The Food Movement Rising
In the face of big-budget marketing campaigns, we have the truth — and taste — on our side
In case you didn’t get the memo, today is Food Day. In more than 2,000 communities in all fifty states, people will be taking a moment to step back and celebrate our food — and the growing ranks of a food movement working hard to ensure that healthy, sustainably, and ethically raised food, grown and produced by workers paid and treated fairly, is the norm not the exception.
To celebrate, myself and dozens of partners including Corporate Accountability International, Slow Food USA, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Land Stewardship Project are launching Food MythBusters — a series of short online movies to help you detect truth from fiction when it comes to your food and how it’s made. The first film takes on the myth that we need chemical agriculture to feed the world and looks at the true costs of industrial agriculture and the power and potential of sustainable food and farming.
For twelve years, I’ve been traveling around the country talking food. My talks must sometimes feel like a withering assault of bad news: Did you know agriculture contributes to about one third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions? Or, that thanks to agricultural chemicals most of us have — at minimum — 13 pesticides detectable in our blood on any given day? Or that because of our broken food system one in three kids born in this country will develop debilitating diabetes in their lifetime? Bummer, right?
During the Q&A, invariably someone raises their hand and asks what difference it makes to try to do anything to make any of this better — with things so damn dire. It’s the moment I wait for all night.
What difference can we make? A huge one. Just look at the big wins the food movement has accomplished over the past fifteen years:
1. Farmer’s markets: Bell bottoms might have been big back in the 1970s, but farmers markets weren’t. There were only a few hundred still kicking by the mid-1970s. Thanks to hard work in communities across the country, there are now 7,864 farmers markets across the United States, more than double from just a decade ago, directly connecting folks to their food producers.
2. Farm-to-School: Fifteen years ago you wouldn’t have found any big school districts partnering with their local farmers to get farm fresh, regional food onto kids’ lunch trays. Today, there are farm-to-school programs in 10,000 schools — in every single state in the country.
3. Farmworkers’ rights:Farmworkers continue to be among the most poorly paid and exploited workers in our economy and yet, thanks to the hard work and organizing by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), farmworkers in Florida are starting to see wages and working conditions improve through the organization’s Fair Food Program. This month, after six years of campaigning, Chipotle announced it will sign the Coalition’s Fair Food Agreement to respect the rights and dignity of farmworkers by committing to pay a "penny-per-pound" premium for tomatoes to lift farmworker wages and only to buy from farms with fair labor practices. The CIW is now partnering with other worker advocacy groups through the Food Chain Workers Alliance, bringing together workers from seed to plate.
4. Protecting our water and farmland: Over the past decade, some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world have been working overtime to expand fracking, aka hydraulic fracturing. Research is showing that fracking decimates farmland, generates toxic waste, and pollutes our air and water. That's why California, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New York have all passed measures against this destructive, toxic practice. And, 250 communities around the U.S. have taken action to stop fracking, thanks in part to the chutzpah and organizing power of our partners at Food & Water Watch.
5. Real food on campus: Started in 2008 to encourage universities to shift some of the $7 billion spent annually on food purchases toward “real food,” Real Food Challenge now connects students on hundreds of college campuses. To date, they’ve shifted $48.5 million of school purchases toward real food — that’s a lot of local carrots! Today, 250 Real Food Challenge campus chapters are hosting Food Day events.
And those are just six examples – I could have picked sixty more.
Right now, perhaps the biggest food fight is playing out in California ballot boxes over a new ballot initiative to label foods with genetically engineered ingredients. Food movement organizers succeeded in getting one million signatures (one million!) to bring Prop 37 to voters in November and have won major popular support. With efforts like this one, and the ones like those I mention above, we can make a thousand farmers markets bloom, get junk food pushers out of schools, encourage some of the world’s largest corporations to do the right thing — and more.
Sure, we’ve still got a lot of work cut out for us. And sure, we’re still bombarded by the marketing and PR spin from the food industry. By last count, biotech giant Monsanto and many of the other biggest players in the food industry had poured $40 million into the campaign to defeat Prop 37 — and their well-funded misinformation is making a dent in public support. In a recent New York Times article, journalist Michael Pollan wrote about the fight over Prop 37 and suggested this vote will be a litmus test for the movement — a chance to flex our political muscle. But with ad spending at this rate, it may become a litmus test for how unlimited campaign funding distorts democracy.
In the face of big-budget marketing campaigns, we have the truth — and taste — on our side. We can shout our story from the rooftops — or, rooftop farms that is — and make sure that more of us know the real story about our food we eat and about the successes of the food movement rising, not just the story the chemical pushers and junk food juggernaut want you to believe. Check out my Food MythBusting series, launching today, and join with us to spread the real story what we eat.