by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-movement

May 29 2017

Today is this blog’s tenth anniversary!

I can hardly believe that I have been writing this blog for ten yers, but this is indeed the tenth anniversary of its official beginning.  I will be writing about the blog this week, reflecting on its origins and why I keep doing it.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, have a thoughtful and generous Memorial Day! 

Mar 10 2017

Edible Communities: Happy 15th Anniversary!

I was invited to write a short piece for Edible Communities reflecting on the 15-year anniversary of these publications, which began with Edible Ojai and now include 90 Edible Magazines throughout the country.

They titled it: Where to From Here? The Local Food Movement 15 Years Later

The editor writes:

Edible Communities began in 2002 with the launch of Edible Ojai, a magazine that chronicled the rising interest in farm-to-table/local, organic and natural foods. Since that time, the organization started by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian has grown into a revolutionary, award-winning media network that encompasses over 90 independently-owned and operated magazines and websites across the United States and Canada. In 2011, Edible Communities was recognized by the prestigious James Beard Foundation as “the voice of the local food movement.”

As the organization celebrates its 15th anniversary, Marion Nestle looks back at how the local food movement has changed the way we eat and how the world (especially the U.S. and Canada) can best ensure—via political action and other means—a healthy and sustainable food supply in the years to come.

And here’s what I wrote:

Can it really be 15 years since Edible Ojai kick-started the Edible Communities contribution to the local food movement? Edible Communities has played such a vital role in the stunning changes that have taken place in the North American food world since the mid 1990s. At a time when global politics seems ever more intimidating and irrational, local food movements shine as beacons of empowerment and hope. By making food choices that support regional farmers and producers, we vote with our forks for healthier and more sustainable lives for ourselves, our children, our communities, and our planet.

I use the word “vote” advisedly. Choosing local food is an outright act of politics.

I am a college professor and I hear all the time from students about how much they want to find work that will give meaning to their lives and help change the world, but how pessimistic they feel about whether this is possible in today’s political environment. They see what needs to be done, but don’t know how or where to begin.

Begin with food, I tell them.

They are too young to realize how much the food movement already has accomplished: a lot. The food system has changed so much for the better since Edible Communities began its journey.

Here is my personal measure of its progress. In 1996, my New York University colleagues and I created undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs in Food Studies. Everyone thought we were out of our minds: Why would anyone want to study about food? But we got lucky. The New York Times wrote about our programs the week after they were approved. That very afternoon, we had students in our offices waving the clipping and telling us that they had waited all their lives for these programs. Now, just about every college I visit offers some version of a Food Studies program or food courses in fields as diverse as English, history, art and biology.  Students see how food is an entry point into the most pressing problems in today’s society: health, climate change, immigration, the –isms (sex, gender, race, age), and inequities in education, income, and power.

Some gains of local food movements are easier to measure than others. One of my favorites: The New Oxford American Dictionary added “locavore” as its word of the year in 2007.

The easiest to measure are those counted by the USDA, starting with farmers’ markets. In 1994, there were 1,755; by 2016, there were 8,669. The USDA is mainly devoted to promoting industrial agriculture but has had to pay attention (if a bit grudgingly) to the growth of local and regional food systems. It reports that about 8 percent of U.S. farms market foods on the local level, mostly directly to consumers through farmers’ markets and  harvest subscription (CSA) arrangements. It estimates local food sales at more than $6 billion a year. This is a tiny fraction of U.S. food sales, but growing all the time.

More signs of progress: Since 2007, regional food hubs, which the USDA defines as collaborative enterprises for moving local foods into larger mainstream markets, have tripled in number. The USDA finds four times as many school districts with farm-to-school programs as it did a decade ago. It even notes the number of farms selling directly to retail stores or restaurants. As for what seems obvious to me—the increasing value of local food to local economies—the USDA remains hesitant (hence: grudging). It admits that “local economic benefits may accrue from greater local retention of the spent food dollar” but is withholding judgment pending further research.

The USDA partners with other federal agencies in a Local Foods, Local Places program aimed at revitalizing communities through the development of local food systems. These not only involve farmers’ markets, but also cooperative groceries, central kitchens, business incubators, bike paths and sidewalks, and school and community gardens. This program may be minuscule in federal terms, but that it exists at all is testimony to how effectively local food movements have encouraged the development of home, school, community and urban gardens. The Edible Communities publications have both chronicled and championed all these changes.

One more measurable change: the increasing sales of organics. Organic production, of course, is not necessarily local but it is very much part of the food movement.  Its growth is remarkable—from about $15 billion in sales in 2006 to nearly $40 billion in 2015. As the Organic Trade Association puts it, “Consumer demand for organic has grown by double-digits nearly every year since the 1990s.” This has happened so quickly that the demand now exceeds the supply.

My last example: In the summer, even New York City supermarket chains proudly display locally grown foods, usually defined as coming from within New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, but still a lot closer than California or Latin America, where much of the city’s food usually comes from.

But the USDA has no idea how to measure the other critical accomplishments of the food movement. It is hard to put a number on the personal and societal values associated with knowing where food comes from and how it is produced.

Some months ago in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan complained that the food movement is barely a political force in Washington, DC, despite its having created “purchase by purchase, a $50 billion alternative food economy, comprising organic food, local food and artisanal food.” “Call it Little Food,” he said, pointing out that “while it is still tiny in comparison with Big Food, it is nevertheless the fastest-growing sector of the food economy.”

His concern was the need to consolidate these gains, join forces and exert power at the national level. Even in today’s political climate, this can—and must—be done. I’ve seen local food movements in the United States evolve over the years to increasingly converge with movements for organics, and also with those for better access to food and for health, food justice, environmental justice, food sovereignty, living wages and gender, racial and economic equity. We need to keep doing this, now more than ever.

The congressional Freedom Caucus is doing all it can to revoke a long list of federal regulations, many of which deal with food. Its members want to do away with healthier school meals, the National Organic Program, food labels, menu labels and a host of food safety regulations. We need to do more than vote with forks to protect the gains of the last few years. We need to “vote with votes.” This means doing basic politics. The most important strategy by far is to write, call and meet with our own congressional representatives or their staff. If one person does this, they might not notice. But if several do, they pay attention. If many do, they pay more attention. Get friends to help.

We often hear it said that “all politics is local.” Local food movements prove that point. So much can be done at the local level to strengthen food systems and encourage community action. Real social change starts locally, and builds from there. That’s why Edible Communities matters so much. They are a force for strengthening local food movements, supporting community development and taking political action for a healthier and more sustainable future. May they flourish!

Nov 10 2016

Why food politics matters: the importance of bread and community

Yesterday morning, post-election, I received an email from Steffan Sander, who bakes fabulous hard-crust bread in Tompkins County.  He runs a bread CSA, to which my partner and I happily belong.

I asked his permission to share his message.

Oh! My Dearest Breadfriends,

My heart goes out to each and all of you. Here we have been up till all hours, and then sleeping fitfully. Bakers do that anyway, but last night was different.

We started the bakery a little more than five years ago. Why? Because we were hungry for good bread. Because we wanted to work and play with our dear friends. Because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. But it was more than that.

We built this bakery because we had a vision–of a place that would nurture our community, that would feed us all honestly and with the fruits of our shared soil and water. We saw the bakery as a place where skilled and hard work would be applied to simple materials, and that our work would then feed us all. We envisioned loaves shaped with care, each embodying our attention and love. We imagined those loaves shared and eaten, given away, or simply (if briefly) appreciated as a source of quietness. Nourishment.

There have been days–too hot or too long or too dry or too wet–when all of that has seemed a dream. But this morning, I feel it more strongly than ever. What I saw last night was half a country intoxicated by the pleasure of finally being allowed to openly express anger, resentment, and hatred. It is that awful pleasure that concerns me. I do not think it will subside anytime soon.

There will be plenty of work to do in the weeks and months to come.

For now, I wanted to tell you this about our bakery: we rededicate ourselves to kindness, to generosity, to difference, to complexity, to respect, and to reason. We rededicate ourselves to hard work, to vision, and most of all, to love.

With great and sorrowful affection,

Stef

This is why the food movement matters and is such a source of hope—and pleasure.

Thanks Stef.

Oct 11 2016

Do we have a food movement? The New York Times food issue

The New York Time published its annual food issue on Sunday, this one with the theme, “Can Big Food Change?”

In the circles in which I travel, Michael Pollan’s “Big food strikes back: Why did the Obamas fail to take on corporate agriculture?” caused the biggest stir.  Here’s what set people off:

On “Outlobbied and Outgunned:”  The word I’ve been using to describe food industry lobbying against Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign is ferocious.

I’ve always thought that Mrs. Obama must have picked the goal of Let’s Move!—“Ending childhood obesity in a generation“—as a safe, bipartisan issue that Republicans and Democrats could all get behind.  Doesn’t everyone want kids to be healthy?

I can’t imagine that she could have predicted how controversial matters like healthy school lunches or nutrition standards for food advertising to kids would become.

Whatever.  The food industry’s response to everything Let’s Move! tried to do was ferocious.

Despite all that, as I’ve said, Let’s Move! managed to accomplish some important gains: healthier school meals, more informative food and menu labels, the White House garden, and—most important—getting food issues on the national agenda.

On “the food movement barely exists:” I once taught a course on food as a social movement with Troy Duster, a sociologist then at NYU, who had much experience teaching about social movements.

He made one point repeatedly: those who are in the middle of a social movement cannot possibly judge its effectiveness.  You can only know when a movement has succeeded or failed when it is over.

This one is not over yet.

This movement, fragmented in issues and groups as it most definitely is, may not have clout in Washington, DC, but it is having an enormous effect on supermarkets, food product manufacturers, fast food chains, the producers of meat, eggs, and poultry, and young people in this country.

How else to explain:

  • The vast improvement in the quality of foods sold in supermarkets
  • The rush of food product makers to remove artificial colors, flavors, trans-fats. and other potentially harmful food additives, including sugars and salt
  • The insistence of fast food chains on sourcing meat from animals raised without hormones or antibiotics
  • The actions of meat, egg, and poultry producers to care for their animals more humanely
  • Soda tax initiatives in so many cities

And my personal favorite,

  • The enormous numbers of college students clamoring for courses about food systems and the role of food in matters as diverse as global resource inequities and climate change.

As Troy Duster kept telling us, it’s not over until it’s over.

While waiting for enlightenment, let’s celebrate the proliferation of food organizations.  They are all working on important issues and doing plenty of good.

And yes, let’s encourage all of them to move beyond the local, engage in national politics, and put some pressure on Washington to come up with better food policies.

Here are the other articles in the magazine, all of them well worth reading.

Apr 25 2016

Has Mars joined the food movement?

Mars, the very same company that has been trying for years to position chocolate as a health food, appears to be joining the food movement, and big time.

Take a look at its GMO disclosure statement on the back of this package of M&Ms.

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If it’s too small to read, the statement is in between MARS and the green Facts Up Front labels)

PARTIALLY PRODUCED WITH

GENETIC ENGINEERING

And this is before Vermont’s GMO labeling rules come into effect in July.

Mars also has come out in support of the FDA’s proposals on voluntary sodium reduction.  The company explains that through its “new global Health and Wellbeing Ambition,

Mars Food will help consumers differentiate and choose between “everyday” and “occasional” options. To maintain the authentic nature of the recipe, some Mars Food products are higher in salt, added sugar or fat. As these products are not intended to be eaten daily, Mars Food will provide guidance to consumers on-pack and on its website regarding how often these meal offerings should be consumed within a balanced diet. The Mars Food website will be updated within the next few months with a list of “occasional” products – those to be enjoyed once per week – and a list of “everyday” products – including those to be reformulated over the next five years to reduce sodium, sugar, or fat.

Last year, the company supported the FDA’s proposal to require added sugars labeling with a Daily Value percentage on the Nutrition Facts panel.

It also said it would stop using artificial dyes in its candies.

How to interpret these actions?  I’m guessing they mean that the movement for good, clean, fair food has gained enough traction to put long-established food brands on notice: make your products healthier for people and the environment, or else.

Feb 15 2016

The food movement, Australia

My daily walk to the Charles Perkins Centre at Sydney Uni takes me past Ground Up—the campus community garden.

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It has a greenhouse.  And vegetables.

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It’s summer here!

May 22 2015

Weekend reading: Organic Struggle

Brian K. Obach.  Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States.  MIT Press, 2015.

Here’s my blurb:

Brian Obach has written an important book for everyone who produces, buys, or considers buying organically produced foods.  This is a well-researched and utterly riveting history of the issues that unite and divide organic farmers and consumers, firmly grounded in the political context of classic social movements.   If you want to advocate for healthier and more sustainable food systems, you must read this book.

May 13 2015

Milan Food Expo: The protests

When the Milan Food Expo opened on May 1, there were plenty of protests, fires, store break-ins, and overturned cars.

The protesters have been angered by Expo’s reliance on volunteer workers, the involvement of corporations like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola and a perception that much of the public money ploughed into the project has been lost to corruption.

Coca-Cola has a big presence at the Expo (see my post from last week) and in the city.

Coca-Cola sponsors Milan’s public bicycle program: BikeMi.

2015-05-03 11.02.54

McDonald’s also has a large restaurant on the Decumano (the main street of the fair), but the huge golden arches are in the back where they are only visible to people from outside the fair..

2015-05-02 13.03.17

The day after the protests, cleaners were washing away the last of the “No Expo” graffitti on Milan walls.

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Despite the initial controversy, the Expo is attracting huge crowds and vast hordes of school children.  Most pavilions are open, and some have long lines to get into.

Tomorrow: a preliminary assessment.

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