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Hijacked Organic, Limited Local, Faulty Fair Trade

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Organic farming has been hijacked by big business. Local food can have a larger carbon footprint than products shipped in from overseas. Fair trade doesn't address the real concerns of farmers in the global South.

As the food movement has moved from the countercultural fringe to become a mainstream phenomenon, organic, local, and fair trade advocates have been beset by criticism from overt foes and erstwhile allies alike. Now that Starbucks advertises fair trade coffee and Kraft owns Boca soy burgers, it's fair to ask, "What's a radical to eat?"

Discerning the worth of different food movement offshoots to the radical eater means grappling with the attacks leveled against organic, local, and fair trade. It means acknowledging the values that these approaches hold in common, while also evaluating their distinct emphases. And it requires pushing beyond individual mealtime decisions and instead asserting food as a field of public struggle.

The starting point for all branches of the food movement is a critique of industrial farming. Today, denunciation of a mono-cropped, chemically fortified, meat-heavy, factory-farmed, synthetically processed, and globalized approach to feeding the world is not hard to find.

Indeed, over the past several decades this has been the subject of thousands of Diets for a Small Planet and Fast Food Nations. Many of these exposes have been very valuable. Indeed, they have had significant impact in raising public skepticism about the large corporations that dominate our food system.

Yet the claims of these manifestos have not been universally accepted-in large part because of agribusiness's dominance. There is no shortage of Farm Bureau lobbying, industry-funded research, or "free market" apologists to defend corporations against the food movement's capture of the left plank of the American dinner table. Whether industry defenders are on the payroll of a food conglomerate or have merely internalized an awe of "green revolution" abundance, they are ever ready to extol the wonders of modern agricultural production. Their arguments hold little interest for the radical eater.  


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