Food is Political / by Alexa Arnold

Food and politics are inextricably intertwined. As food leaders Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, Mark Bittman and Oliver De Schutter wrote in a recent article on Civil Eats, the role for those of us working for progressive issues in general right now should be to join together to actively resist efforts to roll back the public protections we've gained, in favor of the social justice issues we must continue to fight for. Meaning, for food activists, now is not the time to stay in our silos, but rather a time to draw deeper connections between between the policies put forth by the Trump administration and the issues affecting the food system. Quite understandably, the news and activists' focus has swayed from the fights we've been battling for years – fighting for GMO labeling, improved national nutrition standards, reduced exploitation in the food supply chain – towards much more time sensitive and threatening issues impacting the civil rights of so many people in this country. Though while food and agriculture might not be top of mind for Trump and his administration right now, we'll still feel the impacts on our food system by the policies that are.

Our country's food system runs on marginalized immigrant labor, and the policies and people making decisions about immigrant rights will impact their ability to keep food on our tables. Policies like the Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Act will be up for renewal during the next four years, which could impact farmers and eaters alike, especially the kids and low-income consumers who rely on nutrition assistance programs like SNAP or WIC. International trade laws mandate what foods we can and can't import. Rollbacks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act could put the 32 million kids who eat school lunch and breakfast every day, especially the ones who rely on school food for most of their daily calories, at even further risk of developing childhood diabetes or other diet-related diseases. Executive orders that limit communications with the press for agencies like the EPA, the USDA, and the Department of Health and Human Services put our food supply and safety at risk, like what pesticides are allowed on the food we consume. With big corporations' interests guiding the new administration, there could be rollbacks on regulations for large scale farming operations, which are some of our country's biggest contributors to climate change. The politicization of our female, male, LGBTQ, black, brown, large and thin bodies affects the choices we make about what we should (or shouldn't) be eating. Repealing the Affordable Care Act could mean people with pre-existing conditions, like those struggling with chronic illness, diet-related disease, or mental health issues like eating disorders, might not have the opportunity or access to the help and medication they need to recover or live. Hell, our country was colonized because British explorers were in search of faster spice trade routes to India – food has always been political. 

As Pollan, Salvador, Bittman and De Schutter put it, "You can’t fix agriculture without addressing immigration and labor or without rethinking energy policies; you can’t improve diets without reducing income inequality, which in turn requires unqualified equal rights for women and minorities; you can’t encourage people to cook more at home without questioning gender roles or the double or triple shifts that poor parents often must accept to make ends meet; you can’t fully change the role of women without tackling the future of work, childcare, and education; you can’t address climate change without challenging the power of corporations and their control over the state—and, not so incidentally, without challenging Big Food. The fight for healthy diets is part and parcel of these other struggles, and it will be won or lost alongside them. It’s all connected; the common threads are justice, fairness, and respect. “Sustainable” is a word that we must now apply to democracy itself: a nation built on perpetuating injustice and the exploitation of people and nature doesn’t qualify. And a “sustainable food system” cannot exist inside an unsustainable political and economic system."

So as I write about food justice, body positivity, the end to gender-based violence, reproductive rights and women's health, LGBTQ rights, worker's rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, religious freedom, education reform, and environmental justice, I do not see this as much of a divergence from what I've been writing about here all along. I see my #smallactsofresistance as a way to continue fighting for a fair, just food system for all. It's all connected.