Eating Our Way to a Better World? A Plea to Local, Fair-Trade, and Organic Food Enthusiasts

From Common Dreams:   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/12-4

by Andrea Brower
Published on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 by Common Dreams

My belly is full. It seems no matter how hard I try to “eat my way to a better world”, that world never materializes. The organic and fair-trade industries are booming, Farmers Markets are the new norm, the word “locavore” was added to the Oxford Dictionary, and Michelle Obama even planted a White House garden. But agribusiness continues to consolidate power and profit, small farmers worldwide are being dispossessed in an unprecedented global land grab, over a billion people are going hungry, and agriculture’s contributions to climate change are increasing. It’s not just that change is slow, but we actually seem to be moving in the opposite direction than alternative food movements are trying to take us.

What is going on? How are we to understand this apparent paradox, and the seeming failure of our food activism? While the answers are not clear or easy, we can start by considering the main form our political action is taking, and where it is (and isn’t) getting us.

The slogan “vote with your fork” has become the hallmark of food movements. From Michael Pollan and Food Inc. to the vast majority of non-profit materials circulating on the internet and in grocery stores, we are empowered by the belief that we can change the world every time we take a bite. This idea of “ethical consumption” stems from classical market fundamentalism, which tells us that the market is a democracy where every dollar gives the right to vote. According to this logic, the social makeup is a result of interactions between billions of individual decisions, where markets simply respond to consumer desires and consumption is the primary arena of citizenship. Thus, to consume is to be political — to be good, participatory citizens.

Yet, buying “ethical” food does nothing to address the basic political economic structures that underly the destructive global food system. It doesn’t challenge corporate power, just re-orients it towards new niche markets. It doesn’t address the trade and subsidy policies that create inequality and hunger, or the privitization of our common genetic wealth, or the massive wave of farmland enclosures. While it may be an attempt to opt-out of supporting that food system, our vote of no confidence doesn’t do much to actually change that system. To illustrate further — even if we tripled the purchase of organics overnight, we will have done nothing to address the industrialization and corporatization of organics, or the erosion of standards to allow for all sorts of ecologically destructive practices in what is supposed to be a sustainable form of agriculture. Further, the majority of farmworkers will still be exposed to agricultural chemicals that we know are sentencing them to cancer, as we all continue to drink those chemicals in our water.

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/12-4

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