Carlo Petrini writes in his book Slow Food Nation of a “network of gastronomes and the figure of the co-producer” as the social infrastructure necessary to counteract a food system that requires each commodity chain to span hundreds of miles. But Petrini continues, “the problems posed by this long chain of intermediaries go beyond that of the distance (physical or cultural) between two ends of the chain. Rather, the graver concern lies in matters of economics, ecology, and social justice.” (Petrini, 227)
That is what brought me to Slow Food. It struck me as a movement that was willing and excited to struggle with an incredibly embedded situation. It seems simple; good, clean, fair but it is a life’s work. It is a struggle that shares the dreams of figures as diverse as Temple Grandin, Martin Luther King Jr., César Chávez, Jane Jacobs, you, and me. And as such, we must begin to imagine a strategy of change that compliments this wide range of interests, a strategy of change that uses the strength of these tangled webs as reinforcing cause and effects. To that end, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has published its report “Beyond the USDA, How other government agencies can support a healthier, more sustainable food system” by Maggie Gosselin. The guide is meant to acquaint the reader with the variety of organizations that regulate and impact our food so that we can begin to imagine a multifaceted approach to changing our food and more practically, so that we as activists can utilize all of the grants and resources these different agencies offer. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services, which broadly oversees food labeling and food safety awards Community Service Block Grants to state Community Action Agencies that then re-grant the money or act directly on programs that help address housing, nutrition, employment, and education needs in low-income communities. The next agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, could contribute to a better food system through its ability to “establish better oversight of water and air pollution” or through “following the Supreme Court ruling that requires the EPA to regulate to mitigate damage caused by greenhouse gases.” The author recommends a joint USDA-EPA task force to address greenhouse gas emissions on farms. The EPA offers several grants, including the Environmental Justice Small Grants to organizations implementing solutions to environmental and public health problems. The paper goes on to discuss the Department of the Interior (responsible for 10 percent of the land in the United States and oversees livestock grazing on that land and fisheries), the Department of Commerce (who, as part of their jobs, grants patents to agricultural products), the Department of Transportation (in charge of food transport and thus with the capability of researching and improving food access), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (whose commitment to ‘livable communities’ must be pressured to succeed and who award grants to higher education institutions to develop partnerships with depressed communities), and more. Some of those names are likely familiar but some might surprise you.
When you imagine a food system that is good, clean, and fair, what exactly do you imagine? It will not just mean a change in land use, it will mean a change in the Farm Credit Administration and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. This might seem intimidating. I admit that I am intimidated by futures speculation, I cannot claim to understand how it works or how it should be changed. But I read this report as inspiring. This is why Slow Food will succeed, because it is a movement that has a role for every individual, every agency. Your skills are valued. And once we’ve recognized this and addressed what exactly our skills are, we can meet the government half way and use some of these grants to work in city planning, trade policy, land use, education and outreach, and environmental research.
Take a look at www.iatp.org