Americans are not condemned to be passive recipients of whatever is doled out to us. We’re a stronger people than that. Farmworkers: You could double the miserly wages they are paid and not raise the price of a can of soup even a penny. Environment: Saturating fields with pesticides every year is literally killing the soil and has contaminated nearly half of America’s groundwater. Energy: With centralized agribusiness, the typical food product travels fifteen hundred miles to get to your supermarket, wasting massive amounts of fuel. Consumers: A handful of conglomerates monopolizes every aspect of the food economy, leaving consumers overcharged at the cash register and shortchanged on quality. Let’s seefarmers, labor, environmentalists, and consumers. Gosh … that’s most of us! The Powers That Be work diligently to keep us divided, but if we could come together in a movement that involved us all, something big could happen. And it is happening. Accelerating from the seventies, all parts of the movement have had their individual upchuck moments over the way the corporatized, industrialized, globalized food system is working, and they have been rebelling against it. Movements, however, don’t spring forth full-grown. Each part has to develop in its own way. In this case, the various parties had practically no connection, no awareness that all were seeking a better system. Although they had no central leaders, no road map or plan, they’ve gradually found their way by finding one another. UP FROM THE GRASSROOTS The result is an alternative food economy that has begun to flourish and a proud movement that is surging in popularity. There are some eight thousand organic farmers today, producing everything from wheat to meat \(and thousands more Some facts about the organic food market include the following: Sales of organic food topped $17 billion in 2006 and are increasing at about 20 percent a yearten times the rate of other foods. About 40 percent of American shoppers regularly buy some organic foods. Such entrepreneurial leaders as Morgan Wolaver, the maker of a terrific line of organic brews sold under the Wolaver label, have established an expanding niche for beers made with organic ingredients. \(Disclosure: I have done extensive consumer research into the quality of his suds, although I am not Direct sales from local farmers to consumers are booming through some four thousand vibrant farmers’ markets in practically every city thriving, with about three hundred of them across the country, totaling $750 million a year in business and providing another way around the corporate system for local farmers, food artisans, and consumers. All levels of eateriesfrom white-tablecloth restaurants to Dot’s Dinernot only feature organic foods on their menus, but also pride themselves on having locally produced, seasonal ingredients. Such major wholesalers as Sysco, practically all supermarket chains, and giants such as Costco and even Wal-Mart now realize that the demand is so strong that they have to carry some organic foods. Oh, and those kids who “will never know the difference”? They’ve been in the lead of this movement from the start. In the seventies, it was college kids who became the founders of food co-ops, organic farms, and other enterprising efforts to get around that hard tomato. In the eighties and the nineties, it was young moms who asked, “What’s in this stuff I’m feeding my kids?” and searched out better alternatives. And today it’s the kids and the grandkids of all of the previously mentioned kids who are helping to push good food into that last refuge of awful “mystery meats” and prepackaged fat bombs: the school cafeteria. The farm-to-cafeteria movement has received little coverage by the national media establishment, but it is spreading across the country. More than four hundred school districts and two hundred university cafeterias now build their daily menus around fresh, mostly organic ingredients bought from local farmers and food makers. Also, prodded by the example of Alice Watersthe pioneering visionary and a tireless promoter of America’s “good food” movementmany of the youngsters in these schools now grow some of their own food, as well as help to prepare and serve it, as part of a spreading “edible schoolyard” program. Some are even adopting a concept called “edible classroom:’ where food is used as an integral part of the curriculum, providing a tangible other topics. Just as good food springs from well-tended ground, so has this grassroots movement. No one in a position of power political or economicmade any of these improvements happen. In a remarkably short time, ordinary Americans informed themselves, organized, and acted to assert their own values over those of the corporate structure. Family by family, business by business, they have changed not only the market but the culture. By taking charge of what goes on their plates, people are beginning to take charge of their lives. Excerpted from Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow, by Jim Hightower with Susan DeMarco, published by John Wiley & Sons. APRIL 4, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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