Posted on March 1, 2011 - by

Saving the World: Foodies As the New Environmentalists?

Whether or not you hate the term “foodie,” it is a good time to be interested and involved in food, and I don’t just mean as measured by the popularity of Top Chef or the explosion of food photography blogs. Rather, after decades of enthusiasm for processed and frozen meals, the tide has turned in favor of local, fresh and seasonal food that tastes good. And as people realize what a difference it makes to eat real food, they are also exploring the social, economic and political ramifications of their food system—people around the world, people like you.

Has this surge in interest come at the expense of the old environmentalism movement? Recently, an article from Time seemed to think so, suggesting that the efforts of environmental groups to limit greenhouse gases and halt climate change had failed, not to mention a daunting political environment for the EPA, fostered by a hostile Republican-led Congress.

On the other hand, the timing is right for the food movement, however broadly you want to define it. Wrote Bryan Walsh, “If it continues to grow it may be able to create just the sort of political and social transformation that environmentalists have failed to achieve in recent years. That would mean not only changing the way Americans eat and the way they farm — away from industrialized, cheap calories and toward more organic, small-scale production, with plenty of fruits and vegetables — but also altering the way we work and relate to one another” (Time).

In other words, “food movement” is a misnomer—this campaign is about revolutionizing the way we live through what we eat, and is a medley of influences from farmers, doctors, consumers, businesses, policymakers and more. These disparate forces can both hinder and help the rate of progress, but we now understand that many of the today’s pressing issues are entangled and cannot be resolved without an interdisciplinary approach. To resolve childhood obesity, you might examine urban planning and food deserts. To analyze the latest political unrest in the Middle East, you could investigate climate change and rising food prices.

Does the food movement have the political momentum to forge on where environmentalists have lagged? Last week, White House Executive Chef Sam Kass gave a speech to review the progress that Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign had made. In it, he recognized the growing demand for healthier, fresher food for children and residents of underserved areas, and discussed measures that have been taken to improve public health. Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition at NYU, noted, “This is the first time food, nutrition, and health have gotten anywhere near this kind of attention at that level of government” (Atlantic).

So, we can give ourselves a quick pat on the back, but there is plenty of work to be done. “As foodies go from promoting the perfect heirloom tomato to tackling the country’s entrenched agricultural practices, they’ll need a new level of commitment, organization and energy,” said Walsh. But this may be our best chance at creating holistic and long-lasting change in the way we live with our planet.

How are you involved in the good food fight? What food choices did you wrestle with today? Who can you teach about the politics of your plate?

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