Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Möbius Politics

Is Local Food a left-wing or right-wing movement?

As I scratch a little below the surface of things, the picture of politics as Möbius strip (that's Moebius if your system is limited to ASCII) becomes ever clearer. In other words, if you wander far enough from the political center, either to the right or to the left, the ends of the spectrum meet in interesting and unexpected ways. It's not a new idea to me, and I wouldn't expect it to be original, but manifestations of this dark side of the political moon have been popping up recently like mushrooms in a cow pasture after a 2-day rainstorm.

Case in point: the Local Food movement. What ties together this motley assortment of foodies and farmers, vegans and beef-eaters, libertarians and progressives, devoutly religious and steadfastly secular? A desire for good food. A sustainable food system. And good old American distrust.

There is a common belief that the dominant food system has failed us. That centralized commodified food processing and distribution is bad for consumers, bad for farmers, bad for the earth, bad for crop diversity, bad for the animals. That the agencies that are supposed to protect our health and support the future of agriculture instead set up roadblocks to anything that doesn't feed into that system.

Some methods toward a solution can be agreed upon. If you buy local farm products, you support local agriculture. If you grow organic heirloom vegetables instead of grass in your yard, you feed yourself and enhance the soil. If you save and exchange seeds you preserve crop diversity. But none of these things are likely to be enough to keep the FDA from cracking down on raw milk, or keep conventional farms from depleting topsoil and releasing toxins, nutrients, and patented genes into the environment.

On the right, it is common to speak in terms of overarching global conspiracies. On the left, we're more likely to ascribe the problems to simple greed, corruption, and layers of historical development. There may well be conspiracies afoot, but I suspect they exist within the boardrooms of Monsanto, ADM, and other corporate players rather than the halls of the UN. But hey, I could be wrong.

In either case, I think it is vital to be informed. And it is vital to speak up and give representative democracy a whirl. Knowing what I know about the diverse politics in the movement, I make no assumptions about my elected officials, what they know about the issue or where they stand. If they don't hear from me, who will they hear from? They'll certainly hear from Monsanto and friends. And if all they hear from the local food movement is inflammatory rhetoric like this, how can they take us seriously?


  1. If you consider, as a parallel phenomenon, the absolute hatred of Obama by the far right and far left - for vastly different reasons - one can see eerie similarities. Reading far-left critics of the President, one would think he is no different than George W. Bush. Reading far-right critics, one would think he is no better than Joseph Stalin. Yet, the rhetoric is the same! One can just replace proper nouns and party affiliation.

    It seems to me, on the subject at hand, that those on the right might benefit from understanding that much of US ag policy seeks to benefit those corporations that actually run the industry. While they may or may not change their minds on details, it would certainly seem this is an issue where strange bedfellows nevertheless can create a whole bunch of good noise.

    OK, that last line is creepy. Sorry.

  2. " . . . it would certainly seem this is an issue where strange bedfellows nevertheless can create a whole bunch of good noise."

    Maybe creepy; more like "makes me wish I could draw cartoons worth a flip"!

    My pet agricultural conspiracy theory involves Monsanto (henceforth referred to as The Borg) gaining successively greater dominance over seed supplies, continuing it's evil plan to choke out small family farms that won't be absorbed into the Collective, and wrecking viable crops with non-seeding GMC contamination. Then The Borg takes over the world as Supreme Dicpotater.

    In doing landscaping jobs, I've encountered a mentality among some urbanites that is also disturbing. Admittedly HOAs and POAs can be the stuff of either horror movies or sketch comedy, but I'm hearing about even smaller, traditionally very lenient neighborhood organizations* adopting policies that homeowners can't do vegetable gardens, even in flowerbeds, and a few that won't allow tub gardening on decks and porches if the contents are veggies. The rationale is that it "creates an undesirable appearance". I have had people explain to me that it's not really safe to eat vegetables that aren't grown "professionally", dangerous chemicals and so on, dontchakno, and that plants grown in a city environment have pollution contamination. Much, much wiser to let the people "who know what they're doing" take care of growing food.

    Smells a lot like manipulative propaganda to me. Does that make anyone else wanna beat their (or someone else's) heads on a convenient wall?

    *trailer parks, as opposed to gated golf communities

  3. Fortunately more and more people are waking up to the erosion of food self-sufficiency. More people are avoiding HOAs, pushing to change them, or simply ignoring them, often with the knowledge and approval of their neighbors, which is still the de facto gold standard for many land use decisions.

  4. "More people are avoiding HOAs, pushing to change them, or simply ignoring them . . . . "

    I talked to a buddy who used to be a client, whom I converted to the Cult Of Weird Gardening. His yard got voted "Yard Of The Month", and the newsletter feature pics are a flower bed backed by a 5' privacy screen of "Bolivian False Asparagus Fern" (asparagus) and a patio planter of "Ornamental Sumatran Kale" and "Javanese Fan Plant" (radicchio and arugula). His HOA opted to allow him the off-list plants cuz they're obviously expensive, tasteful imports . . . . ;0)