Vote with our forks, feet or ballots? What directions for the US food movement?


In an article in last week’s New York Times Magazine, food writer Michael Pollan asks whether the US food movement is ready to take on Big Food. He writes:


One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6 is whether or not there is a “food movement” in America worthy of the name — that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system. People like me throw the term around loosely, partly because we sense the gathering of such a force, and partly (to be honest) to help wish it into being by sheer dint of repetition. Clearly there is growing sentiment in favor of reforming American agriculture and interest in questions about where our food comes from and how it was produced. And certainly we can see an alternative food economy rising around us: local and organic agriculture is growing far faster than the food market as a whole. But a market and a sentiment are not quite the same thing as a political movement — something capable of frightening politicians and propelling its concerns onto the national agenda.


His November 6th test is “California’s Proposition 37, which would require that genetically modified (G.M.) foods carry a label”.  The proposition, he writes, “has the potential to do just that — to change the politics of food not just in California but nationally too.”


To get another test of the pulse of the US food movement, I conducted my own mini-study of the events listed for second annual Food Day, sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and hundreds of other organizations around the country.  I wanted to understand the diversity of issues that motivated people to organize and list events so I reviewed a sample of 200 events of the 1,749 listed as of October 14 on the Food Day website.  Here’s what I found:


Of these 200 events, 25 (12.5%) had an explicitly political focus, which I defined by whether the listing mentioned policy, protest or food system change.  Another 20 events (10%) didn’t include enough information to determine whether there was political content or not.  The remaining 155 events (78%) were celebrations of healthy food, cooking events or harvest festivals.  Below is a listing of selected events with a more explicitly political focus.   The list shows the geographic and topical diversity of these activities. It gives an overview of some of the issues and tactics that motivate the more political arm of the food movement.   (CHW readers who want to sign up for upcoming events –or conduct their own studies of Food Day activities– can visit the Events page on Food Day website.)


Like its predecessor and inspiration, Earth Day, founded in 1970, also provoked debate within the movement.  On the one hand, events like Earth and Food Days bring thousands of people to events, link the many issues that inspire activism, and provide multiple opportunities for dialogue and debate.  On the other hand, by lumping together celebration of a Harvest Festival and forcing Monsanto to label its products, the movement risks dissipating its focus and priorities, and allowing people to think individuals can change the food system simply by shopping more wisely. It also invites cooptation:  many food companies jump on the bandwagon of encouraging healthier food choices by, for example, labeling vitamin-fortified Fruit Loops as a healthy choice.  To succeed, movements need to define the source of the problem they combat.  If every organization is a potential partner, then none are the target of change.


To be clear, Food Day is a terrific event. Anyone concerned about food justice should support it.    It will raise consciousness about food issues for tens of thousands of people.  But as we celebrate Food Day events on October 24—and in the weeks before and after, let’s make sure we learn how we can best use Food Day this year and next to build a movement that can truly change our food system.



Some 2012 Food Day Events with a Political Focus


Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette – An Author Presentation     Project Rogue Valley and Ashland Food Coop co-host a presentation by Jeffrey M. Smith, author of the book Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette. The presentation supports the efforts of GMO-Free Jackson County.  Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 07:30 PM – 09:00 PM  Central Medford High Auditorium in Medford, OR.


World Food Day Asheville 2012    World Food Day Rally & Gathering for our Right2Know
Prichard Park in Downtown Asheville, NC.   IN SOLIDARITY WITH SEED FREEDOM’S FORTNIGHT OF ACTION SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13th, 2-5pm.  RAISING AWARENESS OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS.  SPEAKERS, MUSIC, AND MORE! Sow True Seed…and Grow Wise! & Millions Against Monsanto: Carolinas. For more information, visit:, October 13, 2012 at 02:00 PM – 05:00 PM  Pritchard Park in Asheville, NC.


CUESA Prop 37 Volunteer Training  At each Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) till November 6, there will be a Proposition 37 Info area where we’ll need volunteers to talk to market-goers and send them home with info about the proposition. Whether you’ve just heard of the prop and you’re ready to learn more, or you’re already feeling strongly about GMO labeling and you’re ready to take action – I invite you to our volunteer orientation this Saturday the 13th from 2-3 pm.  If you are unable to make it on Saturday I’ll host an alternative orientation on Monday evening from 6-7 pm.  At the volunteer training we’ll go over the basics of the proposition, cover talking points to share with market-goers, and role-play possible conversations as they might play out at a market.  I’ll also have Prop 37 information to send home with you to share and plenty of time during and after the orientation to answer questions. Thank you for your hard work.  I look forward to working with you. Saturday, October 13, 2012 at 02:00 PM – 03:00 PM  Ferry Building in San Francisco, CA.


Truth About GMOs with Frances Moore Lappe and Jeffery Smith Speaking Out for Healthier Food: The Truth about GMOs  Dynamic talks about health risks of genetically modified (GMO) food by investigative writer and educator Jeffrey Smith and how this affects us and our environment by Frances Moore Lappe. Find out the truth about GMOs before you vote in November! Key Note Speakers:  Frances Moore Lappe  World visionary and author or co-author of 18 books including the three-million copy Diet for a Small Planet and EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want. She is the cofounder of three organizations, including Food First: The Institute for Food and Development Policy and the Small Planet Institute. Jeffrey Smith  Executive Director, Institute for Responsible Technology, author of the best-selling book Genetic Roulette newly released as a documentary film. Sponsored by:  Slow Food San Francisco; Food Policy Fund of the Institute for Responsible Technology; For more info on GMOs:  Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 01:00 PM – 04:00 PM · San Francisco, CA.


World Food Day 2012 Philadelphia  Presented by the UN Association of Greater Philadelphia, join us for a celebration of Food Day and World Food Day!  We’ll discuss the agriculture pressures of feeding the world, population pressure and global food needs, and local solutions for global problems. Speakers: Dr. Alan Kelly (UPenn): “Urban Food Security in the Developing World”; Bob Pierson (Philadelphia Common Market):“Local Food Cooperatives and Partnerships”; Dr. Alison Buttenheim (UPenn):
“Farmer’s Markets Expanding Access to Healthy Foods”. Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 02:00 PM – 05:00 PM Hopkinson House Solarium in Philadelphia, PA.


Good Food Economy, Growing Food Justice for Food Servers Forum  Who is serving the food we enjoy at events, at restaurants, and institutions? Is there a living wage, and under what conditions? Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 01:00 PM – 02:30 PM · First Unitarian Church, Eliot Chapel in Portland, OR.


Unmasking Halloween: Harvest, Health, and Hunger  High-fructose corn syrup. Palm Oil. Chocolate. Candy corns. How much candy should I let my child eat?  What kind of candy should I give out to other kids? No other holiday tests our ideas of healthy eating more than Halloween. Join registered dietitian Aaron Flores for a discussion on how you can make peace with the candy and help your family enjoy a healthy Halloween. Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 08:00 PM – 10:00 PM.   University Synagogue in Los Angeles, CA.


Reel Eats: What’s On Your Plate  This is the first screening in the monthly People’s Coop Film Series “REEL EATS.” People’s members get discounted admission. Only $2. Opportunity for discussion following the film. WHAT’S ON YOUR PLATE? is a witty and provocative documentary about kids and food politics. Over the course of one year, the film follows two eleven-year-old multiracial friends from NYC as they explore their place in the food chain. Sadie and Safiyah talk to food activists, farmers, and storekeepers as they address questions regarding the origin of the food they eat, how it’s cultivated, and how many miles it travels from farm to fork. Sadie and Safiyah formulate sophisticated and compassionate opinions about urban sustainability, and by doing so inspire hope and active engagement in others.$6, reg; $4 students & seniors 55+; $2 People’s Coop members Monday, October 15, 2012 at 07:00 PM – 10:00 PM Clinton Street Theater in Portland, OR.


Lecture: Animal Welfare and Factory Farms    Lecture by School of Law Professor Verne Smith on Animal Welfare and Factory Farms with healthy Halloween treats provided by the School of Hospitality Management students – University Center Webb Room, Main Campus. Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 12:00 PM – 01:00 PM Widener University, University Center Webb Room in Chester, PA.


SWAGG Snacks Video Challenge  Opportunity for Rhode Island Youth!   Want a chance to WIN $500??  Enter the SWAGG Snacks Video Challenge.  ECO Youth is calling on all Rhode Island youth to create a 1-5 minute video about the challenges you, your family, or your friends face trying to eat healthful foods, how you try to overcome these challenges, and why it’s important to you. Submit videos online (include your name, phone, email, and school name in the post):  Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 12:00 AM – 11:00 PM Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island in Providence, RI.


Webinar: Sharing the Harvest – Growing Fresh Food for Those Who Most Need It This event is virtual. Click here to register:  Space is limited, so please register early! One in every seven households in the United States experienced food insecurity last year. While food banks and pantries serve as an important safety net, the majority of food they provide is highly-processed and full of excess fats, salts, and sugars. These food banks are hungry for fresh, nutritious, wholesome produce. Churches across the country are beginning to respond to this need by planting vegetable gardens and donating the produce to their local food banks.   Join us on Wednesday, Oct 17th at 1:00pm EST to learn how your church can have a real impact on your community through a food bank garden. Our keynote presenter is Gary Oppenheimer, founder of, an organization that bridges the gap between backyard gardeners and local food banks. Also joining us are members of congregations involved in gardening and food bank projects. Please register early, as space is limited, and share this opportunity with friends! Wednesday, October 17, 2012 at 01:00 PM – 02:00 PM · in Washington, DC.



“Forks Over Knives” screening by Montclair’s Environmental Affairs and Community Green  Montclair Environmental Affairs office and Community Green present another eye-opening environmental movie – Forks Over Knives – examining the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 06:30 PM – 09:00 PM. Montclair Public Library in Montclair, NJ



Food Justice Fundraiser: Food at what cost?  The Interfaith Food and Farm Partnership in conjunction with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon will host a fundraiser to continue the conversation about where our food comes from as we follow the true path from farm to table. Featuring Traci McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating. McMillan is an investigative journalist who went undercover working various jobs in the food industry. Her book documents these experiences and discusses the relationship between food and class. The event will also include: Food Justice Voices panel; Highlights of IFFP projects; and Dinner featuring seasonal produce. The event also celebrates Food Day 2012 on Oct. 24.  Funds raised will go towards Interfaith Food & Farms Partnership‘s (IFFP) work in creating a just and sustainable food system for everyone. Cost: $45 per person; $350 for a table of eight. A limited number of work scholarships are available; for more information, call (503) 221-1054  Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 05:00 PM – 07:00 PM · $45.00 USD First Christian Church in Portland, OR