The following is an abstract of a longer article available at Independent Science News.
Not so very long ago food and agriculture were high on the list of unfashionable subjects in most parts of the world. Relatively suddenly, however, millions of individuals have separately begun to develop passionate interests in the products and processes of agriculture. Coffee, beer, bread, organic food, herbal remedies, food supplements, supposed “super foods”, local food, Slow Food, fairly traded food, non-GMO food, and cheese, are just some of these interests.
The consequence of this upsurge, according to one international consultant is “complete paranoia“, at major food companies who now are taking emerging food movements as a serious threat to their core businesses. Thus the New York Times recently asserted that the centre aisles of US supermarkets are being called “the morgue” because sales of junk food are crashing.
So what explains this dramatic upsurge of interest food that we can now talk about a Food Movement, and that, in the central American country of El Salvador, the National Coordinator of its Organic Agriculture Movement can call organic farming and agroecology not just a farming practice but the center of a: “titanic but beautiful struggle, to reclaim the lives of all Salvadorans”?
Can a new political order really be built around good food and good agriculture? How far, in short, can the food movement go?
I have proposed five characteristics that define and explain the food movement and distinguish it from other social movements.
1) The food movement is self-organized. It is an anarchic and spontaneous happening that does not depend on specific charismatic leaders.
2) Complementing this, the food movement is universal in its appeal. Rich and poor, employed and unemployed, young and old, anyone is welcome. Thus Prince Charles and landless peasants are both part of it because there are no barriers to entry.
3) The food movement is international. Whatever local needs may be, the food movement can always meet them.
4) The food movement is low-budget. Unlike all other mass movements, the food movement is not dependent on rich donors or powerful foundations. It has a few of those, but is not beholden to them or controlled by them.
5) The food movement has many and diverse values. Health concerns, animal welfare, economic justice, ecological sustainability. All of these find a home there.
These diverse and unique characteristics have their root in a novel philosophy based on food. This philosophy is a revolt against the ruling paradigm of our time, the misnamed “enlightenment” and represents the beginning of a profound philosophical shift that is now underway.
The characteristic of the enlightenment was to discard conventional and folk wisdoms as merely superstition and aneccdote and replace them with pure logic and rationality (i.e.science). This development was a necessary accompaniment to the industrial revolution that required a revisioning of society. Science obliged with social Darwinism and nature was redescribed as being epitomized by struggle and competition.
But in doing so the philosophy of the enlightenment pitted people against people, people against nature and even nature against nature. This view, we now know, was false. Nature is a synergy of species that evolved from just one species to create a habitable planet for billions of unique organisms. To take just one example of this synergy, many people imagine our atmosphere is a geological creation. But it is not. Every gas in it is a product of biological organisms. Without life there would, in fact, be no atmosphere to prevent the seas from boiling away
The rediscovery of that synergy is the underlying philosophy of the food movement. It explains why conventional agriculture can only envisage exploiting soil, the plants and the animals, whereas the food movement sees agriculture as a symphony of the soil, a synergy of all beings.
What this means, in sum, is that all those people in the food movement represent not just a practical and political challenge to the existing order but that, unlike socialism or traditional environmentalism, the food movement has unearthed a profound philosophical challenge. One that, because it possesses deep scientific validity, will not whither or fade away.
Jonathan Latham is co-founder and Executive Director of the Bioscience Resource Project and the Editor of Independent Science News. Dr. Latham holds a Masters degree in Crop Genetics and a PhD in Virology. He was subsequently a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Genetics, University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has published scientific papers in disciplines as diverse as plant ecology, plant virology, genetics and genetic engineering. He is also the Director of the Poison Papers project which publicizes documents of the chemical industry and its regulators.