American eating habits have long been a reflection of industrialization, urbanization, and revolutions in food production, storage, and distribution. Such technological spread of processing, refrigeration, and transportation paired with cheap, abundant energy has created a false sense of security and accessibility within the urban food system. But, despite the growing movement towards “civic agriculture,” – characterized by community-based agriculture and food production that not only meets consumer demands for fresh, safe, and locally produced foods but also creates jobs and strengthens community identity – the majority of Americans rely on corporate food structures to determine their health and eating patterns.
Our dominant commercialized food system has failed us. Indicators are threats to public health, obesity, diet-related diseases, natural resource degradation and erosion of community, economic, and social vitality. These problems are certainly not newly emerging and yet steps toward environmental stewardship, healthy nutritional food, and transparent sourcing on a large scale have been minimal, almost invisible.
I had the pleasure of listening to Tracie McMillan during the Natural Product Expo West, one of the world’s largest natural and organic products tradeshow. As the author of The American Way of Eating, now nominated for a James Beard Award, McMillan has successfully created a much-needed dialogue amongst consumers on civic agriculture and the problems imbedded within our global food system. For three years, she went undercover as a farm worker in California, a Wal-mart produce clerk in Detroit, and an Applebee’s employee in Brooklyn. Such personal accounts on different roles in the food system point out hurdles like cheating labor contracts, second-rate produce (from a corporation with monopoly over our entire food system nonetheless), and non-fresh premade food sold in restaurants. Her overarching argument – to make healthy food as easy as drinking clean water – is so evident and fundamental, yet why has this not happened?
Our global food system, driven by capitalism, commercial pressures and industrialization, has taken away your right to healthy eating. The basis of our dominant food system is inherently problematic towards achieving a civic agriculture. Supermarket distribution chains are streamlined as they move away from traditional food markets towards centralized procurement systems and direct year sourcing from large-scale suppliers. Corporate conglomerates that control our food system continue to snatch market share, extract wealth, dismantle local economies and create poverty. Few families can afford to eat well. You need to ask yourself: what am I going to do about this?