Joe Fassler of The New Food Economy has recently asked, on the COMFOOD list, “What are the most important food milestones since 2000?” As people were answering, I wrote this response. This is a general interpretation of the Food Movement “since 2000,” looking at the good and the bad.
It’s a great question, one that’s somewhat open, judging from the variety of responses. Initially the answers didn’t quite get to the big picture, but over time it generated quite a bit of participation, and stronger answers. Obviously there are significant victories that are important to subgroups. Overall, however, the “Food Movement” is an awesome phenomenom. There have certainly been a number of food books and films, and food organizations, working on quite a wide variety of tasks.
The date, “since 2000, is important. While there have been certain kinds of “food” activists since the 1960s, and other kinds of food activities going far back into history, it’s really since 2000 that the “Food Movement” has emerged as a tour de force. While some have questioned it in comparison to standard social “movements,” whatever it is, it’s hugely important.
Anna Lappé checked in to mention the timeline at the Small Planet Institute. It has a larger time frame and is more important in some ways, in teaching some of the history behind what’s happened since 2000. In other ways, however, the focus on the time “since 2000” is more important. It’s since 2000 that this thing has really taken off.
I believe that my analysis HERE contains MORE POWERFUL POSITIVES than what I saw submitted online, or what the final product has been. On the other hand, I’ve probably largely failed to turn these positives into proper “milestones.”
On the other hand, the points I make in the “bad milestones” section, the NEGATIVES are also “more powerful,” and very possibly they’re even more powerful than the “miracles” I identify in my “positive milestones” section.
I have thought that Joe Fassler should take heed of Emilianne Slaydon’s innovation, “Good Milestones,” “Bad Milestones,” as Elizabeth Henderson did. I believe that there are few other lists of “milestones” where considering the “bad” side is as radically important as it is here, as I’ll illustrate below. The final product from Joe & The New Food Economy is now out, (here, http://newfoodeconomy.com/new-food-economy-grows/ ), and he did not include any problems in the Movement, only in the food and farm system.
I noticed that Joe Fassler didn’t use the word “Movement” in his question and the explanation of it. He’s talking about “food” “since 2000,” without mentioning a “Food Movement” “since 2000.” (There’s at least one blog, [but maybe only one,] at The New Food Economy that addresses Food Movement issues, about an article critical of the Movement.) Perhaps Joe has something very different in mind than Movement issues, but that’s what I discuss below.
My response has grown longer than I expected, surpassing 4,000 words. I’ll post this online and write a shorter piece for the list. Short of that, JUST SKIM THE WORDS IN CAPS TO GET THE GIST OF THIS. Basically I discuss “GOOD MILESTONES” and “BAD MILESTONES.”
[1.] I guess one answer to Joe’s literal question, (about “food” sans “movement,”) is the rise of the FOOD MOVEMENT itself. Certainly from a farm-side point of view, the rise of the huge Food Movement is an awesome event, really a miraculous “POPULIST MOMENT” in (Farm/Food) Movement history. Finally, we could win on the biggest (“FARM JUSTICE”) issues, “farm” and “food” together. (We “could,” under certain conditions, but see the “bad milestones,” below.) Farmers thought that winning was possible in past decades by their efforts alone, but they were wrong, (and the Food Movement today seems to have a similar naivete.) Without a significant urban-side Food Movement, farmers lost on the big justice issues, and in the end our farm-side Movement was divided (with the Sustainable Family Farm Movement splitting off from the Family Farm Justice Movement in the 1990s,) and then, in important ways, co-opted (SFFM) or conquered (FFJM). We were largely crushed. So the Food Movement could make all the difference in the world. Specifically the Food Movement “since 2000” very likely made winning on the big farm-side justice issues (Farm Justice) possible, for the first time since prior to 1953! (Again, see qualifications on this in part 2.)
[2.] Farmers are a very small segment of society, and “sustainable” and organic farmers are a very small segment of that. In short, the SUSTAINABLE FAMILY FARM MOVEMENT is tiny! On the other hand, this tiny sector has GROWN far BEYOND THE FARM, and has strongly INFORMED the new FOOD MOVEMENT. This is an awesome achievement and a model for anyone doing movement work of any kind. I believe that it was achieved on the basis of EXCEPTIONAL VALUES, formulated into a powerful post-mega-industrial NARRATIVE, followed by significant funding from foundations, and then sophisticated strategies.
[3.] For decades (Farm Justice Movement) farmers have warned about the various “CHEAP FOOD” (cheap farm price) problems, and called for urban food-side support. (See: the NFO Reporter from the 1960s & from 1985 this huge town meeting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2UY2jXvYfM&index=6&list=PLA1E706EFA90D1767). That the Food Movement has made cheap food “CHEAP CORN,” and the related HIDDEN COSTS such a priority in it’s rhetoric is the core of the miracle introduced in [1.] above.
[4.] There is much that’s great in the cheap-food/SUBSIDY-REFORM PARADIGM, (in spite of my relentless criticizism of it’s radical flaws, described below). It’s a quite comprehensive paradigm that integrates a wide range of issues. It clearly goes a long way toward being a “successful social movement,” as defined by Movement theorist Bill Moyer in the Movement Action Plan, (http://historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/moyermap.html ) farther in results with the “public” than the millions of hard core farmer activists of the past, in relentless decades of massive work. The paradigm shows the interconnectedness of a variety of major problems, such as cheap junk food ingredients, cheap CAFO feeds, and export dumping. This has been taught to the Food Movement quite successfully, and has made it’s way, MASSIVELY, INTO MAINSTREAM MEDIA. Examples include Michael Pollan and the Environmental Working Group, showing up all across mainstream media. They and others, as keynotes and panel moderators. Naysayers are repeatedly suggesting to me that the urban public will never come to understant the interconnected results of “cheap food” etc. policy, but I repeatedly point out to them that it’s already been done by the Food Movement.
For Moyer, “PUBLIC AWARENESS OF THE PROBLEM” is the first of three general phases of winning. (see chart at top of moyermap link, just above) This awareness has clearly gone viral. The second phase, “PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO POWERHOLDER POLICIES,” is also tremendously important and a huge (if very partial) success. The major problematic policies are in the farm bill, in the Commodity Title, (and now in related aspects of the Crop Insurance Title as well). That’s made very clear in the subsidy-reform paradigm. (See more in section two, below.)
[5.] LOCAL FOOD and related aspects of building an ALTERNATIVE farm/FOOD SYSTEM, including URBAN AGRICULTURE, certainly represent awesome new developments, given the incredible scale and inner connectivity of this work in the 21st century. I’ve identified Farm Bill reform, (i.e. discussed above,) as a “Jubilee Strategy” of reforming the dominant system. In contrast, this local, alternative farm and food work is an “EXODUS STRATEGY” of WITHDRAWING from the dominant system. Social philosophers, (i.e. Lewis Mumford, The Pentagon of Power , The Conduct of Life , The Condition of Man, ) see withdrawal as very significant. It’s sometimes, (perhaps frequently,) been missed that this too is very radical, in that it’s a strategy that can be implemented when you can’t win against the dominant narrative and system, and the far reaching progress on it has been incredible, with much more surely coming, (though it couldn’t become a full solution, as we produce far more than can be consumed locally or in the U.S.).
[6.] One way of summarizing or interpreting much of what we’ve seen “since 2000 is that there’s been a MASSIVE OUTPOURING OF CREATIVITY, a mobilization and inner connectivity of creative resources, “Food Movement” resources. I think this has been absolutely incredible, an outpouring of peak creativity, a “peak experience.” One word for it would surely be “ecstatic,” in the classic meaning of that term. Ecstasy is the product of creativity, and visa versa. The greater the one, the greater the other.
 Finally, I very tentatively offer a personal example, my own (“BRAD WILSON’S”) work on Food Movement issues. A significant amount of material is now available, though it certainly CAN’T BE CALLED A MILESTONE unless it’s utilized. I’ve had ups and downs, fits and starts, as La Vida Locavore went off line, and zspace changed all of my blog addresses, and eliminated a dozen of my slide shows. At some point I surpassed 100 BLOGS on Food Movement issues, (with links to the best online material,) and my ONLINE COMMENTS are in the thousands. I’ve provided information on a large number of online and offline resources. What’s significant about this is that it COULD FIX the very “bad milestones” discussed below, (it and it’s connection to the key resources produced by others). I’ve used online links of this kind thousands of times, for both specific purposes and general education. Some have used them, and benefited significantly. Rory Smith’s recent article at Truthout said, essentially, that Michael Polland and Mark Bittman are wrong, and that I’m correct, and he’s writing a follow up piece that will focus more exclusively on the issues I’ve raised. The mention of Pollan, Bittman and me was a section strongly influenced by my thesis, under the heading “Divided and Conquered.” (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35915-the-future-of-the-food-justice-movement) (Cf. chapter one of Wenonah Hauter’s Foodopoly, for which, she says, I gave her the idea.) So I have at least convinced Rory Smith to listen to this and ask questions, and to then conclude that Pollan and Bittman (& Environmental Working Group, & etc. etc. etc.,) have no valid evidence behind their theories of farm subsidies and policy reforms, and then of many related issues, including especially their narratives about farm/food politics and it’s history. A key piece of context for this is that I definitely see it (the specific Food Movement issues that I work on,) as the biggest “food milestone since 2000,” albeit a “bad milestone.” It’s an enormous global economic issue affecting half the world, (the rural half,) in a variety of ways related to the most vital issues of food and farming, survival and culture, and yet it’s one largely centered here in the United States, (in the Farm Bill and related policies and programs).
There’s also a parallel FARM-SIDE to this, my work to try to get the Family Farm Movement to perceive the radical significance of the Food Movement “since 2000” as the only possible key to a successful Farm Justice strategy! It’s possible that some advancement is occurring there as well, but it’s too soon to tell. (More on that below.) The section on “BAD MILESTONES,” below, further supports this hypothesis that I might have been creating a “Food Milestone” of some kind “since 2000.” Or maybe not, (or not yet). In any case, this must happen or the Food Movement will radically fail on the big farm bill issues.
Conclusion of Good Milestones. In each of these ways, I, (a vigorous critic of certain aspects of the Food Movement,) would rebut most of the Food Movement’s (other) critics. I find generally that they’re too weak at understanding and affirming the incredible positives of that which they criticize. When something is as successful as the Food Movement has been, it tends to pick up a number of the flaws of mass society, and is then criticized for that. Prior to the criticism, however, is the success that has surpassed expectations.
Perhaps I’ve still left open the question of specific (positive) “milestones.” What specific milestones best illustrate the developments I’ve described? I think that’s what the people at The New Food Economy really want. My question in return, therefore, is what I said at the top, my hope for better answers that capture these incredible positives. While stronger examples have been coming forth at COMFOOD, as I write, the specific “milestones” of the final product didn’t seem to get at the mega-positives very well.
Tragically, I find an accompanying set of sometimes incredibly “bad milestones” to go along with the awesomely “good milestones” identified above, (thus my title, “Flawed Genius”).
[1.] The chance for achieving a true “POPULIST MOMENT,” TWICE in the 2008 and 2014 Farm bills WAS LOST, as the Food Movement didn’t understand the issues, (called for mere “subsidy reforms” that maintain the cheapest of cheap corn/food/cotton, etc.,) and it looks certain that it will be lost a THIRD time, again in 2018. (See more explanation of this, below.)
[2.] In terms of the model of “success” from Bill Moyer, (linked above,) the Food Movement issues of “cheap food,” “cheap corn,” and “subsidy reforms,” as presently understood, CAN NEVER BE WON in terms of “PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO POWERHOLDER POLICIES,” in that, the Food Movement is advocating on the WRONG SIDE of them. So while the key general Farm Bill location has been known, (i.e. in the Commodity Title!) the model of subsidy reforms, (what specifically to fix in the Commodity Title,) is a FALSE one. The policy problem is NOT the PRESENCE of SUBSIDIES, as is believed by #FoodLeaders, but rather is the ABSENCE of PRICE FLOOR policies and programs.
This then has led to the Food Movement offering a FALSE “MOVEMENT ALTERNATIVE” (again, see the Moyer/moyermap link, above,) for the Farm Bill. The need is for restoration of (nonspending, nonsubsidy,) market management, not re-direction of spending within the current bad farm bill paradigm (where market management isn’t even seen as an option). In calling for mere subsidy reforms, (i.e. no Price Floors,) for example in Anna Lappé, Dan Imphoff, Kari Hamerschlag’s sign-on (here: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/06/05-6 ), the a long list of Movement leaders (unknowingly) called for the cheapest of cheap junk food ingredients and CAFO feeds, plus maximum export dumping. This third (Moyer) phase of success can never be achieved until the proposals that support the agribusiness exploiters against farmers are replaced with the correct proposals, (such as the Food from Family Farms Act of the National Family Farm Coaltion, [http://nffc.net/Learn/Fact%20Sheets/FFFA2007.pdf ] or the Market Driven Inventory System of the National Farmers Union [https://zcomm.org/zblogs/primer-farm-justice-proposals-for-the-2012-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson/ ]). Unfortunately, these continue to be rarely cited when these issues are discussed, (in books, in academic reports, in films, in short videos, at web sites, and surely in food courses, judging from what I’ve seen). The ultimately false paradigm “subsidy reform,” (in spite of the positives in it, described above,) continues to dominate, thus fostering the downward spiral.
[3.] I see this core policy issue as basically NOT accurately KNOWING “WHAT” a FARM BILL IS, (https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/whats-farm-bill ), and therefore what needs changing. We’ve been “Divided and Conquered,” (scroll down to that heading here: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35915-the-future-of-the-food-justice-movement ) by the SUBSIDY MYTH (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/the-farm-subsidy-myth-scientifically-invalid-subverting-food-day/ ), as the evidence clearly shows (cf. “four proofs:” https://zcomm.org/zblogs/michael-pollan-rebuttal-four-proofs-against-pollans-corn-subsidy-argument-by-brad-wilson/ ). Technically, then, in stark contrast to the Movement’s rhetoric, values and goals, it is (unknowingly) supporting the CHEAPEST OF CHEAP FOOD, the CHEAPEST CORN, etc. for industrial agribusiness.
[3b.] We see this in the strange MISUNDERSTANDINGs of CHEAP SUGAR POLICY, where #FoodLeaders seemed not to know what it was all about as it was being discussed, on twitter, for example, during the debate on the 2014 Farm Bill (https://twitter.com/FarmJustice/status/337642747991293952 ) (https://twitter.com/FarmJustice/status/337591224540209154 ). It’s as if anything farmers get is bad, unjust, so it must be opposed, even if it would raise the sugar prices that junk food makers pay. So, yea, cheap sugar, (or cheap corn,) is bad Farm Bill policy. But what about the Farm Bill paying sugar (or corn) farmers more! That too must be bad, right? WRONG. We’ve seen this in CSPI’s Food Day materials, in a report from US PIRG, and at The Chisel (about which I’m currently writing an extensive blog). They’ve supported cheap sugar, even though it so obviously goes against their values and intentions. Marion Nestle has also seemed ambivalent on this, which may be part of why “the farm bill” sort of seemed to drive her “insane.” The paradigm didn’t explain how to perceive this. It had no place in the mental map for figuring out why it’s good to pay corn and sugarbeet farmers more money, (though the full answer to this goes beyond the scope of this paper, but see my new blog on Agroecology, where I examine it in detail).
[4.] Out of this, the overall PARADIGM, while integrating some very important things, also LEFT OUT some other KEY INGREDIENTS, such as the relation of CHEAP PRICES to SUSTAINABILITY, and (prior to that,) the role of LIVESTOCK in sustainability and related issues. (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/farm-bill-economics-think-ecology-by-brad-wilson/ ) While connecting issues like cheap junk food ingredients, cheap CAFO feeds and export dumping, the paradigm didn’t see how cheap farm prices, (the absence of Price Floor programs,) has devastated sustainability by radically reducing key livestock feed crops on most farms, especially grass, alfalfa and clover (pastures and hay). The economic viability of these crops is a huge factor for achieving our most sustainable crop rotations. Lacking the economics of these livestock systems, the economics for sustainability is also lacking.
[5.] These misunderstandings then place the BLAME on farmer VICTIMS RATHER THAN on agribusiness EXPLOITERS, at least where it counts, in technicalities of major policy advocacy. That dynamics has surely then led to a number of other myths that are rooted in PREJUDICES AGAINST FARMERS in general, and against the farmer parts of the farm bill. FARM POLITICS and the farm lobby are not understood, for example. The political history of the issues, in places like Iowa, is radically misunderstood, as it’s said that we’ve been “supported” too much, rather than massively exploited by agribusiness.
The relationship between farmer issues and race/women’s/labor and other issues are usually misunderstood by the new urban side policy advocates for exactly these reasons (see my forthcoming blog on race/farm-bill issues). In misunderstanding subsidies, they all tend to misunderstand the big issues of economic injustice, for example in relation to the history of Movement advocacy by “white male” (and female) farmers, and by black farmers.
Now we even see that the Environmental Working Group is (unknowingly) imitating Earl Butz, in denying the possibility of a new “farm crisis,” (http://www.ewg.org/research/farm-crisis-myth ). (My responses to EWG’s claims, [a data slide show, a blog, and maybe a video,] is also forthcoming.) From a farmers point of view, and given the values of EWG, which we mostly share, this is an absurd and seemingly abusive phenomenon. For someone long working on questions of Food Movement narratives “since 2000,” however, it’s easily understandable and deserves a thoughtful response.
[5b.] Note: I’ve also argued that omissions of the farm-side is a flaw with the timeline of the Small Planet Institute, of Anna Lappé et al. https://zcomm.org/zblogs/flawed-food-history-farm-justice-missing-from-timeline-by-brad-wilson/ I find the same with the Good Food Timeline at Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems.(http://foodsystems.msu.edu/resources/local-food-movement-setting-the-stage ) It includes repeated mentions of wage issues (minimum wage, migrant farm laborers, food chain workers,) information about farmers markets as far back as 1970, the cheapness of food to consumers, and even events in the Civil Rights Movement and related minority issues, farm workers movement issues, the start of Community Supported Agriculture, Walmart supermarkets, farm to consumer and farm to school events, etc.. At the same time, there’s nothing on the big farm-side issues throughout this time, including the massive economic injustices (agribusiness benefits,) and the massive fight against them, (a series of major landmarks,) and nothing on the long history of major social injustices and social traumas against farmers generally, (And that would now include the social injustices from the Food Movement itself, as in EWG’s denial of the farm crisis, based surely upon a serious lack of contact with the Farm Justice (Family Farm) Movement. In these ways, these resources foster a mass of farm side illiteracy through the invisibility of our history, our politics, and our issues. (And are there any academic articles on the invisibility of farm-side injustices, [i.e. similar to http://www.agdevjournal.com/volume-6-issue-2/623-making-visible.html ]).
[6.] Another bad milestone may be related to, Joe’s uses of the word “FOOD” (food economy, food systems, food culture, food milestones), WITHOUT any mention of “FARM.” This food centric approach is surely tied to the subsidy myth (above) of blaming the victims, and of not knowing that that’s what’s happening. When did the bias against farmers growing nonfood take hold? With the term “food,” you don’t need so much to include those grumpy “farm justice” farmers on the team. On this, see my new post at Lexicon of Food, (“Food” https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/food-its-misunderstood-misused-term ), as well as my older posts on the topic, (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/don-t-grow-clover-hay-oats-corn-de-bunking-a-farmer-bashing-myth-by-brad-wilson/ ) (https://zcomm.org/zblogs/are-farmers-commodified-excess-resources-to-food-progressives/ ) including this one in relation to the “National Food Policy” (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/04/1349377/-National-Farm-AND-Food-Policy-Response-to-Bittman-et-al ).
[6b.] Strangely, while one submission to Joe Fassler refers to “know your farmer,” and that is a well known and important theme, it’s exactly the NOT KNOWING your (FARM JUSTICE) FARMERS, (the Movement that has done the major farm bill work on issues like cheap food, antitrust, agribusiness welfare from farmers, and the loss of farmers,) that has been at the core of these “bad milestones,” as “chicken” and as “egg.” These two sides, surely, are closely related. In believing that the Movement is great at “knowing farmers,” the Food Movement seems to think it’s not necessary to listen to critics like me, who have decades of experience on the biggest farm policy issues, deep knowledge of this missing farm-side history, and general knowledge and experience of general things “farm” (and the meaning of “farm” in the lexicon: https://www.lexiconoffood.com/post/farm-term-problems-its-own ).
[7.] There are, then, serious escalating anomalies in the “food” paradigm, (Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,) even as so many #FoodLeaders are experiencing the ecstasy of PEAK CREATIVITY. Careers are being radically advanced out of all of this (positive milestones!). These are HEADY TIMES, opening up vast opportunities for a significant number of key leaders, who give repeated presentations at conferences, star in films, play prominent roles in books, or write them, etc. Imagine being a Michael Pollan, who surely had nothing on this magnitude prior to the Food Movement. Suddenly he’s featured everywhere, even on Oprah, and given thousands of words in the New York Times, repeatedly. One project is scarcely finished when many other fascinating new and different opportunities open up. HOW DOES ONE LOOK BACKWARD AT WHAT WAS RADICALLY WRONG with Food Inc., or King Corn, A Place at the Table, or a long list of food books, when you’re so needed just up ahead, in a fascinating new innovative challenge, where the money is waiting for you. Why listen to the isolated critics when the affirmations are so positive, so huge and so ongoing? And so lucrative! Sure, if you had time, . . . but looking ahead, there’s so much just there, within easy reach, further advancements . . . .
[8.] This can be understood as a FAILURE OF “developmental RADICALISM,” as defined by Charles Hampden-Turner (in Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Developoment, 1971, cf. his doctoral dissertation at Harvard, Towards a Humanistic Psychology). Developmental radicals are able to “perceive” the painful anomalies. Though they strongly “invest” their “identities” and competence,” “authentically” and “intensely,” and achieve “self confirmation,” and “self transcendence,” they’re first able to “suspend” their prior paradigms and “risk” being wrong. They “bridge the distance” to those who are different, who’s views are often left out, (such as grumpy farmers who have way more experience with the issues and the opponents). They engage, if necessary, in a “stormy dialectic” in order to achieve “synergy,” and this is all then incorporated into their more complex “mental maps,” for improved performance around the cycle next time, (with improved “perception” of the painful anomalies, etc.) Perhaps there’s a milestone that symbolizes the failure of the Food Movement to be developmentally radical in it’s relationship with the Farm Justice (Family Farm) Movement of history. Perhaps it’s the blocking of grumpy farmers by Civil Eats, (as Civil Eats has continued to unknowingly put out a string of articles fostering cheap corn, cheap food).
[9.] Perhaps, following the lead of Andrew Kang Bartlett (to Joe Fassler), I should have mentioned the work on FOOD SOVEREIGNTY and the “FOOD PRICE CRISIS” as a “Good Milestone.” Certainly the presence of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance is significant. It has a closer relationship with Farm Justice farmers, and a better understanding of the Farm Bill. All too often, however, it hasn’t really understood or advocated for a return to a “Food Sovereignty” Farm Bill (like we had, 1942-1952, and as supporte by La Via Campesina [https://zcomm.org/zblogs/via-campesina-with-nffc-support-for-fair-farm-prices-by-brad-wilson/ ]).
[10.] It’s surely too early to know if my own [BRAD WILSON] contribution really means anything for the Movement, as it seems that I haven’t yet stimulated much of any other writing or citing, or even discussing, nor have I really been invited to speak. There seems to be a continuing TEMPTATION in the Food Movement TO GIVE UP ON the big “Jubilee Strategy” or “Farm Justice” issues of THE FARM BILL, though leaders like Pollan, Anna Lappé and others keep supporting farm bill work, (though in the misguided ways described above).
[11.] LACK OF major FARM SIDE INTEREST is another bad milestone for the Food Movement. It hasn’t even convinced the National Family Farm Coalition, (representing the major groups opposing “cheap food” for the past 60 years, [and correctly,]) to undertake much of any stategy focusing on the resources of the new Food Movement. Or National Farmers Union, or National Farmers Organization, etc.