Wendell Berry: Don't Wait for the Government to Fix the Food System

This morning President Obama signed into law the new Food Safety Bill that has been all the talk of the online food community. Go here for more background on how the much anticipated bill actually got to this point. But just as this milestone is achieved there is word that legislators may try to undercut the bill by choking off funding. According to the Hill this issue will be front and center with the new Congress:

Among the first controversies will be how to pay the legislation’s projected $1.4 billion cost over the first five years. Republicans taking over the House have warned they will not fund the bill. 

In following this story I feel a bit like I've been on a roller-coaster ride. Frankly, I'm weary of it and feeling a bit cynical about the government's ability to help fix what ailes our current food system. I'm reminded of a quote from Wendell Berry regarding our undue reliance on institutions to fix what is broken in society. Berry say:

We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and put those fragments back together in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own...

A man (or woman) who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his (or her) own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.

If you are concerned about the proliferation of trash, then by all means start an organization in your community to do something about it. But before - and while - you organize, pick up some cans and bottles yourself...

If you talk a good line without being changed by what you say, then you are not just hypocritical and doomed; you have become an agent of the disease.

So let's not wait for the government to fix what is broken in our communities. It is ultimately the responsibility of those of us that live in these neighborhoods and regions to innovate change. This is true with many things, but maybe especially with food. The food system follows where we spend our money on food. It's as simple and complicated as that.