I recently rediscovered this essay I wrote in 2011, and on rereading three years later, realized it’s something of a manifesto, laying out my general philosophy and background. Published at Civil Eats, March 30, 2011.
A couple of weeks ago, Washington Post political blogger Ezra Klein and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack had a debate in the Washington Post about rural subsidies; the substance of which was then analyzed and thoroughly skewered in a couple of excellent posts by Brian Depew of the Center for Rural Affairs and Tom Philpott at Grist. The whole affair got me thinking about another urban/rural discussion I read at the end of last year, this one focused on food—and about how counterproductive all of our country/city dividing lines are.
In December, the Atlantic published “The 10 Biggest Food Stories of 2010,” a list that ranged from restaurant trends to food truck and butchery trends, with a smattering of food policy in between. In response, the Daily Yonder (motto: “Keep It Rural.”) ran “The (Real) Important Food Stories of 2010,” pointing out that the Atlantic’s list included “no mention of either the people or the places that produce food,” and that it was “heavy on New York City.” (Both true.)
The Yonder’s list gave a much more substantive picture of food issues in 2010: the Department of Justice/USDA investigation of corporate consolidation in food and agriculture; the USDA’s proposed fair farm rules, seed and dairy crises, and the skyrocketing price of rural land—all issues that affect not only the Daily Yonder’s rural readers, but all of us who eat. I was all set to recommend the article to all my colleagues, and then I got to the last line. “As you can see,” the writers concluded, “not a one of these stories begins in Brooklyn.” Now, wait just a minute there.
I’ve lived in Brooklyn for seven years, working on food justice issues for most of that time, so I took the conclusion personally. But there’s a larger issue. Brooklyn has a vibrant, diverse food scene that ranges from decades-old community gardens in Bedford-Stuyvesant to, yes, a Williamsburg “butchering icon.” Small snapshots of Brooklyn food have been much hyped lately in both local and national media, but they don’t tell the whole story—and they seem mostly to alienate much of the rest of the country (as well as more than a few Brooklynites). The Daily Yonder was right: the Atlantic list was out of touch. But digging on Brooklyn just exacerbates the problem. Both publications—and all of us who are working for a better, healthier, and more just food system—need to start thinking about food as a way to come together rather than something to divide us. If we keep seeing ourselves as divided between rural and urban, we won’t change anything. Continue reading United We Eat