Agriculture | Ecotrope

How Foodies Could 'Eclipse' Environmentalists

Ecotrope | April 13, 2012 7:29 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:32 p.m.

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With local food movements sprouting up quickly across the U.S., a Time Magazine piece explores whether foodies could have more luck improving the environment than environmentalists.

With local food movements sprouting up quickly across the U.S., a Time Magazine piece explores whether foodies could have more luck improving the environment than environmentalists.

A reader just sent me a recent blog post about a story by Bryan Walshin Time Magazine last year: ”Foodies Can Eclipse (and save) the Green Movement.” Even though the story is a year old, neither the players nor the premise has changed, so I think it’s still worth discussing today.

The premise is that the local food movement is growing while the environmental movement is stagnating. Environmentalists have hit a road block on the national political stage, Walsh writes, but foodies are making headway in changing the world of farming.

The story suggests to me that raising environmental issues under the banner of the local food movement might open up new political possibilities.

Walsh’s theory on why foodies are gaining more traction these days:

“Simple: it’s about pleasure. Before the political games, before worries about dead zones and manure lagoons, before concerns about obesity and trans fat, the food movement arose around a simple principle: food should taste better. …

The food movement has also directly jacked into that other great American obsession — health — in a way that distant concerns about climate change have largely failed to do. And there’s the simple fact that food is present in our lives in a way that endangered species or deforestation or Arctic melting simply aren’t. We buy food, we cook food (though less and less frequently) and three times a day, we eat food — occasionally while watching cooking shows.”

The two movements don’t necessarily have to compete with each other. In fact, Walsh writes, the food movement could wind up advancing environmental causes:

“As the food movement matures and grows, it could end up being the best vehicle available for achieving environmental goals. The industrialized way we farm today damages our land, our water and our climate. Reforming agriculture and promoting sustainability won’t just help us get better and healthier food; it will also fight greenhouse-gas emissions and water pollution.”

But Walsh reports that foodies still have a long way to go to catch up to the long-established greenies:

“The challenge for the food movement will come as it matures and begins to take on established political interests. Even with all the growth and all the glossy magazine covers, sustainable food still makes up only a tiny portion of the overall American food system. Perhaps 1% of total U.S. cropland is farmed organically, and organic food and beverages still command less than 4% of the national market, even after years of growth. Slow Food USA — one of the most dynamic of the new food-movement groups — has perhaps 20,000 members nationwide, while the Sierra Club has more than 1.3 million.”

In a way, this topic reminds me of the rift between cycling and environmentalism. I tend to associate the local food movement with environmental consciousness. But sometimes it’s clearly more about economics and gastronomy. I wonder if local food advocates – like cycling advocates – will eventually want to distance themselves from the more divisive environmental movement in order to gain a broader base of political support.

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