Fostering a Food Revolution

Ever since seeing the incredible momentum that gathered behind the effort to get the Obama’s to plant a garden in the White House lawn, I have been wanting to jot down some thoughts about this effort. However, this is one of those cases where procrastination actually pays off, because while I dawdled, Tom Philpott jotted. He has a post over at that hits the nail on the head.

Go read it here: Food, class, and the new, new agrarianism

In general, the post actually focuses more on the coverage of the new garden at the White House, than on the garden itself. Of particular concern is the issue of class. These are some of the points that stood out for me.

I think it’s problematic, in a nation wherein real wages have stagnated since the 1970s, to
cavalierly demand that people pay more for food.

If we accept our food system as it is, then Childs makes perfect sense. We need an industrialized food system to churn out food that people can afford; the best we can do is nudge the industry to make health and sustainability a bit more of a priority.

From what I can see, the only real way to challenge that logic is to challenge the food system as a whole. Right now, we have an extractive food system — one that extracts wealth from communities and moves it up the commodity chain to corporate shareholders. We need to create a food system that builds wealth within communities — and thus broadens access to fresh, local, and organic food.

Later in the piece he talks about what a model for non-extractive local food system might look like:

Imagine productive community gardens spread throughout the neighborhood, that provide fresh vegetables to the folks that tend them, plus a substantial surplus.

Now imagine that surplus is sold a to restaurant owned by community members — one that trains and employs real cooks, not McDonalds-style button-pushers. Some of the profits and wages generated there are spent at a community-owned food coop — one that sources as much produce as possible both from the community gardens and nearby, exurban farmers (since community gardens can’t meet all the needs).

With institutions like these, a large and increasing chunk of that $10 million stays within the community, knocking around, multiplying, and bringing in new forms of industry. Someone realizes that all this local eating is generating food scraps that could be turned into valuable compost for the community gardens — and initiates a work-composting enterprise in the backyard. And so on.

This is the model, I think, that can address the food-and-class problem in the United States. For too long, food has been seen as an input of, not a tool for, economic development. To broaden access to healthy food, that must change.

Again, go read the whole post here: Food, class, and the new, new agrarianism

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