Mark MacInnis is a native-born Detroiter who returned in 2009 to document a burgeoning urban farming community that is converting abandoned lots and open spaces into local food production and a sustainable food system. His film, Urban Roots, takes a close look at what happens to a city after a post-industrial collapse and suggests a new type of American Dream – one founded on nourishing community through the creation of a local economy. In a place where 46.6 percent of children live below the poverty line, there is an urgent need for change. Read more
I went to the Occupy Wall Street march last week, as part of the NYC food justice delegation. We carried baskets of farmers’ market vegetables and signs reading “Stop Gambling on Hunger” and “Food Not Bonds.” Food justice advocates came out from around the city—urban farmers, gardeners, youth, professors, union members, and community organizers. The vegetables attracted a lot of attention. Food so often attracts a lot of attention—the New York Times is just one of the outlets to focus in recent days on the makeshift kitchen at Zuccotti Park. What was more surprising were all of the puzzled looks we got from the bloggers, photographers, and other marchers who wanted to talk to us. “What’s the connection here with food?” we were asked many times. Read more
With the success of films like Food Inc., books such as Fast Food Nation, and shows like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, people everywhere are starting to learn more about the food system. But what about the specific foods we eat? What if there was a place where you could learn about the exact foods you were eating — in real time — whether you were at your family dinner table, in a favorite restaurant, or even alongside a food truck? Read more
One way of improving the United States food system has more to do with business practices than it has to do with food.
The now-popular idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR) dictates that businesses should take it upon themselves to forgo profits their shareholders demand so they can address social problems. But, as Aneel Karnani posits in a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, the reasoning behind CSR is flawed. Publicly traded companies, including those that produce the lion’s share of our food, are required by law to prioritize maximizing profits to satisfy their shareholders, who are generally taken to desire profit above all else. Read more
In last week’s New Yorker, an article entitled Testing, Testing, written by Atul Gawande, details the author’s optimistic perspective on the Senate’s new health care bill. Gawande highlights and applauds the bill’s inclusion of pilot programs reminiscent of those responsible for transforming American agriculture in the early 20th century, but he leaves out the crucial failures of that system. “While we crave sweeping transformation,” he writes initially, “all the bill offers is [these] pilot programs, a battery of small-scale experiments. The strategy seems hopelessly inadequate to solve a problem of [such] magnitude [as that of our health care system]. And yet…history suggests otherwise.” Read more
Michael Pollan coined the term “vegetable-industrial complex” to describe our corporate-driven food system decades after President Eisenhower warned us of the “military-industrial complex.” For much of that time, one served the other. President Truman created the National School Lunch Program in 1946 to ensure that young men were healthy enough for military service and as a subsidy to agribusiness. Feeding hungry children was not reason enough to justify the creation of the program.
Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty says, “That so many young men had such substandard diets that they were unfit for military service [during World War II] was a matter of national chagrin and a threat to national security. This was the impetus for the creation of the national meal program to feed malnourished children and thus to ensure the nation’s future soldiers were fit to fight its battles.”
America has come a long way since then. Nowadays, diet-related diseases are due to eating too much food, not too little. As such, the vegetable-industrial complex and the military-industrial complex have collided head on. Read more
When times get hard in America, some people look for a group or individual to blame for their situation. Today, right wing extremists offer up immigrants, President Obama, his family and advisers, climate change activists, trial lawyers, and, of course, Michael Pollan and the agri-intellectuals for that role. Read more
In the battle for the hearts and minds (and pocket books) of everyday Americans, the large corporate players in today’s industrial food system must be pleased.
Consumer advocates for sustainable, healthy food are fighting with farmers, not because either picked a fight with the other, but because the knowledge gap between them has grown so expansive that misunderstandings rule the day. Credit the gap to industrial specialization and consumer marketing, which I will return to in a moment. Often times, these misunderstandings turn personal, further driving apart two groups that have much to gain by working together.
How this benefits the industrial food players may not be obvious, but by fighting amongst ourselves, we are paying less attention to the mechanized system generating massive amounts of unhealthy, environmentally unfriendly food and unprecedented concentrations of profits. Read more
On June 12, 1957, Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney stated that “evidence pointed to a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer,” thereby changing the official position of the United States Public Health Service. This small but significant move opened the door to regulation of Big Tobacco, beginning a battle that came to a head last week with the FDA being granted the most power over the industry to date.
Now, more than a half a century after that first declaration, that same date brought the movie Food, Inc. to theaters, a film that reveals the dysfunction of our food system. With obesity rates at the highest point in history, contaminated food regularly sickening thousands, and government estimating we will continue to spend 6.2% more on healthcare annually (this year, an additional $200 billion, more than our annual economic growth of 4.1%), it is clear that we have a problem as big as smoking: an addiction to cheap, unhealthy food perpetuated by an industry intent on maximizing profits at the expense of our health and our land. It is time to regulate Big Food by changing the culture in Washington that allowed it to proliferate. Read more
If you’ve ever been curious exactly how America produces the cheapest and “safest” food on the planet, but not quite believed all the hype that fuels the empty advertising slogans on your television, then Food, Inc. promises to be the film that explains why there’s a serious disconnect between food propaganda and reality.
In exactly 93 minutes, director Robert Kenner manages to slice down to the bone the many myths of the U.S. food system in a riveting documentary that exposes how a handful of corporations determine what our nation’s children eat and how America’s addiction to cheaper, faster, and larger portions has managed to shorten the average lifespan of the next generation for the first time since the Black Plague. Read more