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Michael Pollan on the Food Movement

May 23, 2010

Michael Pollan’s forthcoming New York Review of Books piece is a must-read for anyone interested in the rise of the food movement. The piece begins with some historical background — from the subsidization of corn and soy in the 1970s to the food scandals of the 1980s and 90s and subsequent backlash. Pollan characterizes today’s food movement as a “big, lumpy tent,” but insists that its various voices may be coming together “in something that looks more and more like a coherent movement.” What everyone can agree upon, Pollan tells us, is that, if we are serious about addressing climate change, health care costs, and the economy, then we need to get serious about food system reform.

What inspires me about the food movement is its potential to decentralize the economy. As Pollan explains, food is

the place in daily life where corporatization can be most vividly felt: think about the homogenization of taste and experience represented by fast food. By the same token, food offers us one of the shortest, most appealing paths out of the corporate labyrinth, and into the sheer diversity of local flavors, varieties, and characters on offer at the farmers’ market.

Put another way, the food movement has set out to foster new forms of civil society. But instead of proposing that space as a counterweight to an overbearing state, as is usually the case, the food movement poses it against the dominance of corporations and their tendency to insinuate themselves into any aspect of our lives from which they can profit.

In reality, a counterweight to the “dominance of corporations” would also tend to act as a counterweight to an “overbearing state.” Buying local food reduces fossil fuel dependence — a much shorter, more appealing path to addressing climate change than attempting to pass cap-and-trade reform (though that would obviously help). It also helps foster the vibrant local economies necessary to balance state budgets, and lowers overall health care costs — a significant portion of which are due to chronic diseases that Pollan says are “preventable and linked to diet.” The new forms of civil society envisioned by the food movement would, in short, tend to undercut the power of corporations and the state alike. What’s not to like?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2010 11:25 am

    Local economies and local solutions — you’d think more conservatives would embrace the food movement, right? Here’s a blog post addressing that.

    I wrote about the food movement while covering a lecture given by a Chicago Tribune investigative reporter who covers this beat. It’s amazing how food issues impact SO many crucial areas of public policy, and life, these days. Hope you’ll stay on this beat and keep writing about it.

  2. innocentsmithjournal permalink*
    May 24, 2010 12:03 pm

    Thanks for the link! I very much admire conservatives like Rod Dreher, who “value small businesses over corporations because they keep people empowered.” I fear, however, that they are few and far between.

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