The American food movement did not form overnight.
In the 1910s, ‘20s, and 30s immigrant entrepreneurship introduced multi-ethnic, international cuisine to the American store shelf and table. In the ‘40s, the country united to form vast networks of urban community (victory) gardens. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the connections between food, health, and nutrition came into the national spotlight as fortification was heralded as a solution to many of our health problems.
The late ‘60s and‘70s saw food stamps (now SNAP) enter the American food system as Edward Murrow, George McGovern, and others brought the issue of American hunger into the forefront of public discourse. Food banks and hunger networks followed shortly, growing rapidly in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. The organic standards of the early ‘90s helped pave the way for the 20+-year rise of farmers markets and organic farming that continues today.
Now, organizations like Slow Money, the Carrot Project, and others are successfully shifting millions of dollars of investment capital into small food enterprises including grocers, farms, and distributors. Urban agriculture and community gardening breathe new life into areas of urban and rural decay. Our First Lady has elevated food, health, and active lifestyles to unprecedented levels of public discourse, and more and more farmers markets and CSAs across the nation accept SNAP and WIC as organizations like Wholesome Wave and the Food Trust seek to increase both farmer revenue and improve the health of those facing poverty. Farmers markets, food hubs, CSA participation, and farm-to-school networks continue to increase the economic viability of small scale, sustainable agriculture.
And yet, our food system, and our health are in crisis.
Slavery in the fields; obesity, malnutrition, and poverty in our schools; and grotesque levels of environmental degradation from mono-cropping continue to decrease the amount of potable water and soil fertility across the nation. There’s limited support for those who seek to change the food system and too much support for those who seek to stifle them. Meanwhile, we face public health crises in the forms of antibiotic resistance, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and so much more. Why is this? Why, after so much progress over the last 80 years, are we so far from where we need to be in terms of our farms, our soil, our health, and our happiness?
Certainly, money has a lot to do with it. But, there is something bigger than that at play here.
As I speak with players in our food system from small farmers in Maine to mayor’s offices in Wisconsin, from nutrition service directors in San Antonio to hunger networks in New Jersey, the lack of unity becomes immediately apparent. Under-resourced as we are individually in the food movement, collectively we are stronger than we could ever imagine.
And yet, resources are coveted rather than shared. Best practices are buried, rather than publicized. The money is a problem, but it is there if we are willing to sacrifice and pull together; to invest in one another and in our communities, rather than in the status quo.
I hear it almost every day. “All the pieces are in place, but little is being done to initiate long term change.” Well, why not? What’s stopping us from putting forth a collective voice to combat those who wish to maintain harmful food policies and practices? I don’t have the answers, but I know that if we all had a clearer sense of who is doing what and how on a national level - who is implementing truly effective farm-to-school programs, who is increasing access to healthy food for those facing economic hardship on a long term basis - then we can start to head in the right direction.
So, in lieu of any concrete solutions I wish to issue a call for unity.
Share. Share what you’re working on. Share what you know. Share what you wish to accomplish, the change you wish to see. Share it with your family, your friends, your networks, your co-workers, your communities, your representatives and local politicians. Your president. Because it is only with knowledge of what’s working and what’s not, what resources we have and what we need – that our efforts will be rewarded.
Photo Credit: Wholesome Wave
Avi Schlosburg is the Food Day Project Assistant. He has a Master's in Gastronomy from Boston University where he focused on food systems, policy, and education.
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Fortnight calendar http://seedfreedom.in/seed-freedom-fortnights, we are all beautiful, we need now, in this era, tend the eco, not the ego.