Saturday, December 15, 2007

the true price of real food

"Nobody considers what the true price of real food is," writes Jamey Lionette in "We Are What We Eat," an article posted at that is also an excerpt from Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed edited by noted food activist Vandana Shiva (South End Press 2007). Lionette runs a neighborhood cafe and market, so his perspective is from the front lines of food activism -- and it's not a rosy picture that he paints. It's a plea for sustainable food that is also partly a history of cheap food in this country, partly an indictment of big agribusiness that extends equally to niche-market chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joes whose mass-produced organics assuage liberal guilt and yet perpetuate neolib economics, partly an obituary to the small farm, and partly a big finger of blame pointed at every one of us. It's inspiring, frustrating, maddening, and every bit correct: food is the definitive real, tangible example of alienated labor, spectacular consumption, big agribusiness biopower, American exceptionalism and individualism. It's spot on with statements of fact, point-blank like "Eating can no longer be an individual act," or more long-ranging like
Our planet's fertile land has decayed, been poisoned, and been transformed into factories while we have been too busy and out of touch with our food to notice. The people who know how to use the land to produce food have lost their place on the land, and we did not notice because we no longer know who produces our food.
He concludes, "We have to ask ourselves what we want, food or our current economic system. We need to realize that our system itself is not sustainable and has failed."


Ryan W. said...

"Eating can no longer be an individual act."


And yet otherwise enlightened people still celebrate their meat consumption as a sign of "authenticity." Progressives sometimes flaunt their meat consumption in an apparent attempt to save themselves from seeming too uniformly progressive... as if by eating a hamburger they prevent themselves from being pigeon-holed. Totally inane.

I have absolutely no problem at all with mass-produced organics... tho the term is in some ways an impossibility, from what I understand. Organic ag is by its very nature more difficult to scale up. But if anyone can do it, and move that product, great.

Branding it a "lifestyle" or "neoliberal" is a last-ditch effort by people still clinging to baseless and nostalgic notions about authenticity... and who for whatever reason are uncomfortable with the idea that "eating can no longer be an individual act."

Ryan W. said...

I disagree with the idea that "As it stands right now, only a privileged few can afford real, clean, and sustainable food."

Most people who can afford food can afford local/organic food... almost anyone, in fact. In America many of the people who we might call "underprivileged," and who complain that organic food is for yuppies, are spending $70/month on their cable bill so they can be "real people." It's just a question of priorities... for all but the poorest.

Food expenses are a small percentage of what people spend money on. Whether you buy organic or not doesn't have a big effect on that expense, relative to someone's total budget each month. Even for lower class Americans.

Some people who are poor really are poor. But many people who struggle with money have enough income but just don't make good choices with their money.

A willingness to cook vs. eating packaged food is also a factor. There are "poor" people all over the place who eat relatively expensive prepared/packaged/processed foods who could actually save money if they cooked with organic ingredients. Granted, if you're working a couple jobs, finding time to cook might require a bit more creativity, but is still probably possible. A lot of this comes down to presence of mind, and caring about it. It's not as much an economic issue as a mental issue.

Ryan W. said...

ohhh, that quote at the beginning of my last comment is from the article tom links to.