If vegan, locally made, fair-trade, ethically sourced, organic, palm-oil free, maple-syrup-sweetened chocolates made it on to your Valentine's Day menu, you’re probably not alone. The food movement seems very much alive and well, with more and more people showing their allegiance every day (even though Super Bowl advertising may have suggested otherwise). States have opened the door to more organic agriculture, farmers have re-discovered sustainable practices, activists continue to fight for a better food system, and researchers are even defending urban gardening’s ability to produce healthy food in a notoriously polluted setting.
And yet...the doubters are out there. In the Washington Post, Tamar Haspel, self-described “hard-hearted empiricist,” argued in The Surprising Truth About the Food Movement that the support of landmark food movement issues (organics, local food, genetically modified organisms, farm subsidies, antibiotics, farmworker conditions, animal welfare) really only comes from a tiny (5%!) group of consumers who are willing to spend their money to support these issues. In general, she argues that most consumers don’t really understand the big picture (i.e. we should be most concerned about protecting the environment) and are being appeased by big food manufacturers who take out an additive here, and slap on a “natural” label there...
The bottom line is that consumers are pushing corporations to eliminate chemicals, preservatives and anything artificial — a deck-chair rearrangement exercise that probably won’t make our food more healthful but could both encourage consumption of the targeted processed foods (because they’re natural!) and, possibly, contribute to food waste (because preservatives do, indeed, preserve).”
Representative Chellie Pengrie (D-Maine) and author and food activist Anna Lappe retorted that there is a growing groundswell of people who want healthy and environmentally friendly food, and are ready to consume it as soon as the supply meets the demand. Their passion for the issue is obvious:
The food movement we are part of is a movement made up of farmers and farmworkers, of teachers and public health officials, of policymakers and chefs, and of everyday Americans from all walks of life. Despite what opinion writers such as Haspel say, they care about labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs), farmworker rights and the effects of chemicals used to grow their food.
Big change never comes easily, and it never happens quickly. Along the way there will always be those who doubt it’s happening at all. But we can see it happening across the country — in grocery stores, in school cafeterias, on family farms. And even in the halls of Congress.”
Where’s the proof? All over the nation. For instance, farmers are taking a fresh look at agricultural practices in new and exciting ways, and at a larger and larger scale. The Sioux City Journal just reported that both North Dakota and Minnesota are offering farmers subsidies for the three-year period it would take them to switch to organic agriculture. And a recent New York Times article by Stephanie Strom cited the growing use of cover-cropping by farmers all over the country, but specifically in the agriculturally rich Midwest. Surprisingly, this environmentally friendly practice can be an economic boon to the farmers:
Including the value of improved soil quality, less erosion and other improvements, Mr. Rulon estimates that Rulon Enterprises gets about $244,000 of net economic benefit from cover crops annually, or a little more than $69 an acre.” In the advocacy realm, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition just set their priorities for 2016, which include protecting and enhancing soil and water quality through improved conservation programs. This group will fight at the national level over the next year to ensure that their priorities will be heard throughout Congress.
And lest you think that the food movement is all happening in the Midwest or D.C., check out this great Modern Farmer article by Dan Nosowitz that explores a few new studies on food grown in urban areas. Skeptics, Nosowitz points out, are worried about the high level of toxic contaminants found in urban soil getting into the food. The research, however, shows that while the bad stuff certainly does exist, it doesn’t easily make its way into the food, and in many cases, gardening can actually help improve the soil.
The food movement is alive and well and growing. How are you involved? Drop us a line in the comments below and tell us how you’re showing your love for sustainable food.
- The surprising truth about the ‘food movement’ via Washington Post
- The food movement is small? Not from where we sit, it isn’t. via Washington Post
- Upper Midwest farmers transitioning to organic can get aid via Sioux City Journal
- Cover Crops, a Farming Revolution With Deep Roots in the Past via NY Times
- NSAC Members Set 2016 Priorities for Sustainable Agriculture via National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
- How Safe is it, Really, to Eat Food Grown in an Urban Garden? via Modern Farmer
Read all stories by Damon Cory-Watson