As some of you know, I’m writing a history of meat in modern America (“modern” in this case meaning 1870-2000) so I try to stay current with what’s what in the world of food and food politics. So naturally I read up on things like the “profood” movement. I inadvertently hurt some feelings with a Tweet I posted yesterday, and for that I apologize. (Frankly, it never occurred to me that anyone would actually READ the Tweet.) My tweet was as follows:
I have come to the conclusion that the “profood” people are, um, out of touch with reality.
The “profood” in this case refers to a group of people who advocate changes in the American food system. You can read more about it here. As near as I can tell, profood types are all about the “family farm” and sustainable foods and eating local. They also want better food, more “real” food served in, for example, hospitals and schools.
I admire their energy and agree with their general thrust: I hate the idea that the nation’s schoolkids are eating crap every day. And I become almost unhinged every time I see an adult hand a two-year-old a coke or a bottle of “apple juice.” (Which is mostly corn syrup.)
So I’m all in favor of eating well. (And if you read this blog, you know I practice what I preach.
And I’m also keenly aware that millions of people rely on “convenience” foods out of both choice and necessity.)
My problem with this “movement” is its simplistic approach to a complex problem. The profood people, inadvertently or intentionally, are demonizing the existing food system. As near as I can tell, they hope to achieve their goals in part by tossing the baby out with the bathwater, or, in this case, the entire existing food/farming system out with the foodproducer/farmer.
As one farmer said, they’d like to force him to live in the 19th century, while they get to live in the 21st. That won’t work. There is no way “family farms” and “local foods” are going to feed 250 million people. No way. No how. (And that’s only counting the people here in the US. There’s also the matter of foods exported to other countries.)
But here’s my biggest fear about “profood.” They’re (unintentionally) advocating what amounts to a two-tier food system. One system — local, sustainable, organic, etc. — for the rich. And “industrial” food for the rest of us. Because “local” food produced on “family farms” is expensive food.
And here’s the brutal reality that seems to escape the profood people: Many Americans rely on “industrial” food to fill their stomachs because that’s the food they can afford. They can’t shop at the groovy local “coop” store (aka “health food store”) and buy those four dollar quarts of “local” milk and those two dollar local tomatoes. Or those three dollar heads of organic kale.
Moreover, millions of working Americans can’t take time to plant food and then can or process the harvests. Because, ya know, they’re too busy working for a living.
That’s what I mean when I wrote that some profood people are “out of touch with reality.”
So I’m all “profood” and I favor changes in our food system — but turning back the clock and/or creating a two-tier food system isn’t the way to go. Put those carrots on the school lunch tray, please! But just know that the schools will only be able to pay for those carrots when the carrots are grown in the most efficient way possible: On a large “industrial” farm.
Otherwise, only a few will get carrots. And many will get none at all.