The food politics conversation continues

This new film, What’s Organic about Organic?, continues the conversation about food politics, consumption, and the environment:

I still haven’t been able to eat a factory farm raised chicken since Food Inc., which is, of course, a good thing. The challenge here is to be a vigilant consumer and an advocate for sustainable and healthy food systems and practices, without making yourself frickin’ crazy. As more and more of us become educated about and start advocating around food, it will become less difficult to walk through life making sustainable food choices. Though the conversation has undoubtedly grown, it still feels difficult to navigate on a daily basis, and I live in New York City where folks are all about these issues.
I’m a feminist. Of course I want better labor practices for folks working on farms, many of whom are women already disproportionately affected by environmental issues, and more humane ways of treating animals (despite PETA’s dogged attempt to make me hate animals with their ritual misogyny). But I also see how difficult, time-consuming, and costly it can be for women across the boards to feed their families (and even themselves) with ecological sustainability in mind. As is so often the case with any issue considered “domestic” in some regard, the buck stops with women. And that’s a hell of a lot of pressure. As Ann wrote so well a while back, the class and gender issues on this topic run deep:

One of the appeals of food politics is that it is so concrete — –it’s about how a daily, personal experience connects with the political. But many of us consider only our own daily experiences with food, not other Americans’ basic access to sustenance. For affluent shoppers, it’s all well and good to question which stores and companies are worth buying from. But we shouldn’t expect Americans who are barely making ends meet to have the same set of concerns.

Feel free to write a transcript in the comments if you’ve got the inclination! Thanks, in advance.

Join the Conversation

  • Geneva

    The issue of affordability was raised in a Women’s Studies class I took recently while we were discussing Fast Food Nation. A student brought up this fact that while it’s all well and good to say “don’t buy fast food, buy organic, go to farmer’s markets, buy the good food,” a lot of people simply can’t afford to eat that way, so how do we change things if not everyone has access to these foods?
    Having been raised by organic farmer’s and spent a good deal of my childhood at farmer’s markets (where I still work- Saturday Berkeley market people, BUY SPROUTS! :) ) I think that it’s important to acknowledge that while some people can’t afford to make these shifts right away, many people can. If the people who can DO, it supports the farmer’s and makes it easier for them to earn a living at what they do, and makes it easier to lower prices so that hopefully those who couldn’t afford these items before now can.
    My mom is fond of saying “Sustainability to me includes sustainability for the farmer in being able to make a living wage and sustain their livelihood.” While my mom generally intends this as a semi-joke pertaining directly to our family, it rings true for nearly every small farmer across the world. The fact that many organic and small-scale farmer’s are barely scraping by doesn’t help in making the food they produce affordable to all.
    An amazing book if you’re interested in food politics is Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel. It looks into a lot of the social justice issues involved in food politics and goes beyond the idea of “certified organic” to talk about agriculture that’s both sustainable and fair to all involved in the chain of production. He’s an amazing writer and really tackles a lot of the issues that are important to feminists in particular and the world as a whole.
    One important thing I got from this book was that thinking outside the box really is the answer to a lot of these problems. It’s one thing to say “when you go to the grocery store, buy things labeled organic” but there’s often a whole new set of issues with organic food in grocery stores. Whiles less pesticides is a good thing, it doesn’t necessarily address the inherent flaws and inequalities in the food system. Things like People’s Grocery in Oakland and community food distribution networks (as well as growing your own edible garden!!) are really awesome alternatives to the “buy the more expensive organic food” theology.
    Also, BUY SPROUTS! :) (jk. but really, they’re awesome.)

  • Geneva

    Wow, I didn’t realize my post was this long! SORRY!

  • ebsith

    My attempt at a transcript. There are some parts where I had trouble parsing a mumble – I usually put question marks after those points. Please reply and correct any mistakes you folks catch! Thanks!
    Text on screen: A film by Shelley Rogers
    [man 1 voiceover with small waterfall pictured]: We’ve been draining down our fresh water resources, you know, all across the planet at an absolutely unsustainable rate.
    [woman 1 voiceover with prairie shown]: They say in Iowa that a half of the top soil is gone, you know (?), since it’s been settled and that same top soil has taken a millennium.
    [man 2]: What people don’t like to admit is that’s cheaper to extract and exploit than it is to renew and regenerate.
    Text on screen: What will it take to protect our environment?
    Interview clip from DID (?) TV:
    [Timothy Lasalle, CEO Rodale Institute]: If we turned all our farmland in this country to organic and regenerative methodologies, we’re putting basically cover (?) crops and compost back into the soil and not using chemical fertilizers, we could mitigate 25% of emissions in this country alone.
    [woman 1 voiceover with sheep running through field shown]: It’s really important for us as citizens to understand the real cost of food, um, you know, the environmental cost of the food, the production cost of the food, what the cost of the food is. [transition to seeing woman 1] If all of the workers were in just and safe environments and all animals in humane conditions.
    Text on screen: What is conscientious consumption?
    [man 3 voiceover with cows in a field shown]: What’s at stake is the silk cloth (?) of the organic dairy industry. [Transition to seeing man 3 in truck filled with watermelons, then walking on field] They don’t want what you grow, even if the people want to eat it, they only want what they want to market.
    I’ve almost lost this farm, very close, I’ve almost lost it twice in the last twenty years.
    Text on screen: How do we make agriculture sustainable?
    [man 3 voiceover with clips of shopping at organic supermarkets and farmers' markets]: We all eat everyday and we all buy food and every purchase that any of us makes should be a purchase for what you’re trying to see the world look like. Not only for, you know, the value of what you’re buying at that moment in time.
    Cartoon sketch of sun, person, and farmland appears with title: What’s Organic about Organic?

  • konkonsn

    I can’t remember which blog I read it on, but there was a great post about PoC and food issues. Despite the complaints that organic is more expensive so those without shouldn’t be burdened, the fact is that we’re only addressing a certain type of organic food. The ones grown on farms by what we imagine as predominately white farmers (I’m hard pressed to think of a commercial for farm products that doesn’t feature an greying, white man). There are many economically disadvantaged groups that supplement their bought food with what they can grow in their homes or on their windowsills. Why don’t these things count as organic when we’re discussing food culture?

  • Comrade Kevin

    I’ve seen evidence of this being back home. Slowly more ecologically friendly and organic products have trickled out here, but not nearly at the same pace as it does in larger cities on either coast. And I needn’t forget that I grew up in an area that was affluent and largely middle class. In rural areas, I’m sure this earth-friendly food phenomenon has barely made an impact.
    Though these options are beginning to be available here, there simply isn’t the same amount of education regarding why buying locally is better. Certainly whatever is greener costs significantly more and is only the domain of those with the income to afford it.

  • paperispatient

    Was it on Womanist Musings? There was a post there about vegetarianism and people of color – maybe it addressed organic food or maybe there was a similar post.

  • AnatomyFightSong
  • SuchGreatHeights

    If you really want to be a vigilant consumer, who reduces their ecological impact and treats animals with compassion, not as products, the solution is simple and obvious: go vegan.
    Its a lot less expensive and a lot more healthy than eating meat, dairy and eggs too, and you don’t have to worry as much about where everything you buy comes from because eating lower on the food chain is vastly more environmentally friendly, and incomparably more humane.


    Bitch had a blog entry profiling the blog and now out book “Sistah Vegan,” which is about issues of veganism, race, colonialism, health, society, and collective liberation! I am reading it now and I HIGHLY recommend it.

  • Geneva

    Veganism may be more environmentally friendly in some respects, but that’s not to say you don’t have to worry about where your food comes from. There are a lot of issues with food systems that have nothing to do with meat of any kind, including the soy industry which can provide a huge source of protein for, say, a vegan who can’t get it many other places. However, conventional soy production is stripping land in Brazil of it’s nutrients and clearing to make more room for a soy monoculture (that doesn’t exactly offer many farmers a living wage) is encroaching rapidly on the Amazon. Corn is another crop whose disadvantages when conventionally grown tend to cause more distress (both social and environmental) than good. Just something to think about when you shop, even if you have a blanket ban on meat and animal products.
    (On another note, some sustainably raised meat can have very little environmental impact. If you’re in the northern California area, Prather Ranch kicks ASS. )