Time to get real about a real-food system

February 1, 2011 at 9:15 pm 1 comment

Here’s an excerpt from an interview that Local Eats editor Jen Dalton had with Mark Bittman as he was leaving behind his ‘Minimalist’ column for The New York Times, to begin a weekly op-ed and longer pieces in the Sunday magazine.  Bittman, who wrote one of my favorite cook books, Food Matters, talks about the changes that need to happen to build a saner, just, healthy real-food system for America, beginning with us. Read the full piece in Civil Eats.

The four main issues in food right now are sustainability, nutrition, getting people in the kitchen to cook, and regulation and policy. Until a few years ago, I spent almost all of my time working on helping people to learn to cook—now I’m spending more time now working on and thinking about the others…

“It’s fine to talk about how terrific food is, to be interested in and focus on wonderful food, how it’s made, how’s it’s cooked, all the joy it can bring. The simple fact is that’s not all there is to it. Not everyone has access to wonderful food, so to focus exclusively on that is short-sighted. We need to look at policies, many of which were put in place before any of us were paying attention (or born, for that matter)…..

“I’d like to see a fairer form of taxation, subsidies moved from one place to another; a stronger FDA, a more sensible USDA (really, the USDA should be broken into two agencies, one for agribusiness and one for consumers); and emphasis and support of regional food and food grown at small farms, by farmers making a decent wage. Oh, and better treatment of farmworkers and animals. And, of course, an increase in home cooking and support for that. That’s already a lot, but I think we can make some progress towards those goals in the near future….

“Shopping at farmers’ markets and growing our own food is nice, but this isn’t a back-to-the-land movement—at least not for most people—this is a how-the-hell-are-we-going-to-make-big-changes movement. We have enemies, mostly in big corporations, and we have to figure out how to force them to change their ways. A detailed manifesto of this would take some time to put together, but it’s possible.

“Of course two years ago, many thought Obama was going to make a big difference, but regardless of what you think of the President’s or First Lady’s efforts it’s become more clear than ever that if citizens want change it has to come from the ground up. Only we can push the government and the corporations to make change; no one is going to do it for us.

“The real question is ‘Does change happen because we win some important battles, or does it happen because the country or the world experiences some unforeseen disaster that wakes us up?’ I’m not rooting for disaster, but I’d guess we see either significant change or disaster—or both—in the next 20 years; food-wise, scary things are right around the corner. Typically, though, Americans need bad situations to bring about significant change.

I don’t know if the movement really exists yet; it’s just starting. It would be great if there were some loud, clear and consistent voices out there. Michael Pollan has become a force to be reckoned with, and you can tell that because he’s regularly attacked by the food industry–how great is that? …

“We just need more and more people fighting for food policy that benefits everyone. Right now the so-called movement feels like a few thousand people talking about it to each other…

“We need a new anti-war movement, one that’s not only anti-war but pro-food and, of course, pro-justice in all arenas. This is not a small thing!

“… we need to build community, and two things that do that are CSAs and real co-ops, and here I’m talking about community-run supermarkets….

“In the 70s, I worked as a community organizer. It seems I was saying the same things: we need a bigger voice, we need more activity. It remains true; but as important as it was then to fight against the war, to fight for racial and gender and economic justice—well, gee, guess what? The same issues remain important.

“Food is a big one, but it’s all the same struggle; it’s a struggle for power. If this is a democracy, let’s run it. If it’s not a democracy, let’s fight it. Only by acting that way will we be moving towards real food, good food, for everyone. And I might note that when I say everyone I mean everyone—not just Americans but humans.”

–Jen Dalton is the editor of the Local Eats series, which features stories of how cities all over the United States are rebuilding local food systems from the ground up; and the co-founder of Kitchen Table Talks, a local food forum in San Francisco. Jen is also a communications and branding consultant who works to promote sustainable businesses, local economies and good food. She was the former Programs Director for Slow Food Nation.

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Entry filed under: Commentary, food access, Sustainable Food. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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