Monday, June 7, 2010

Michael Pollan, "The Food Movement, Rising."

Here's an interesting multi-book review by Michael Pollan, titled "The Food Movement, Rising." Pollan's point is that "critics [of the current mainstream food system in the U.S.] are coming at the issue from a great many different directions. Where many social movements tend to splinter as time goes on, breaking into various factions representing divergent concerns or tactics, the food movement starts out splintered." The result is "a big, lumpy tent" in which sometimes the "various factions . . . work at cross-purposes." However, he does find that "there are indications that these various voices may be coming together in something that looks more and more like a coherent movement."

What are these factions reacting to?

Pollan explains that
    Americans spend a smaller percentage of their income on food than any people in history—slightly less than 10 percent—and a smaller amount of their time preparing it: a mere thirty-one minutes a day on average, including clean-up. The supermarkets brim with produce summoned from every corner of the globe, a steady stream of novel food products (17,000 new ones each year) crowds the middle aisles, and in the freezer case you can find “home meal replacements” in every conceivable ethnic stripe, demanding nothing more of the eater than opening the package and waiting for the microwave to chirp. Considered in the long sweep of human history, in which getting food dominated not just daily life but economic and political life as well, having to worry about food as little as we do, or did, seems almost a kind of dream.

The dream isn't all that it seems, however: "although cheap food is good politics, it turns out there are significant costs—to the environment, to public health, to the public purse, even to the culture."

First Lady Michelle Obama is part of this movement: "the First Lady has effectively shifted the conversation about diet from the industry’s preferred ground of 'personal responsibility' and exercise to a frank discussion of the way food is produced and marketed." By doing so, she has "rejected the conventional argument that the food industry is merely giving people the sugary, fatty, and salty foods they want, contending that the industry “doesn’t just respond to people’s natural inclinations—it also actually helps to shape them,” through the ways it creates products and markets them."

Pollan notes, however, that
    It would be a mistake to conclude that the food movement’s agenda can be reduced to a set of laws, policies, and regulations, important as these may be. What is attracting so many people to the movement today (and young people in particular) is a much less conventional kind of politics, one that is about something more than food. The food movement is also about community, identity, pleasure, and, most notably, about carving out a new social and economic space removed from the influence of big corporations on the one side and government on the other.

Pollan continues: "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."


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