Authors: Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Olivier De Schutter and Ricardo Salvador
Published: January 16, 2017
If the recent election had an upside, it’s this: It demonstrated that the good food movement is real. Four jurisdictions—Boulder, Oakland, San Francisco, and Albany (California)—approved taxes on soda, which will benefit both public health and public finances. (Two days later, lawmakers in Cook County, Illinois, also approved a soda tax, becoming the largest jurisdiction to do so.) In Oklahoma, an initiative to shield animal factory farms from regulation was defeated. Massachusetts voters passed a measure outlawing the sale of products from animals raised inhumanely. And four states voted to raise their minimum wage above the anemic $7.25/hour federal standard.
Meanwhile, the national reality has turned Orwellian: In a matter of days we will have an attorney general who is hostile to civil rights, an EPA chief who doesn’t believe in climate change or environmental protection, a Health and Human Services Secretary hostile to public support for health care, an anti-worker Labor Secretary, and an anti-democracy Congress which will rubber stamp an increasingly anti-individual rights Supreme Court. Not to mention a president who evinces little respect for democratic institutions and is already regarded the world over as, shall we say, sui generis.
As of today, the president-elect has yet to nominate an agriculture secretary, but the food movement is rightly aghast at the agriculture transition team, which promised to “defend American agriculture against its critics, particularly those who have never grown or produced anything beyond a backyard tomato plant.” This nonsense is premised on the assumption that “American agriculture” is limited to the large industrial variety and that advocating that public investment serve the public interest is a bad thing. Yet the majority of farmers are clearly not being served by the current system, and the only sector of the food industry that’s actually growing today is the one that produces good food.
How can the food movement best navigate this treacherous new environment? Two years ago, we outlined the need for a national food policy, a critical yardstick in determining whether legislation helps or harms farmers, eaters, the land, animals, and more. This remains an important long-term goal, but right now the most pressing work is to join forces with other progressive groups in a more immediate cause: protecting the disadvantaged and defending democracy. So it is the recent minimum wage victories, spurred by the Fight for $15—an alliance of workers, labor unionists (specifically, the Service Employees International Union), immigrants’ and women’s rights advocates, and the Food Chain Workers Alliance—that should point the way forward.