Of carrots and creativity in the local food movement
Kim Bayer | Contributor
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." — Buckminster Fuller
A recent article titled "Carrots are not enough: the limits of the local food movement" by Parke Troutman in La Vida Locavore makes so many good points — for example, that it's simply untrue to think that the local food movement is "re-creating" something from the past that was better. And that focusing on simple access to good food is missing the mark for both obese and impoverished people. And that "localism" is not a historically-proven strategy for success.
It's all true. And yet, as someone who has joined the "local food" bandwagon, I'm not discouraged in the least.
And not because I think community gardens, or making my own sauerkraut, or Farm-to-School programs are going cure this country of epidemic obesity, food insecurity and environmental degradation. Or even that local food will produce a Farm Bill that stops my tax dollars from subsidizing those systemic depredations in our society.
What I do know is that the global food system is not feeding the world now — and it never will. We already have enough food to feed everyone on the planet. We just don't have the will to put the food in the right places.
What I do know is that the profit margins for the global industrial food system are razor thin, maybe 5 percent. So it's not a question of a healthier food system taking over 50 percent or 90 percent of the current food system; it's a question of taking over maybe 6 percent before big changes can happen.
As the quote often attributed to Gandhi goes, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Five years ago there wasn't a local food movement. Now the corporate giants are fighting back.
In part I think the local food movement is beginning to succeed based on the billboard I saw on the way to Thanksgiving at my Mom's house a few days ago. It demonstrated how "local" is being co-opted in the insidious way that "organic" was before a handful of food giants took it over. The billboard I saw had a 14-foot-high photo of a pony-tailed little girl with a glass of milk. And the caption said in huge letters "legendary taste" and "milk is local."
What I have observed in the local food movement is not widespread change in American eating habits so much as widespread creative energy right here right now to do something and to care. Like start a garlic farm, or a Local Food Summit, or a local food bakery, or a SELMA Cafe, or a frozen food CSA, or some backyard chickens, or a sauerkraut company, or a Food Hub, or a campus farm, or a local seed company. Or to supply a restaurant from your own farm.
And that energy and entrepreneurial spirit is contagious. Parents are catching it from their kids and helping their children to buy the farmland they didn't when they were younger. In my mind, "local food" is simply a shorthand way of describing a deeper concept about caring for our place and caring for each other. It's about putting down roots and about claiming a stake for the future of the world as it should be.
As Parke Troutman points out in the last line of the article describing the overwhelming policy obstacles and power structures stacked against the local food movement, "The proper response is not to go plant something but to let the creative juices flow."
I keep thinking about the power of social networks and of the latent creativity that is being unleashed because of them. Back before the internet I read this quote about by Brenda Ueland for the first time: "Why should we all use our creative power? Because there is nothing that makes people so joyful, generous, lively, bold, and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money."
This is what I have observed about the local food movement that seems powerful to me: It is creative. It is social. It is about fairness for farmers, eaters and workers. I'm not sure that the local food movement is going to vanquish Monsanto, but I don't know if that is what is required. The local food movement is about creating the world as it should be, where health (in all dimensions) is the measure of success.
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.