Saturday, August 02, 2008

Food Politics

I think it's pretty apparent that agribusiness is a massive problem, that processes like pasteurization and homogeneization (which had localized benefits, sure) are proving detrimental in the long run, that starving nations exporting food is a problem, and so on. Global food politics, on the very largest and the very smallest scales, are fucked up.

But let's not talk about all that. Let's in fact assume, overall, that no deep changes need be made to our assumptions or our thinking. There's no reason we can't have baskets of fresh tomatoes every day of the year, we still need "realistic" and "economically feasible" competitive prices for our staples, let's not have relationships with or proximity to the animals we eat, let's continue to think of calories as nuisances, that refined sugar and processed foods are just fine, etc.

So instead let's talk about bobo organic consumers, the types who go to the $30/entree Slow Food-endorsed restaurants in their bohemian chic neighborhoods, the ones who won't let Junior eat sugar or red meat, the ones who love "ethnic cuisine" and are likely vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic, or in any case finicky. (They won't sit down and eat a Big Mac, fercryinoutloud.) They like yoga or pilates and vote Democrat or Green though they also probably have a lot of money if they can afford all that organic, locally-grown produce. So from here on out let's filter all discussion of food politics (and opposition to the many harms and shortcomings of food industries) through the opinions and experiences of this small privileged subset of food consumers. Let's telescope onto the entirety of food politics the concerns, the opinions—and also the foibles, the shortsightedness!—of this class of people.

Let's basically discuss generic opposition to the giant problems in the food we eat, how we grow it and process it and ship it, how we relate to it, in terms of these trendy foodie bobos.

9 comments:

André Dias said...

Interesting sardonic post. But I didn't understand your point completely, when you say: «let's not have relationships with or proximity to the animals we eat»... I suppose you're referring to the invisibility of animals in industrial meat-processing. However, aren't our currently oversentimental relationships with animals the exact counterpoint? Aren't both processes congruent in our biopolitical becoming? Would the proximity you mention include the striping of bunnies, and removing chicken's feathers in boiling water, like my grandmother used to do? Or should we just stop eating them?

In a Frederick Wiseman's film, precisely called MEAT, a slaughterhouse worker "suggest that the humans may soon be treated like the animals." It's a long process, but we'll come to it... The quote is from a text by Christoph Huber on a Wiseman's film on the Madison Square Garden. According to Huber, who's one of the few to have seen the film, it extends his fascinating series of accounts of the animal problem. By the way, do you all know that Wiseman, who I take to be the most underrated contemporary film-maker, has this film prohibited by a legal suit? The problem seems to be that his final cut includes some management-union reunions that the Madison Square Garden administration doesn't want to expose, so «it remains in legal limbo, blocked by Cablevision, which owns the arena.» For me, this would seem to have all the potential for a wonderful cause célèbre for American Marxists...

ZC said...

Well, no, I'm not advocating sentimentalism or friendliness towards cattle, poultry, or lobsters. (As for congruencies in "our biopolitical becoming" ... eh, who knows.) The preparation of one's own food (like your grandmother used to do): yes, actually, that's what I advocate. But it's not just that, it's also dealing with the animals whose flesh we consume more mindfully in a larger ecosystem, i.e., which is precisely what we're doing with the fishing industries, and with the breeding of livestock and birds in horrific, disease-ridden conditions.

I have been aware of the legal troubles of The Garden, and Huber's piece, for the last few years. Neither are breaking news, exactly--why do you mention it as if it is?

(I'll try to see Meat soon, it's not one I've seen, but I certainly agree with you that Wiseman is a major figure.)

ZC said...

I meant to write: i.e., which is precisely what we're doing WRONG with the fishing industries, and with the breeding of livestock and birds in horrific, disease-ridden conditions.

André Dias said...

Of course, I do agree with your worries on «what we're doing wrong with the fishing industries, and with the breeding of livestock and birds in horrific, disease-ridden conditions», even if I seen no chance of returning to our prior (?) condition of «preparing one's own food» (if it includes animals), since it's going to get a lot worse with fast-developing large populated countries, such as China, India, Indonesia, et all, with their (justifiable) middle class (meat eating) expectations...

While I was first commenting you, Wiseman's films came to my mind as something that could help us all think this contemporary animal problem, not just the food related aspect, but also their affective consumption. So, the fact that one of his films is interdicted, which I guess is not such a common thing, while not being breaking news, is still terribly important and worth mentioning (again)... I mean, what would happen if a Pedro Costa's film also got interdicted? Wouldn't people move about and try to do something, like print t-shirts or whatever? Wiseman clearly stands amongst the greatest contemporary directors, like Straub, Kiarostami, Costa, and few others... despite the fact of him being American and documentarist. I guess I’m trying to say that’s worth fighting for his film, and that it would be a truly progressive political contemporary fight.

ZC said...

I'm in agreement with everything you say--though I think the fact that the food situation will get worse (because of demands in China & India, and the food shortages and riots already occuring) will be, also, an opportunity for communities to make their situation better. It's a matter of supporting the peasant/farmer movements, Slow Food, permaculture and organic agriculture, and opposing agribusiness, pesticides, GMOs, and so on.

I was under the impression that Wiseman had made headway in the legal battle around The Garden in the past year or so, but I haven't been able to find that out (just searching Google), so I bet I was mistaken. It's a cause worth fighting for, certainly--Wiseman is one of our very greatest and most important filmmakers.

Andy Rector said...

A friend works at WHOLE FOODS which does not allow unionization of its workers, nearly freezes wages at about 13 dollars per hour no matter how long one has worked there, and offers profit sharing instead; this profit sharing benefits the employees (whether they work at the downtown San Francisco location or in small town Petaluma) to the tune of about 100 dollars a year! All WHOLE FOODS throw away massive amounts of food; none have arrangements with local Food Pantries that I know of; only certain stores allow any end-of-the-night food for the employees at all. The employess bags are checked at the door before they leave. They are a half-step from KFC and the practice of wetting down bisquits with a hose at that end of the night before throwing them in the dumpster, which is in the employee manual.

If the US or Israel attacks Iran, the gas prices will be such that it might simply topple the fastfood economy on which whole cities and towns are based across the US. I don't mean farming but the service industries. Can you imagine the direness when a worker can no longer find a 99 cent chicken sandwich to replenish his/her labor power? When you make minimum wage this is the precipice.
When has a slaughterhouse ever tended to get better?

So is MEAT available?

Jacob said...

It looks like the U.S is already attacking Iran.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080729_acts_of_war/

The war between the United States and Iran is on. American taxpayer dollars are being used, with the permission of Congress, to fund activities that result in Iranians being killed and wounded, and Iranian property destroyed. This wanton violation of a nation’s sovereignty would not be tolerated if the tables were turned and Americans were being subjected to Iranian-funded covert actions that took the lives of Americans, on American soil, and destroyed American property and livelihood. Many Americans remain unaware of what is transpiring abroad in their name. Many of those who are cognizant of these activities are supportive of them, an outgrowth of misguided sentiment which holds Iran accountable for a list of grievances used by the U.S. government to justify the ongoing global war on terror. Iran, we are told, is not just a nation pursuing nuclear weapons, but is the largest state sponsor of terror in the world today.

Cinebeats said...

I'm so glad I have a Trader Joe's market I can shop at every week. Not only are they the cheapest place in town to buy groceries at, but almost everything they sell is organic, without preservatives, etc. They also sell the best faux meat products your likely to find anywhere. Everytown needs a Trader Joe's.

André Dias said...

Correction: Contrary to what I've said here, , following Christoph Huber's piece, «in a Frederick Wiseman's film, precisely called MEAT, a slaughterhouse worker "suggest that the humans may soon be treated like the animals"», in that film no such dialog occurs. Sorry for the misguided information.