Can the Food Movement Save the Environmental Movement?

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The environmental movement, struggling to stay relevant in today’s hostile political climate, may find itself saved by another movement: the food movement. At least that’s what one writer for TIME thinks. In a recent article for the magazine, Byran Walsh wrote that if the food movement continues to grow, then “it may be able to create just the sort of political and social transformation that environmentalists have failed to achieve in recent years…”

The food movement is unique, Walsh says, because it’s not one movement at all; rather, it’s a series of smaller, organized movements—”farming and eating and health and policy and business”— all working together for a common purpose. And the movement is making a difference. A few stats from the article state:

There are now thousands of community-supported agriculture programs around the country, up from just two in 1986. There are more than 6,000 farmers’ markets, up 16% from just a year ago. Sales of organic food and beverages hit nearly $25 billion in 2009, up from $1 billion in 1990, and no less a corporate behemoth than Walmart has muscled into the organic industry, seeking out sustainable suppliers. Green chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., have become national superstars, and local sourcing has become a must for hip restaurants in Brooklyn, Berkeley and in between. First Lady Michelle Obama — she of the organic White House garden — has decided to make childhood obesity her signature issue, and she’s done so by pushing the food industry to provide healthier fruits and vegetables over cheap processed options. Even the Department of Agriculture — usually a staunch ally of mainstream farming and the distributor each year of billions in often wasteful agricultural subsidies — has gotten into the sustainability game with its “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program, which connects consumers with local producers.

So why does the food movement have traction while traditional environmentalism loses steam? Because it’s all about pleasure. Yes, there are grave concerns about industrial farming and obesity, but at its core the food movement is founded on a very simple principle: food should taste better. And lest you think the food movement is competing with the environmental movement, it’s more likely the two will end up working in tandem.

As the food movement matures and grows, it could end up being the best vehicle available for achieving environmental goals. The industrialized way we farm today damages our land, our water and our climate. Reforming agriculture and promoting sustainability won’t just help us get better and healthier food; it will also fight greenhouse-gas emissions and water pollution. The food movement has been criticized as elitist, but that reputation belies recent efforts to get low-cost fruits and vegetables to urban poor who suffer disproportionately from obesity and diabetes.

(Image: Gregory Han)