As this guest blog comes to an end this week, so does my book tour in support of In Defense of Food, so I thought I'd leave you with a few observations from the road. After speaking in places as different as New York and Indianapolis, Toronto and Louisville, Philadelphia and Iowa City, as well as LA, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, I'm convinced that we're witnessing the rise of a new movement around food in this country--one of the most exciting and hopeful political developments in my lifetime.
Two years ago, when I was on the road for The Omnivore's Dilemma, the ferment around food issues was concentrated mostly in big cities and mostly on the West Coast. That was where people "got it" and seemed most excited about building local food economies, supporting small farmers doing good work, and reforming agricultural policies at the federal and local levels. But much has changed in the last two years. I found the same level of enthusiasm and sophistication in places like Indianapolis--cities in the farm belt where you would not expect criticism of the corn industrial complex, or the virtues of local food, to find much support. While I was on the road, we had the recall of 143 million pounds of beef from the slaughterhouse in Chino as well as the ethanol-induced spike in food prices, two issues I got many questions about. People are coming to recognize that food is a political and ecological issue--indeed, is becoming a national security issue. The mystery, to me, is why so few of our political leaders yet recognize the visceral power of this issue. They soon will.
Today's food movement has many faces, some of them more prominent in certain places than others. There is the movement to reform school lunch. There is the effort to regulate or ban the marketing of food to children. To teach children in schools how to grow food and then prepare it. There is the drive to rebuild local food economies, through farmer's markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture), and the development of municipal food policies encouraging institutions to buy produce locally. There is the meteoric rise of organic food in the marketplace and, not far behind, grass-fed animal protein. Every city now has a handful of chefs who are driving change and raising consciousness by connecting with farmers and shining the light of their glamour on the men and women doing the crucial work of raising our food with conviction. There is the movement to improve the lot of the animals in the food chain, holding producers to high standards of animal welfare. There is the drive to reform the farm bill, which shocked Capitol Hill this past year. There is the growing recognition on the part of the public health community that the farm bill is a public health issue. There is the movement to improve access to healthy whole foods in the inner-city food deserts where fast food is easier to find, and cheaper, than fresh produce. There is the effort to defend small producers from the burden of regulation that holds down local food production and drive up its cost. There is the movement to improve food labeling--calorie counts on fast food, for example--—and to ban transfats. There is the rise of the "Edible" magazines, which are popping up in cities from coast to coast to celebrate local foodways. There is the rise of Slow Food, the Italian-born organization devoted to rebuilding a food culture based on real food eaten communally. I met with Slow Food members in almost every city I visited, and all reported burgeoning memberships and activism.
So there is a lot going on. The movement as yet feels somewhat scattered and inchoate, which might explain why it hasn't been widely recognized by the media as a full-fledged movement. But make no mistake: That is what is rising in America today, a drive to repair our broken, dangerously unsustainable, brutal, and unhealthy food system, and replace it with a shorter, more legible food chain based on the principles of equity, sustainability, and health--but health in the broadest sense of the word, a conception of health that recognizes that our personal health is in fact indivisible from the health of the land, the plants, the animals, and the workers who together comprise the food chain that sustains us.
We're at the beginning of something big. Vote with your forks! --Michael Pollan