General Question

tinyfaery's avatar

When did social justice become about food?

Asked by tinyfaery (36081 points ) February 12th, 2013

In my day, way back in the 1990’s, social justice was about fighting discrimination, feeding the hungry, housing the poor, rights for gays and women and battling isms of all sorts.

Now all I hear about is about food. Maybe it’s where I live, L.A. (hipsterville blech), but all anyone talks about anymore is buying local and organic, GMOs, being vegan and then feeling superior to everyone else.

I understand this country needs a food revolution, but more so than a person needing any kind of food, shelter, protection from violence in the home, clothes, etc? Not to me.

I almost feel like the younger generation cares more about what they eat than the fact that some people have nothing to eat. This is so bourgeois. And I am beginning to dislike people who talk more about being vegan that genocide in Syria and the homeless people they walk by day after day.

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29 Answers

answerjill's avatar

I think it is part of a larger trend where people are trying to make social change through their consumption habits. While these efforts may have some positive impacts, I think that it can be a problem if it distracts us from recognizing the need for larger solutions on a corporate/societal/national/global level and working toward those kinds of changes.

muhammajelly's avatar

“When did social justice become about food?” <—Michelle Obama is part of, but not entirely, the answer. She keeps pushing her idea what-exactly-you-eat-is-the-government’s-job day in and day out. It brings a lot of (false) legitimacy to the idea that other people should go around pushing their own what you eat ideas. How can I fault a vegan pushing their food-notions down my throat without faulting Michelle Obama and in turn the Obama administration?

janbb's avatar

More of a rant than a question but I agree with it. Far too much emphasis on food politics and not enough on solving problems.

KNOWITALL's avatar

“I almost feel like the younger generation cares more about what they eat than the fact that some people have nothing to eat.”

It’s all about ‘me’ to some people, especiallly some privelaged classes that don’t always mingle with everyday society. Turning your vision outward to help others takes a certain compassion that not everyone is capable of.

bookish1's avatar

I think you might not have a very representative sample of humanity if you live in L.A… But yes, this trend is so bourgeois. It’s more and more tempting and reassuring to believe that one person can effect political/social/economic change by what purchasing choices they make. This is just another face of the demon with 10,000 heads. Keeps us from thinking about possibilities for systemic change.

For a related aside, some organizations are indeed thinking of access to healthful food as a systemic social justice issue. They’re not about helping yuppies find the right kind of self-congratulatory organic beef. It’s about redistributing perfectly good food that would otherwise have gone to waste, community gardening, things like that. You know. For poor people, not hipsters who are playing peasant. Yes, some people who talk about food politics actually give a damn.

@muhammajelly: Vegans and vegetarians have been trying to convert others long before Michelle Obama dared to suggest that Americans might want to consider eating more vegetables and less junk food. Likewise, carnivores persist in wanting to convert those who don’t eat meat. I think it’s quite reductivist to lay it at Michelle Obama’s feet.

tom_g's avatar

I’m not sure I agree with your premise. Are you sure you’re not seeing the legitimate need for a change in food production and consumption and trying to compare it to another “cause”? For example…

@tinyfaery: “I understand this country needs a food revolution, but more so than a person needing any kind of food, shelter, protection from violence in the home, clothes, etc?”

I’m sympathetic. But are you sure that this is what is happening? Are people claiming that the country needs a food revolution “more so than” a person needing food, shelter, etc?

I recall having debates in the early 90s with people in college who were quite offended at my vegetarianism. Very often I would meet people who would construct the following:

- eating animals in the US has negative environmental and health costs
– we want to minimize suffering
– if it’s not necessary to eat animals – and the meat industry = suffering, then eating animals is unnecessary suffering

BUT…

- being a vegetarian doesn’t help fight class inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

SO…

- why spend effort with this whole vegetarianism thing

So, it seemed that they were saying that the bourgeois nature of vegetarianism (note: I’m sorry to say that I internalized some of this reasoning later on) was taking away from efforts to affect real social, economic, and political change. It’s important to note, however, that these same people were not putting to use their “extra” energy they were saving by not wasting their time with vegetarianism to use as political or social activists. Additionally, many of us vegetarians happened to also be the most politically active in other areas. So it was not an “either vegetarianism or major social change” proposition.

I suspect (although I could be wrong as I’m not in LA) that what you are seeing is legitimate concerns of food production and consumption resulting in behavior changes focused around food production and consumption. This might not be replacing other meaningful efforts taken to affect change.

In the late 80s and early 90s, some of us would direct anger at (what we saw) as an apathetic generation who sees revolution as merely a product of consumption choices. What I think many of us failed to see was that consumption choices do make a difference – even if that difference isn’t big or fast enough for most of us. And more importantly – these people would not choose to take to the streets to affect the type of change I am interested in for they to stop their “consumer activism”.

muhammajelly's avatar

@bookish1 It isn’t reductivist because I prefixed my answer with “part of, but not entirely, the answer”. It is part of the reason! They are emboldened just as Iran will be emboldened by the response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons testing. In addition to being emboldened Michelle Obama keeps the issue in the media so people spend increasing amounts of time thinking about and discussing it. Never forget how much the media sets the topics of discussions around the water cooler.

tom_g's avatar

Additionally….

@tinyfaery: “And I am beginning to dislike people who talk more about being vegan that genocide in Syria and the homeless people they walk by day after day.”

Just get used to the fact that people don’t care about real things that are happening. I could easily say, “And I am beginning to dislike people who talk more about television shows (or video games or football) than genocide in Syria and the homeless people they walk by day after day.” You seem to take offense at the vegan thing because you are likely not and feel that you are being judged (”...then feeling superior to everyone else.”). If you want to make comparisons of what people are talking about, you might want to try this:

I am beginning to see people who talk more about being vegan than baseball. Does that feel less offensive? It feels better for me to look at it this way.

tinyfaery's avatar

@tom_g: I come from an activist background and I see the people I used to know caring more about the new healthy supermarket opening, but do nothing as they literally walk by starving homeless people. The activists I knew no longer care about gay issues or AIDS in Africa. They sure used to. You’re answer is no help.

@janbb Oh, no. You know what my rants really sound like.

tom_g's avatar

@tinyfaery: “You’re answer is no help.”

:( sorry

I thought you were talking about the “younger generation” – not your old activist buddies. (@tinyfaery: “I almost feel like the younger generation cares more about what they eat than the fact that some people have nothing to eat.”)

bookish1's avatar

@muhammajelly, thank you. I am sorry that I missed that in your first post.

KNOWITALL's avatar

When my niece or nephews, or even the neighbor kids, get too materialistic and bratty, I tell them that if I were their mom, they’d have to: (Pick any) Volunteer at a homeless center or soup kitchen, pick up trash from the side of the road, offer to help the elderly neighbors with yard work, etc…

Needless to say, most of the kids love me but are glad I’m not their parent, while the parents just laugh and act clueless. I can’t believe they don’t realize their kids have no sense of contributing to a community. And I live in Mayberry, USA. Sad.

ragingloli's avatar

It did not.

JLeslie's avatar

I’ll say it is a combination of Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs and lack of awareness of what life is like for others. Plus, I guess I should throw in the media and politics ramping up topics to sway voters.

I should say I think our food supply is important. We can tackle many things at once.

wundayatta's avatar

In my town, this is about bringing healthy food to poor people. Right now, there are miles of poorer areas in town where there are no supermarkets. All you can eat is McDonalds and Chef Boy R Dee, unless you have enough money to travel to a supermarket somewhere in the suburbs.

The Food Trust is trying to bring farmers markets to these parts of town, so that people can have access to fresh vegetables. They are trying to educate people about the importance of eating fresh vegetables and how good they taste. They are teaching folks about how much fat is in a Big Mac and how unhealthy it is to eat that way. How it leads to diabetes and high blood pressure and shorter lives.

So the bourgeois caught on first that healthy food is, well, healthy. Does that mean the poor should reject it as bourgeois? I hope not. Healthy food is healthy for everyone, not just middle class people.

It is a good thing to know a radish from radicchio. It is a good thing to have access to five different kinds of lettuce and ten different kinds of potatoes. It is a good thing to eat turnips and to have fresh baked bread and eggs that were laid the day before instead of two weeks before. It is a good thing to have flavor in your food, instead of food that is cooked until it has no flavor in it, and it is a good thing for working folk as well as for bourgeois. In fact, it is better for working folk, since it is their health that is more at risk since they have less access to health care.

If social justice is not about food, I have no idea what it is about. Food is the second most basic need (after air). Third, if you count water separately. My point is that it is extremely important.

Maybe your community thinks that what they eat makes them superior, but that’s a social issue, not a social justice issue. Social justice is about giving access to health food to people without economic advantages.

Feelings of superiority or inferiority are merely social issues. Foodies aren’t superior. Unless they are faking it. For most of us it is all purely about the food, and there is no status associated with the food, except for those who maybe feel like they don’t know what is going on. But as far as I have seen, farmers in the farmer’s market are always happy—more than happy—to talk about what they are selling and how it can be used. No one need feel inferior. I love talking to farmers. One of the least controversial kinds of conversations I have. Everyone loves food, it seems to me.

tinyfaery's avatar

No one is saying food is not a social justice cause, but it’s certainly not as important as people who have no food.

Have you ever been hungry? I have. I was happy for anything I got. I certainly did not need organic lettuce.

wundayatta's avatar

Not sure about organic lettuce, but do you think that being hungry means you don’t need fresh, healthy lettuce? They say beggars can’t be choosers, but I still think hungry people need good nutrition, too. Not iceberg lettuce that was shipped from Chile. Not that you could get that, since most of the iceberg lettuce in this country comes from California.

You’re mixing up two issues: hunger and nutrition. If you’re hungry enough, then you’ll be happy to have anything to eat. But once you’ve got some food in your stomach, nutrition matters. It is a health issue and a social justice issue.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@wundayatta The bigger pictures is, that as a country, the poor can only afford to eat the less healthy $0.99 cheeseburger as opposed to the $3 salad. It’s definately a health and social justice issue to me. And financially it’s a nightmare.

Unbroken's avatar

The numbers of people who have starved to death in America is extremely low. After all we have “value menus” you can get a banana for under a dollar still. Food programs etc.

Food related diseases are really high. I am on my phone at work so I can’t research exact numbers.

I just wanted to add that in addition to what @tom_g @JLeslie @wundayatta and @bookish1 said.

Unbroken's avatar

@KNOWITALL To a degree maybe. But I can buy enough produce to last me a week a package of beans and rice for 13 to 18 dollars easy. That is less expensive then a dollar a meal burger.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@rosehips I work in a city with a large homeless population and we find forks in dog & cat food cans in our hallway outdoors fairly often.

I cook every night just about, and I’m tight-fisted, so I know my hotdogs at .99 per pkg could feed me for a few days if necessary. I can make brown beans twice a week for less than $1.

I’ve been poor a lot of my life, but it sucks to be a poor FAT kid because your mom can’t afford real food. Thank God for food pantries, and even they are mostly starches like mac n cheese, breads, etc..

We took my niece to the grocery store and she was about seven years old and spending the weekend, both parents are poor, and I asked what she wanted. She said “Steak!”, I said “Okay what kind?” She said, “Any kind, I just want meat because all ____ feeds me is cereal and mac n cheese.”

Nullo's avatar

Perhaps those people aren’t actually trying to be socially just? Snobbery is always in fashion, just have to find the right style.
Rich snobbery is fairly expected, but one also sees poor snobbery, which is just baffling.

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Unbroken's avatar

@KNOWITALL How sad. Frozen vegetables are cheap but you have to have a freezer to keep them in.

Just because I feel the need of cheerful story I will say that our community has a big homeless problem but one of the things this community is very good is making sure the Food Bank is stocked. With fresh food, produce and meat too.

Through out the year we have annual events that contribute and ask for donations to the food bank. There are local companies that give significantly to the food bank and when we do get low, it makes it in the paper. Grocery stores have a donation shelves by their entries and the radio gets involved with benefits.

But reading the article from Living Without regarding foodbanks and celiacs and or diabetics I can see we have a long way to come. I think when I volunteered at the Food Bank they had a few allergies that they would cater to but there was no awareness for gluten etc. That was a couple years ago though.

dabbler's avatar

Agribusiness.
In the 1990’s the portion of your food that was produced by a super-sized agro corporation was substantially smaller than it is today in the U.S. The large agro conglomerates influence what can go on food labels (e.g. not labeling GMO foods and diluting the meaning of ‘organic’ so that Walmart can stock more of it).

There are a lot fewer genuine family farms than there used to be. And smaller farms are pressured by manipulated market dynamics to join the big trends or sell out.

And @rosehips is right that “the poor can only afford to eat the less healthy $0.99 cheeseburger as opposed to the $3 salad.” But this is because of enormous subsidies to the cheesburger option.

All these seem like social justice issues to me, because people have less choices to eat healthier foods, and the reason is corporate market distortions.

LostInParadise's avatar

Those in the food movement can seem silly at times, but there is a basis for what they are saying, as some here have pointed out. Here is an article by Michael Pollan on health problems related to the food industry and here is another article that talks about the environmental impact of meat production.

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sinscriven's avatar

When corporations directly interfere with humanity to sustain itself, that is when it becomes a social justice issue.

Here in the US Monsanto has been bullying farmers for years, by trying to force them into buying their own seed products which are heavily modified, and are not able to clean their own seeds for reuse because monsanto lobbied to make such things illegal. For farmers who resist them, they send out nasty grams, put out blacklists with their private information on them, or intentionally infect their farms with their own GMO seeds and then sue the farmers into submission for patent violations.

And in the developing world, they are pushing hard on farmers in india to use their seeds which are supposedly drought resistant and more nutrient, and offer out loans to poor farmers. The seeds are also not savable between harvests, and if crops fail then farmers are on the hook for hundereds of dollars in loans to repay and then they commit suicide because of the massive unsurmountable burden on them.

it’s not that GMO crops are bad in and of themselves, it’s the politics and greed surrounding them. Monsanto is quite happy eliminating biodiversity and self-sustainability if it means the entire planet is dependent on them for life sustaining food.

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