skewed, I don’t know what does. A majority of the agricultural changes occurred in the 1970′s under Secretary Butz, who shifted the focus of the farm bill to subsidize only a few commodity crops (corn and soy). In turn, the prices of processed foods greatly decreased (including corn-fed meat) while that of fresh produce increased. [See: Food Subsidies ]
Food Politics: There are an increasing number of new food “movements.” Organizations are created to support changes in school lunches, the treatment of livestock, promoting sustainable agriculture, the list goes on. It now seems, that many of these individual organizations are beginning to unify into a more coherent movement. The most notable movement is bringing attention to the obesity epidemic in the United States. It is estimated that 3/4 of the US health care spending is attributed to the treatment of chronic diseases, all of which have links to diet. Michelle Obama is one of the strongest advocates for changing the food industry, from her organically grown produce to the “Let’s Move” campaign, she is making a strong statement to increase awareness of how food is produced (a shift from the food industry’s position on personal responsibility of the consumer). The newly passed health care bill may also help to add momentum to the food movement. New legislation may lead insurance companies to take a greater interest in preventing chronic diseases, as they will no longer be able to exclude anyone from coverage.
Beyond the Barcode: Much of the new food movement stems from communities and a desire to create a new economic space that is untouched by corporations. Anyone who has ever spent time at a farmer’s market knows that much more than the sale of food occurs. It is a lively “to do,” where people know your name, music is playing and local causes are supported. In many ways, farmers markets are true representations of using dollars for votes. Buying food from a farmer’s market does not just indicate the value of the food itself, but the importance of political and ethical values behind it. It seems logical that food and farming has become a new point of interest for those disenchanted with capitalism. Meals have become a place where corporate America can be most greatly felt, between fast food chains and processed items lining the shelves of grocery stores. Yet, food can also lead us away from big corporations, and back to the earthy, rich flavors found in farmer’s markets.
For additional readings:
Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front by Joel Salatin All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America? by Joel Berg Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities by Carlo Petrini The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society by Janet A. Flammang
What’s your stand on the new food revolution? Have you made any big changes to the way you eat or the food you purchase in the past few years?