Editor’s Note: This piece is one in a series of replies to Frances Moore Lappé’s essay on the food movement today.
Forty years after the publication of Diet for a Small Planet, thousands of farmers’ markets are thriving across the United States, countless young and well-educated people want to become farmers, community gardens are being planted in inner cities, Walmart is championing local foods, the White House boasts an organic garden—and the poorest workers in the United States are earning about $1.50 less for every hour they work. That decline of almost 20 percent in the federal minimum wage since 1971, adjusted for inflation, suggests the limits of the food movement—and the necessity for it to have the sort of broad view that Frances Moore Lappé has always embraced. Any movement that focuses too narrowly on food is bound to fail when 46 million Americans live below the poverty line. Without a fundamental commitment to social justice, the estimated 1–2 percent of Americans who eat organic food will be indistinguishable from the 1–2 percent who control almost all of this country’s wealth and power.
The corporate monopolies and monopsonies, the contempt for labor unions, the capture of federal agencies, the corruption of elected officials, the lies routinely told to consumers, the disregard for the environment and for public health—none of these things are unique to the food industry. You will find them in the oil, chemical, media and financial industries, among many others. They have become commonplace in the US economy. They are signs of a much larger problem, of a society where a handful of corporations choose the lawmakers, dictate the laws, control production and distribution, widen the gulf between rich and poor.
Groups like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Edible Schoolyard Project, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Slow Food USA are doing essential work, trying to improve the lives of people at the bottom of society. Food is a good place to start when seeking to make change. But it’s only a start. I hope that the food movement will continue to grow and thrive. More important, I hope that it will become part of a larger movement with a broader vision—a movement committed to opposing unchecked corporate power, to gaining a living wage and a safe workplace and good health for the millions of Americans who lack them.
Read the other responses in the forum:
Raj Patel, “Why Hunger Is Still With Us”
Michael Pollan, “How Change Is Going to Come in the Food System”
Vandana Shiva, “Resisting the Corporate Theft of Seeds”