Continuing the Washington Post Conversation

The author of the Washington Post piece that Congresswoman Pingree and I responded to posted a retort on Facebook (and Twitter for that matter), echoing the point in her piece that the data simply isn’t there to detect a real food movement. Here’s how I responded to her on Facebook:

It seems like there are two questions you’re curious about: is there really a “food movement” and do the ideals of the movement — for fair, sustainable, healthy food for all — really reflect the interests of consumers? In our piece, we included evidence that we believe shows that yes there’s a movement and yes, people care.

But if you want additional evidence to see the emergence and growth of a food movement nationwide, consider:

  • the thousands of students on 300+ college campuses across the country pushing to transform school food purchasing through the network, Real Food Challenge
  • the tens of thousands of food worker members of the 5-year old Food Chain Workers Alliance, who have as their mission not just better wages but sustainable and health food, too (see our work with this group at voicesofthefoodchain.com)
  • the successful passage of the Good Food Purchasing Policy in Los Angeles 2012, with widespread public support, which embeds sustainability and justice values into procurement policy
  • the dozens of Food Policy Councils across the country made up of everyday Americans engaged in food system change
  • the demand for Food Studies programs, courses and majors alongside new organic farming programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels in universities across the country
  • the skyrocketing growth of the new AmeriCorps program, FoodCorps, which brings young people into schools and school districts to help build school gardens and food education programs
  • the growing movement of young farmers networked through the National Young Farmers Coalition and pursuing innovative ideas like adding farming to the federally approved professions deemed public service that can defer student loan repayments
  • the success of the farmworkers movement in Florida to establish powerful codes of conducts thanks in part to the organizing of clergy and students and everyday eaters for their Fair Food Program across the country

I would also add my personal experience from research and public speaking on food in the last 15 years that has taken me to 100+ cities for 400+ events: Everywhere I’ve traveled I’ve met people who care deeply about all of these questions, from Louisville, Kentucky to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As we said in the piece, these examples show there is a food movement alive and well, but if you’re curious about whether polling backs this up, whether polls show that everyday consumers really care, here are some helpful leads. There’s the poll from 2015 that we mention, conducted by well-respected, bi-partisan, pollsters Celinda Lake and Chris Matthews: 94 percent of voters said that it was very or somewhat important that our food system promote equal access to healthy food. A powerful indication that people care – not just about their own health, but fairness and healthy food for all. Voters also expressed concerns about workers in the food industry: 75 percent of voters polled are very or somewhat concerned that five of the eight worst paying jobs in America are in the food system. (There is also this poll). In addition to this polling, the food retail industry analysts that we cite in the piece have good analysis, too. I also think the results from the GMO labeling battles are illustrative of consumer attitudes: In each instance, industry eked out a narrow victory against GMO labeling bills, despite outspending advocates many times over.

What about indicators from the marketplace? Significant growth of organic food sales despite the tamping down of supply because of regulation, subsidies, lack of research and training, and more.

To me, the “hard data” of the limited acreage yet transitioned to organic and the vast majority of meat and dairy still raised in inhumane factory farms tells us more about the entrenched power of the oil, pharmaceutical, fertilizer, chemical, agribusiness and food industries to protect the status quo than it does about the size and intent of the food movement.

Then there are business schools like the Presidio School of Business saying that the rise in students interested in sustainable food business is skyrocketing. The boom of new businesses like Farmigo, Chipotle, Lemonade, Bright Farms and more.

We wouldn’t say that most women don’t care about pay equality just because women still only make 79 cents to the dollar of men’s wages. Or that the environmental movement doesn’t enjoy widespread support because there are still climate denialists in Congress and not everyone buys a Prius. Similarly, just because everyone isn’t munching on farmers market kale doesn’t mean that the values of the food movement — for healthy, fair sustainable food — don’t resonate with people throughout the country and that the movement itself isn’t capturing the imagination of millions. The food movement is alive and well — and growing.

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