A couple of pieces in the Times depict a so-called food revolution at a crossroads. First, Mark Bittman reminds us yet again that just because the USDA labels a food “organic” (meaning it’s free of synthetic substances, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and irradiation or fertilization with sewage sludge) doesn’t mean it was produced in a manner that’s sustainable, humane, nutritious, local, or ecologically sound (i.e., “organic in spirit”). So will the powers that be go beyond promoting “big organic” (currently just 3 percent of the food business anyway, since its growth has leveled off in the past year) and begin promoting the sort of diversified, regional food networks that Michael Pollan espouses?
Another article, in the business section, points out that while proponents of organic and locally grown food have been gaining a foothold in the mainstream (via Whole Foods, Fast Food Nation, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, etc.) as well as influence in Washington (e.g., Michelle Obama’s recent vegetable garden and the “people’s garden” that newly health-conscious secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack planted outside his own office, plus 250 million in stimulus dollars for local food networks), food activists have their work cut out for them: Americans want inexpensive nourishment and Congress, which just passed a farm bill and will likely not want to deal with another one, is generally resistant to challenging agribusiness. Says the head of Stonyfield Farm: “We’re at the starting line …. This is our job, our government. We’ve got to take it back.”