It's time for dinner democracy!
Editor’s note: As our team takes some time off to spend with our families this week, we thought you’d enjoy this Lowdown issue on the power of food politics. We’re grateful for your continued support of our work, and we’re glad to be in this fight with you. Wishing you all a peaceful and delicious Thanksgiving! —dz
In 1971, Susan DeMarco, Susan Sechler, and I teamed up to launch a muckraking foray into the little-examined, multibillion-dollar labyrinth of America's farm and food policies. Other progressive activists back then were bewildered by our (wonkily named) Agribusiness Accountability Project.
They were all working on high-profile issues like ending the Vietnam War and urban poverty. Why, they asked, were we talking about tomatoes, land-grant colleges, Earl Butz, and such arcane concepts as oligopolies?
"We're not," we replied. "We're talking about power."
After all, what power do people really have if we can't even control what's in our dinner and where it comes from? This requires keeping a democratic grip on food and farm policy, which in turn requires knowing what those policies do and who is making them. And what better way to reach people with a political/economic/social message about democratic power than to hold up a tomato or a Big Mac and ask: What's in this thing?
As our agribusiness project did 50 years ago, the Lowdown continues to advocate for "dinner democracy." And here we are again, marking harvest season with our State of the Plate update, offering a few servings of the past year's progress and regressions. Specifics vary, but overriding questions remain:
Should the future of America's ag economy be controlled by industrializers and monopolizers who view food strictly as a profit center to be manipulated by and for the few?
Or, should the future be modeled on the principles of grassroots producers, artisans, chefs, and consumers who understand that food is an essential element of life, community, and culture to be shared for the Common Good?
These are not casual or academic questions, for the massively capitalized forces of agribusiness have recently bulled ahead, more aggressively than ever, to impose their rigid corporate structures on us. While their frantic push is alarming, it's also a sign that they're feeling pressured by a Good Food Movement that is incrementally gaining ground and political clout.