Is the Sustainable Food Movement Succeeding?

What is the sustainable food movement, and is it truly succeeding? In Michael Pollan’s newest piece written for the New York Review of Books, he examines these questions in the context of five food books and his own experience from years of writing about the subject.

Food issues first gained heightened visibility in the early 70s, he writes, when authors like Wendell Berry, Francis Moore Lappé, and Barry Commoner began to question industrial agricultural. But the five books Pollan draws most from in this recent piece are Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front by Joel Salatin; All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America? by Joel Berg; Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer; Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities by Carlo Petrini; and The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society by Janet A. Flammang. While all of these books are heavily weighted in food politics, the authors approach the subjects from vastly different angles. Those different perspectives are pretty well representative of the food movement, which Pollan likens to a “big, lumpy tent.” Food safety advocates, he writes, often run in conflict with local foodies who are wary that more regulation may damage small farms. Likewise, meat producer Joel Salatin, “fulminates against food safety regulation on libertarian grounds” writes Pollan.

While, “hunger activists like Joel Berg in All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America? criticize supporters of ‘sustainable’ agriculture—i.e. producing food in ways that do not harm the environment—for advocating reforms that threaten to raise the cost of food to the poor.” And of course, Foer’s Eating Animals directly butts heads with the sustainable meat-producing world of Salatin and others.

But these differences aside, Pollan writes that he sees much of the food movement coming together, and that the movement itself will soon be a political force to be reckoned with. Of course it takes him about three pages to get to that point, but his evaluation of the current food politics scene is well worth the time to read.

Interestingly, in talking about Flammang’s book, he writes, “In a challenge to second-wave feminists who urged women to get out of the kitchen, Flammang suggests that by denigrating ‘foodwork’—everything involved in putting meals on the family table—we have unthinkingly wrecked one of the nurseries of democracy: the family meal.” Pollan’s interpretation of feminism being to blame for the loss of food culture has drawn some ire, as Anna Clark calls him out on his chauvinism in a response piece on (also worth the read).

by Tara Lohan

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