A great way to understand how to strengthen something is to think about how you might destroy it. It’s a thought experiment that can jolt the mind into thinking ruthlessly about where your weaknesses are, so you can shore them up. It’s an exercise the Good Food Movement should try to protect the gains we’ve made.
The Good Food Movement is comprised of the people who demand better information about how their food was made. It’s the people who shop their values and don’t support companies whose practices damage public and environmental health. It’s the companies and entrepreneurs — big and small — establishing more restorative methods of growing, processing and distributing food. It’s the policymakers who are standing up to corporate greed and protecting our environment while making sure the most vulnerable people in the world don’t go hungry.
The Good Food Movement is vital to ensuring we can feed future generations without destroying their health or the health of the planet. It is vital to creating a food system where the inputs and outputs of the system can improve people, planet and profit. But growth in the Good Food Movement is not guaranteed. There’s no assured narrative where the future default is food that’s better for people, planet and profit. In fact, there are four major things that could proliferate in the next decade and credibly disarm the Good Food Movement and take us backwards in time.
In the Bible, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were Death, Famine, War and Conquest. If these figures rode into your world, the end was near. For the Good Food Movement, there are also Four Horsemen that would usher in the end…
The whole movement dissolves when we stop caring about what we eat. Consumer power in the past decade has pushed the industry to make better for you products. Products that leave a lighter footprint on the planet. Products that are of higher quality and taste.
“We understand that increasing numbers of consumers are seeking authentic, genuine food experiences…and we know that they are skeptical of the ability of large, long-established food companies to deliver them,” says Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison. The food industry is listening. While there’s a lot more to do, consumer activism has driven great changes across the food system, from fast-food chains going with cage-free eggs to the explosion of farmers markets across America selling real food.
But distraction and complacency can end all of these gains. When we stop watching and voting with our dollars, those who make our food are able to take shortcuts that improve their profit margins at the expense of the quality of our food.
When a few actors control our food system the system tends to become more centralized in location, standardized in the choices we have and designed to cater to the needs of corporations, not consumers. It’s all about efficiency.
Imagine if all of our food was produced by one or two huge entities. Would that company have any incentive to innovate? Would that company have any incentive to create localized food systems with a dazzling array of complexity and variety? Anything from produce to processed foods would be made to suit the lowest common denominator consumer at the cheapest price possible.
A consolidated food system wants to gain economies of scale wherever possible to make the mechanism more efficient and profitable. Without the presence of new insurgent companies/organizations to change the conversation (like what we see happening in the natural foods industry today), a monolithic food giant would have zero reason to continue to innovate and reinvent how food is grown or made.
When consolidation moves in, our choices wither away and our access to real and true food becomes compromised. Dissent is easily squashed, and we’re all forced to settle for whatever is available.
When we tacitly accept what people are selling us as truth, we cede our power to question authority, and we open ourselves up to being more easily fooled. There are a dizzying array of labels on food — both grown and packaged — and it’s hard to keep up with the minutiae of what they actually mean.
In fact, many of the most common labels like “natural” and “organic,” either mean nothing at all or are loaded with exceptions that allow for nefarious inputs coming into our food.
If I wanted to cripple the Good Food Movement, I’d try my hardest to make it look like it was stronger than ever then compromise it behind the scenes where no one was looking. Labels like “natural” give us a false sense of security, and can obfuscate the fact that there are less than pure activities going into how food is made.
The industry knows that food shoppers have a 2 second attention span in the grocery aisle, so labeling claims are a convenient shorthand for those looking for higher quality products. And while not all labels are devoid of meaning, the fact that you can write “natural” on a product and have it be made from GMO ingredients or be flavored with an opaque mixture of “natural flavors,” is evidence that the False Truth horse has already left the stable.
When Good Food is only for the most well-off, the movement fails. In the U.S., 23.5 million Americans live in areas without supermarkets or access to fresh, nutritious foods. Even when a quality supermarket is accessible, many still lack the education, “perceptions and habits about diet and health,” that are necessary to elicit healthier eating habits.
If I wanted to disarm the Good Food Movement, I’d want to keep it stored away in affluent, hipster conclaves where a loud minority can feel good about themselves, but their progressive values fail to reach the mainstream. For every honest farm-to-table restaurant in America, there are at least a dozen McDonald’s locations. We need to flip this ratio and make better food a right for everyone, not just for those who can afford it.
The Good Food Movement is strong, but we must remain vigilant to support what gains we’ve already made over the most recent generation. The Four Horsemen are all different manifestations of ceding control of what food options we have to put into our bodies. To resist, we as consumers must stay in the driver’s seat and dictate the conversation about what food gets made and eaten.
Unlike a true apocalyptic natural disaster or Biblical event, we as individuals have a lot of say in the matter of where our food system goes. But while the Bible’s version of the end of days heralds itself in grandiose fashion, it’s very easy to let apathy, consolidation, false truths, and elitism fester in small ways each day we shop, cook and eat.
There is no fantastic beast to slay in the interest of prolonging the Good Food Movement. Instead, it’s up to us to do battle in dozens of small, everyday ways throughout our lives. The fight is a small, daily one, and that’s how you keep the Good Food Movement alive and well.
This is also appeared on The Future Market.