Global Food Fight
While I thoroughly enjoy your publication, I find it peculiar that Mark Greif [“On Food”] takes up the standard of solidarity, democracy, and social justice in his article caricaturing Michael Pollan and trivializing the local food movement. The strangest thing about it is that his populist critique makes no reference to the food justice movement, comprising worldwide small farmer organizations like Via Campesina (the world’s largest social movement), urban community gardens from the Bronx to New Orleans, and yes, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs tying residents to local farms. This movement includes fighting multinationals like Monsanto; countering the pediatric obesity epidemic; and, given global warming and other such unpleasantness, moving toward environmentally sustainable regional economies. It is baffling that Greif saves his only nice word about food and ag ethics for vegetarians.
As a long-time social justice activist, The Omnivore’s Dilemma helped me understand the way food and farm issues relate to the things that have long been important to me: labor rights, environmental protection, anti-imperialism, public health, Latin American social movements, and like matters. Granted, Pollan and other localvore celebs often seem too ensconced within the Berkeley bourgeoisie, disconnected from the issues facing the world’s poor majority. But many progressive, non-atavistic folks—including millions of indigenous Ecuadorians fighting to defend small-scale agriculture against large-scale mining—are excited about ways that regional economies, especially food economies, can help serve as alternatives to the current order of neoliberal global capitalism.
Mark Greif replies:
Mr. Denvir and I are coming from the same place—sort of. It shamed me to learn that he felt my essay dismissed efforts at social justice that I like and admire. My article addressed the personal dangers of a preoccupation with food for the sake of health, dieting, or social distinction, when the only food restrictions I think we can justify are those that touch the social and environmental questions Mr. Denvir raises.
In brief: I think food is for enjoyment and to fill your belly, I think it has a useful democratic function that recommends thinking about it a little (enough to learn to eat what other people eat), and a taboo-based, stratifying function that recommends against thinking about it very much (or you will start to find other people’s eating disorderly or vile, and then turn your own eating vile, encouraging you to punish or destroy your body). I think advice- and responsibility-conscious people in the rich first world countries are preparing to drive themselves crazy with food regulation, as a consequence of the disciplining pressures of capitalism, which give us at one and the same time, for the same audiences: Dr. Andrew Weil’s health recommendations and anorexia; all-natural Stevia and made-in-the-lab protein bars; “locavores” and unreconstructed, resource-devouring carnivores. These contraries are stuffed into our same heads, through the same media, by very diverse forces (some “good,” some “evil”), because it all ultimately benefits consumption.