Monday, March 23, 2009

Whither the Food Movement?

Groundbreaking for the new White House kitchen garden has lit up the food blogosphere as well as the mainstream press. But longtime food advocates who've been toiling away on sustainable food issues for years--and won many significant victories--are worried they're going to be overrun by food celebrities who think they know better what the Obama administration needs to do.

It's still a fractured movement with no real plan. Food isn't even listed on the agenda at Obama's White House website and Agribusiness remains in incredible force. Just think: the entire organics foods industry represents only a "rounding error" in the nation's trillion dollar food economy, or just 3 percent.

In an excellent New York Times summary perspective on where food is headed now, Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition sums up our own feelings neatly. Commenting on the new White House garden he says, "We just want to make sure that interest in that symbolic action can be channeled into some of the more difficult policy challenges.”

Also worth a read is this paper from the Rudd Center at Yale University asking whether Big Food is the present-day equivalent of Big Tobacco, prepared to say and do anything anything to maintain its grip on U.S. consumer dollars. Here's a link to the pdf version.

6 comments:

Susan Harris said...

There is this part of the Obama agenda (not much, granted):
http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/rural/

Ed Bruske said...

Susan,you're right. There are bits and pieces here and there in the officials agenda. But nothing that stands out--not like Michelle Obama's garden.

Janet said...

Like Susan, I noticed the information on the "rural" section of Obama's site a while ago and was fairly disappointed. It's not as if food is a rural issue. Despite Obama's mention of farm payments in his recent budget speech, his support of ethanol and "clean coal" give plenty of support to the notion that it will be ag (and energy) business mostly as usual, White House garden notwithstanding.

Ed Bruske said...

Janet, when I first visited Obama's White House website I was baffled that food wasn't highly visible there. I think that reflects, sadly, the general mood of the country: these issues that have us so energized still do not resonate with most people. Fresh, local, organic, "real": this segment has been growing rapidly but still represents such a tiny fraction of the U.S. food economy. What Michelle Obama is doing is important in terms of visibility. Now I wish she'd turn her attention to school lunches where there are some very important policy issues at play. Does she dare?

Colleen/FoodieTots said...

I was also disappointed to see food relegated to "rural" policy when it is so clearly tied to urban health. I would love to see the various food/environmental groups come together on school lunch, which is really the synthesis of all that is wrong with our current food system. There have been some encouraging comments from Sec. Vilsack, though we shall see how much of that is reflected in real policy rather than PR moves.

Ed Bruske said...

Colleen, I agree. While much of the movement toward fresh, local foods is rather amorphous, the school lunch program is a prime target for policy improvement. I hope to be doing much more real reporting on that as the program comes up for re-authorization. I hope Michelle Obama jumps in. Otherwise, as you say, it's just talk.