Saturday, February 2, 2013

Food (Communities) For Thought

We’ve all heard the old expression, “there is strength in numbers.” But what does this tired saying have to do with food activism? Before engaging with some text about the numerous facets of contemporary food activism, I never really fathomed the extent to which this movement has the ability to unite all types of people in the pursuit of shared goals. For the past week, I have been exploring the ways in which activism involving the food industry takes shape, and how each of these outlets fosters some sense of identity and community, providing fuel for an already rapidly expanding movement.

At the very heart of food activism appears to lay the desire to move back to the land in order to be both figuratively and literally closer to our food and its origins. In doing so, we’re not only coming closer to the ground, but also closer to one another in many ways. If you visit YouTube, you will see dozens of homemade videos conveying the sense of collectivity emerging from the creation of community gardens in sites ranging from Copenhagen to Juneau, Burkina Faso to Wisconsin. In addition to this fairly obvious creation of community through a type of food activism (you can’t get much more obvious than including “community” in the project’s name), the idea of bringing people together in aspiring towards these common goals is also at the very foundation of returning to the land. Through programs like CSAs and farm shares, communities are facilitating the direct connections to be made between producers and consumers, which contribute to a more localized and communal identity than buying a grocery store food product extracted and packaged 3,000 miles away.

But this sense of community that provides the strong arm for the movement towards healthier, more sustainable food does not only exist physically between people laboring on a rooftop garden. Besides, who nowadays doesn’t turn to Facebook or Twitter when they need a break from work, school, stress, or even boredom? I certainly do, but I hadn’t yet realized how social media allows those passionate about being food-conscious to connect with others outside their general vicinity; it is enabling this movement to generate a nation-wide community because of its ability to be reached by all those with access to a computer. For example, Organic Consumers has 42,000 Twitter followers, while Slow Food USA has over 300,000 followers with direct access to its steady stream of information (or should we say ‘ammunition’). Together, those two pages have created a community that is larger than the city of Pittsburgh. And they all have access to one another’s thoughts, inspirations, and visions for the future of the movement. Who knew one could be a part of such a large community from the comfort of one’s own couch?

Another more obvious platform for community building on the basis of food activism is the act of protest, during which undeniable bonds are formed on the basis of shared goals. As I recently learned through reading an article for my seminar, numerous neighbors of UC Berkeley united in what they called the “Occupy the Farm” movement in attempts to protect public land scheduled to be transformed into commercial space. Their efforts, as seen in numerous online videos, fostered community sentiments as they were attacked by outsiders of the movement, also known as the riot police. Public demonstrations surrounding a desire to change the production or distribution of food have sprung up across the globe, in locations ranging from the UK to Egypt. These protests have also gone digital (thus a little more peaceful), as seen on’s designated page for the dozens and dozens of electronic petitions relating to sustainable food. Whether in person or through a computer screen, these mediums have allowed for those passionate about reforming the ways in which we consume food to find community among others from across the globe who share their motivations.

So yes, there is strength to be found in numbers. And there is definite strength to be found in the communities springing up around the world on the basis of working towards food security and justice. This is something recognized by the food industry, as some corporate food producers have even expressed. From the information I have gathered thus far, it is apparent that the true muscle behind the propelling food activism occurring today is the ability of these individuals to unite with others, on both a local and global scale, in order to share ideas and reinforce their ultimate vision for the future of food. 

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