There is an interesting article by Marion Nestle at Atlantic Food explaining how issues of obesity and junk-food have fallen into the well-worn ruts of American politics.
Politicized? Of course they are politicized. Junk food and obesity are key indicators of political divisions in our society. For starters, junk food is cheap and obesity is more common among low-income populations. So right away we are into divisive issues of income inequality and class and, therefore, who pays for what and which sectors of society get government handouts.
The minute we start talking about small farms, organic production, local food, and sustainable agriculture, we are really talking about changing our food system to accommodate a broader range of players and to become more democratic. Just think of who wins and who loses if $20 billion in annual agricultural subsidies go to small, organic vegetable producers who are part of their communities rather than to large agricultural producers who do not live anywhere near their corn and soybeans.
While I understand the characterization that the food debates have come to reflect the polarities of our politics, there are indications that food also subverts these divides. For example, the recent debates about about the Food Safety Modernization Act created strange alliances. At various points, Monsanto and Michael Pollan were shoulder to shoulder as vocal proponents, and Jim Demint and treehugging locavores were working together to halt the bills passage. If anything, those are indications that food is an important disruptive force in our comfortable political ghettos.
I reported on this awhile back and said at the time:
Concerns about food short-circuit political divides in some wonderfully mischevious ways. Farmers' Markets may be the most politically diverse gathering in the community, with Glenn Beck conspiracy theorists rubbing shoulders with neo-hippie peace activists. The recent Whole Foods CEO curfluffle highlighted some of this diversity and forced the question, "Is it OK for conservatives and liberals, who disagree on so much, to agree on food and work together in that agreement?"
I sure hope so. In today's intense, hyped up political landscape, a good potluck with arugala and country style pork ribs (and of course grandma's jello salad) could do us a lot of good. There's something about gathering around food that makes us more human.