School food. Local food.
Animal welfare. Labor communities.
Food justice. Environmental justice.
Imagine a board room full of lunch ladies, vegan chefs, SNAP administrators, health educators, food pantry operators, PETA devotes, union representatives, treehuggers, and hipster urban farmers Instagramming photos. What do we all have in common? A stake in the so called “good food movement.”
And they are all the reason I can’t give a simple answer to the question, “So you studied public health; what should I eat?” I can’t answer because in my mind it depends on what you care about. Are you concerned about your weight, your health? The rights of food workers? The rights of animals? The environmental impact of petrochemicals? Your monthly budget? These priorities can have some seemingly counter consequences on our decision making. Certainly there is no question that some of these priorities will increase our food budget. Organic food often costs more. Fair trade food products don’t go on sale or offer too many coupons. This isn’t the first time that I’ve wrestled with this idea.
But there is room for coalition and common purpose. According to Michael R. Dimock in his Civil Eats article, “Can Public Health Unite the Good Food Movement?” we must work together. Good food, meet public health. Public health, good food. Two of my favorite things.
For the food movement to place unstoppable pressure on policymakers and industrial food producers, it needs a very focused set of goals that emerge from a single root crisis that binds us all. Public health is that crisis.
We should be able to agree that our public’s health is indeed in crisis. In case you haven’t heard, we have a little bit of an obesity problem here. (Pardon the pun). The list of diseases and conditions impacted by our diets that deplete quality of life goes on and on. And researchers and conscious eaters add to it daily. It’s becoming harder to deny that how our food ends up on our plates impacts the eater. Farmers’ markets, CSAs, and home canning are booming in popularity as families make these connections.
So what? What does this all mean? I take it as a call to put aside differences and join up with those who see the value in moving this good food movement forward. We have more allies than we realize. Instead of picking on vegans we can focus on how we both want food that is produced safely. We might disagree with how food assistance is administered, but we can agree that it’s important to work toward making healthy food more accessible to everyone regardless of income.
Everyone wants–and deserves–food that supports their health, well-being, and sense of cultural identity. (And hopefully it’s delicious, too).
“The appropriate measure of farming then is the world’s health and our health, and this is inescapably one measure.” —Wendell Berry