WHY FOOD MOVEMENTS ARE UNSTOPPABLE
Jonathan Latham has written an enthusiastic little piece explaining why food movements are unstoppable. As if that’s not a liberating thought, he adds that food qualifies as a liberation movement.
I’ll toast to that!
I encourage you to read Latham’s piece here. I also want to throw in my own two cents worth.
Latham writes for people hungry for food policy that can change the world for the better.
That’s a new twist on food. Most people interested in food have a more vested interest. There are people who want to make money selling food; and people who enjoy eating food the way it is, but want to know where to get more for less; and people who worry about food being unsafe and unhealthy for them.
Humans are probably not wired to focus much attention on food as a way to improve the world for everybody else and every other species too. Yet, we can grow beyond our wiring. That’s what makes for liberation.
Before getting too excited about the unstoppable liberation movement, we have to face some hard truths.
We do need to remind ourselves that the first thing about food is that we, and all sorts of others critters on this planet, need food to survive.
That’s not necessarily the most idealistic place to start.
WE NEED PLEASURE TOGETHER AS MUCH AS FOOD
But a close second to our need for physical and personal is that we need food and food experiences because they are so pleasurable to our mind and body and spirit. These pleasures are central to our ability to do what has to be done to hang in, plan for the future, and have relationships that lead to more food and can sometimes lead to procreation, and the furthering of the species. Early food was as much about being pals as paleo.
When we eat together, we extend our ability to enjoy all these things into the future. That’s why our toasts and grace at meals always feature the group.
That togetherness need around food is almost as deep a driver of our behavior as our physical need. That is why humans count among the social animals, not the self-centered and calculating animals conservative economic theories depict.
This understanding of the base and higher needs that food fulfills is central to food policies that aim to improve the world. It leads people who think about a better world to remember to put need, pleasure and conviviality at the forefront of our plans.
Too many dangerous ideologies came from forgetting the primacy of cherishing pleasure and conviviality. Food can remind us of that, and thereby lead us to be wise in our radicalism, and put people’s needs first.
That’s one consideration that attracts me to “people-centered food policy.” And one reason why I focus on food and city policy is that cities are at the level of government where people-issues come to the fore — food as a people lever for overcoming loneliness and alienation, for collaboration, for cohesion, for bonding and for bridging.
Near the top of his meditation, Latham says that “the food movement is unexpectedly radical.” (Because it’s unexpected, a lot of radicals don’t “get” food, and a lot of non-radicals think it’s cool.)
Food is radical because it teaches us to start with our biology and to live in our gut, not just our head. The gut is as important to human evolution as the brain, and we need to show it that respect — not fill it with the cheapest junk we can find.
That shift in human priorities can be very unexpectedly radical — imagine the integration of need, pleasure and conviviality becoming the starting point of designs to improve the world.
FIVE QUALITIES OF FOOD MOVEMENTS
Latham lists five qualities of food movements that lead him to be hopeful.
First, the movement is leaderless, and therefore does not have a guru or vanguard or dictator problem.
Although the lack of formal leadership does create challenges in terms of being disciplined and effective as a striking force for change, such problems are more tolerable than suffering through bad and mediocre leadership.
Second, the movement is grassroots, Latham says. Anyone who likes to eat is welcome,. That’s also a good place to start, because it gets rid of all the people who don’t like to eat — the people who fear food and worry about food, such as the kind of people who misled us for so long about fat in food, and the mad scientists who want re-engineer the world’s genes so we never run out of fake food. The road to food hell has been paved by people with tyrannical and sterile utopias.
Third, Latham says, food movements are open to learning from people around the world. That includes a few billion peasants, who for centuries have been scorned by Modernists — who scorned the deep wisdom that comes from dwelling in and on the land and water and in Nature.
Fourth, Latham says, food movements are low-budget, and can be pushed along by people of very limited means.
I think Latham could be more specific about this.
The quality he could identify is that food is directly empowering. It is within our immediate grasp to ask for fair trade coffee, cook from scratch, shop at farmers markets, start up a food policy council. Taking personal power is an opportunity accessible to almost all people, even people who don’t have government grants or corporate paychecks.
Food movements are low-budget precisely because they are empowering. They can be fueled by people power.
Fifth, Latham says, food leads us to have many values, based on many perspective — including ethics, ecology, and justice. This leads people in food activities to make connections. That’s opposite of what Big Science, Big Money and Big Government want us to do — which is to organize in silos.
Food connects us all — this is the sentiment that really got me going in the food movement, as you will see from this mannapesto I and others wrote in 2008.
TWO MORE QUALITIES OF FOOD MOVEMENTS
I’ve heard that humans can remember a max of 7 things, so I’d like to ask Latham to add just two points to his list of five.
My nomination for point 6 is that food movements are solutionary. Critics and analysts are safely relegated to the sidelines. The people in front are the people doing things — not just protesting things, like many activists do, but doing things, like actionists do. to create the changes they want to see, actionists can start a community garden, start a food truck business, start a farmers market, start a direct trade chocolate social enterprise… I could go on and on and on, but more important, food actionists get started.
Being a solutionary movement means we carry ourselves as positive and joyous people. Many things about the world and about food can make us angry, but they do not require or justify negativity or hate. The food movement is unabashedly a movement of positive, joyful hope. We’re far sweeter than sugar!
Being a solutionary movement also means that food fits comfortably in partnerships with many, including local governments — often charged with humble things such as schools and streets and parks and neighborhoods, all of which work better when some version of food is at-hand; and all of which work best when there’s a partnership between citizen groups and government agencies.
The solutionary leaning of food makes it well-suited for local governments, which relies on an active citizenry for ideas and action. And the solutionary energy can course through every sort of issue — be it the need to uplift people from poverty or the need to manage existential threats to the environment.
My nomination for point 7 borrows from Latham’s point about the power of food to reframe.
Like lots of deep thinkers, Latham heaps a lot of blame on the Enlightenment — — the 1600s and 1700s era when Europeans bit the apple of rational knowledge and started separating humans from the rest of Nature and life.
I think, therefore I am, said Descartes, who lost sight of the fact that he is because he eats. Talk about living in your head!!
There’s lots to be said in favor of reason — I like it a lot better than ignorant prejudice — but the Age of Reason got a little unreasonable about the power of Reason with a capital R.
Just ponder, for a moment, that the the Age of Enlightenment coincided with the century when slave labor was used to grow, harvest and refine sugar. The Enlightenment era darkened the record of human history.
There’s a nice little trashing of rationalism in a review of a new book on The Enlightenment (note the Capital T in The) by, of all people, a former editor of the Economist, which is premised on mechanical rationality (which I call doing the thing right, rather than doing the right thing).
Philosopher Thomas Nagel, writing in the New York Review of Books, says the mathematical and physics turn of mind common among Enlightenment thinkers (and classical economics, I would add) dehumanized reality.
Color, taste, feel, smell, sound — all the sensual things that make the food experience what it is — are disappeared to make room for shape, size and motion . Only measurable aspects qualify for what the physics geeks considered to be “primary” characteristics; all others are secondary characteristics.
That passage in the review hit me like a ton of bricks. All of a sudden, I realized why we have been pushing against a glass ceiling, not knowing why we could never get city officials, agriculture officials, medical officials, university officials — you name it — to take food seriously as a primary issue.
For them, food deals with secondary characteristics, and the primary characteristics should be left in the responsible hands of the anonymous market, Big Food companies and specialized government agencies.
To love food is to understand the importance to “fear the geeks, even bearing gifts,” and to keep conviviality, sensuality, holistic health, and humble human needs and pleasures at the forefront of our understanding.
Food is fundamental not only because of our physical survival needs but for existential reasons that have to do with who we are. That is the reason that food movements are both liberating and unstoppable.
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