Friday, October 12, 2012

Will The Food Movement Deliver? Michael Pollan on Proposition 37

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and professor of journalism at the Univerisity of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine this week:
Vote for the Dinner Party; Is this the year that the food movement finally enters politics?

The NYTs subtitle was a little more blatant:
Why California's Proposition 37 Should Matter To Anyone Who Cares About Food

Pollan ponders whether the "food movement" has coalesced enough to become a political force. The movement undoubtedly exists:
"Clearly there is growing sentiment in favor of reforming American agriculture and interest in questions about where our food comes from and how it was produced. And certainly we can see an alternative food economy rising around us: local and organic agriculture is growing far faster than the food market as a whole."
But is it just peripheral and elitist?...
"Not everyone can afford to participate in the new food economy. If the food movement doesn’t move to democratize the benefits of good food, it will be — and will deserve to be — branded as elitist."
... Or an established national force? California's Proposition 37, which would require foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients be labeled as such, is challenging the food movement to deliver politically, to "democratize the benefits of good food."

Good food. No, Prop37 isn't merely about the food we fork. At its heart, it's about power. It's about leveraging power away from the monolith of industrial agriculture:
"The fight over labeling G.M. food is not foremost about food safety or environmental harm, legitimate though these questions are. The fight is about the power of Big Food. Monsanto has become the symbol of everything people dislike about industrial agriculture: corporate control of the regulatory process; lack of transparency (for consumers) and lack of choice (for farmers); an intensifying rain of pesticides on ever-expanding monocultures; and the monopolization of seeds, which is to say, of the genetic resources on which all of humanity depends."
It's not just about California either:
"If Prop 37 passes, and the polls suggest its chances are good, then that debate will most likely go national and a new political dynamic will be set in motion. ... Suddenly [food consumer groups will] find themselves with a seat at the table and a strong political hand."
In 2007, Obama made a campaign promise to label genetically engineered food. He hasn't acted on it. Why? Pollan says:
"Over the last four years I’ve had occasion to speak to several people who have personally lobbied the president on various food issues, including G.M. labeling, and from what I can gather, Obama’s attitude toward the food movement has always been: What movement? I don’t see it. Show me. On Nov. 6, the voters of California will have the opportunity to do just that."


Ben P. DaSalt said...

Here’s a commentary on the subject from an all around excellent blog.

I agree (for the most part). Even if you don’t, it’s worth reading to glean crucial facts and nuances that lead to the author’s conclusions.

As an aside, I wish you would please consider revisiting your blog post on the GMO rat/cancer study.

Bix said...

So, consumers don't have a right to know, or "consumers don’t have a moral right to an arbitrary piece of information about their food."

Interesting perspective.

Ben P. DaSalt said...

Less that. Not that I disagree, it’s that I consider that perspective one of the least important points of the linked blog post.

More, the other stuff.

I’ll be a bit more specific. Basically, the impetus of Proposition 37, the labeling food as GMO, is mostly meaningless and arbitrary (following the blog author’s given examples) and is only meaningful if we accept a false dichotomy of assumptions.

Bix said...

So, you think labeling is mostly meaningless.

I don't think the label is meaningless. However effectively it reveals foods produced with GE, it will advance discussion about biotechnology as applied to food. There are a lot of smart, informed people in this country who are already taking part in that discussion, in part because of this initiative.

I like that it gives information to people who may object to GE for religious and ethical reasons.

If I was in California, I would vote for Proposition 37.