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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

food politics « Previous | |Next »
May 29, 2010

In The Food Movement, Rising in the New York Review of Books Michael Pollen, an ethical food guru, says that, if the advent of fast food (and the culture of cheap processed food in general) has become an indispensable pillar of the modern economy, then it has given rise to criticism that industrial food production (agri-business) is in need of reform because its social/environmental/public health/animal welfare/gastronomic costs are too high.

Public health is central given the current concern about the health of the population:

perhaps the food movement’s strongest claim on public attention today is the fact that the American diet of highly processed food laced with added fats and sugars is responsible for the epidemic of chronic diseases that threatens to bankrupt the health care system. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that fully three quarters of US health care spending goes to treat chronic diseases, most of which are preventable and linked to diet: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and at least a third of all cancers. The health care crisis probably cannot be addressed without addressing the catastrophe of the American diet, and that diet is the direct (even if unintended) result of the way that our agriculture and food industries have been organized.

The food industry's claims, that it merely giving people the sugary, fatty, and salty foods consumers want, ignores that it actually helps to shape these desires through the ways it creates products and markets them. Don't expect the Rudd Government to take on agribusiness in Australia, corporate food or the subsidies to these industries in consumer capitalism.

However, the food movement is broader than this, as evidenced in the slow food movement and farmers markets. Janet Flammang in The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society indicates a wider conception of the politics of food:

Significant social and political costs have resulted from fast food and convenience foods, grazing and snacking instead of sitting down for leisurely meals, watching television during mealtimes instead of conversing”—40 percent of Americans watch television during meals—”viewing food as fuel rather than sustenance, discarding family recipes and foodways, and denying that eating has social and political dimensions.

The cultural contradictions of capitalism—its tendency to undermine the stabilizing social forms it depends on—are on vivid display at the modern American dinner table.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:43 PM | | Comments (5)


One of my favourite topics.

How many decades passed between the knowledge that smoking was bad for you and campaigns to stigmatise smoking, limit advertising and ban smoking in particular places? Will it take a similar amount of time for the same to happen in the case of fast foods? India has a better record on this than Australia.

I don't think that what people do while they eat is as much of a problem as it's thought to be. Or at least, it can't be isolated from the rest of our domestic lifestyles. Take a look at the floor plans of new houses and you'll generally find the kids' rooms are at the other end of the house from their parents, and the new must-have domestic space is the 'parents retreat'. What are they supposed to be retreating from if not their kids? Or maybe one another? What does that tell you about the dynamics of the contemporary nuclear family?

If they're all sitting around in front of telly eating, at least they're together. We're hooked on Masterchef at the moment, so we sit around in front of the tv eating our dinner and talking about food, the dominance of the two big supermarkets and whether our mash could have been 'plated up' more prettily. My son wouldn't have been inspired to make a banana custard pie from scratch if we'd been watching The Simpsons.

And another thing...

When I was a girl, our science classes and cooking classes at school worked together so we understood the workings of albumen and pectin, why one stick of celery is juicy and another dry, the relationships between bits of the periodic table and nutrition and what you can expect if you overfill an ice cube tray. Education is not done that way any more.

Kids learn how to make pikelets without understanding how the air bubbles that make them fluffy get there. You pour the mix out of the bottle and pikelets just happen. They don't know the difference between fructose and pantyhose, or how cells distribute salt, sugar and water to find equilibrium. Personally, I despair.

in the 1960s women wanted to leave the kitchen and get a job/career, not spend their life in the kitchen.

A review of Janet Flammang's The Taste for Civilization: Food, Politics, and Civil Society in Feminist Review Sophie M. Lavoie says:

Flammang begins with the premise that “table activities” (in other words, “everyday food practices” or “mealtime rituals of food preparation, serving, and dining”) are central to socialization, and therefore tackles the conundrum of women’s shifting position in this activity (from traditional gender roles, for example) and the possible consequences on Western civilization (the end of communication, discussion, and consensus?). Naturally, the author does not pass judgment on women for their lack of investment in the rituals (enough do!), but rather examines this important social change as it presents itself and proposes possible solutions to this important shift in practice.

I don't know what the solutions proposed are.

Pollan has a tendency to blame women --ie., the second generation feminists--for the wrecking of the family meal, which Flammang sees as one of the nurseries of democracy. She argues that meals are powerful spaces for building relationships and "the habits of civility.

According to Pollen the second generation feminists thoughtlessly trampled on the skills of cooking (food work) in their rush to get women out of the kitchen.