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Mark Bittman says Phooey to Foodie


Mark Bittman’s latest column tried to reclaim the word “foodie” for something more than high-end eaters.

Here’s my response, only 1500 characters of which could actually fit into the NYTimes Comment box.

Mark uses a great term right in the article: food activist. Perhaps “foodie” is our current term for epicure, gourmet and lover of cooking. You aren’t going to change that. But you can write about “food activism” and really inform your readers.

Food activists look behind the curtain on the corporate industrial food system and don’t just protest – they do something about it. Doing a 10-mile diet (yes 10!) and writing about it, I’ve discovered several things:

1. Most of your Farmer’s Market and CSA farmers don’t make enough money farming. Mine supplement their income as techies or school bus drivers or are married to someone who makes money off the farm. The few who can do it either inherit the land and equipment and training from their parents or have access to a lot of free labor or figure out how to turn their produce into products (kale into kale chips) or live in rustic conditions.

2. Land is unnaturally expensive and food is unnaturally cheap.

Let’s start with land. Percentages vary across the country, but it’s safe to say that farmland price per acre has increase 10% on average, some places double that, in the last few years. Many assume low interest rates and high commodity crops are the cause. However, one study says 18% of buyers are Investors looking to park their money. When Ag land is a financial product, farmers can’t compete.

Commodities (think corn and soybeans) are also financial products as well as food products, meaning financial markets can drive up the cost of basic foods, sending the poor into hunger and starvation.

And our citizens pay the smallest percentage of our budget for food of any country on earth! I am now doing a study of the personal and cultural assumptions and delusional thinking that drive us to seek the lowest cost foods, while thinking it’s expensive.

3. Communities have lost control over their food systems. Because industrial food is unnaturally cheap, local processing facilities, distribution systems, canneries and other packagers have disappeared. Food activists realize this and are working to reclaim “local” through Food Hubs and Mobile Slaughter Units and Co-pack facilities to use some terms I’ve learned as I’ve engaged in this issue.

4. Food activists have a deeper pleasure from their food because of the relational eating part – the sense of belonging to a people and a place, the sense that people who come after us will have healthy soils, preserved farmland, and a vibrant food economy.

5. Food activists will have the deeper pleasure of challenging and changing laws that inhibit the prosperity of local/regional farmers. “Cottage laws” and “scale-appropriate regulations” “farmgate sales” are terms now used by people who want to lift from the shoulders of local farmers the regulatory burdens imposed on industrial producers to stock your super markets.

6. Food activists work for fair wages for all the dishwashers, cooks, servers who are the actors in the “foodie’s” experience of those lovely plates.

The pleasure of being a food activist (yes, I am one!) is that it gives you a place to work FOR something while unfairness rises and the climate changes and politics as usual keeps us from acting for the common good. At very least, you feed good food to people you love. You assure a better food future for towns and cities. You sit down to a meal and know that everyone – farmer, food workers, animals and vegetables have had a shot at the good life. No one wants to eat crummy food. No one wants, once they know, to eat unfair food. Food activists do something about that not just in their own kitchens and dining experiences. It’s like that old Dial commercial: “aren’t you glad you do it. Don’t you wish everyone did”?

I am just beginning my own work of liberating “we-the-eaters” from our mindsets and choices that do nothing for our health and ethics, and our society from the tyranny of cheap and big and 24/7 convenient and disconnected. and I’m loving every educational, shocking, inspiring, frustrating, infuriating and blessed minute!


Teaser photo credit: Wikipedia/Steven Walling

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