Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Localize This!

Coming of age in the late '90s meant that the dawning of my political awareness took place against the raucous backdrop of the anti-globalization movement. I attended pro-Nader rallies and protested at the Bush-Gore debates. I went to conferences. At school, I refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and got called a "commie". In the fall of '99, I watched footage of the November 30 WTO protests in Seattle. Inspired, I boarded a bus the following spring with students from a local university, bound for Washington, D.C., to attend IMF protests on the Mall. We slept on the floor of a church, made posters, got teargassed. I was 16, and had never seen so many beautiful people before.

Over the next year, as I read more about the WTO, IMF, NAFTA, etc, and as I spent more time with so-called anti-globalization activists, I became increasingly disillusioned that this catch-all movement representing a cornucopia of progressive agendas could do much against the engines of the global economy. Then, September 11th happened, and subsequently the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and much of the energy resisting globalization was absorbed or translated into anti-war efforts.

Since highschool, except in nostalgic passing, I haven't thought much about the ideals and goals of the anti-globalization movement. But as I delve deeper into current conversations about food production and consumption, I'm beginning to wonder if this "Eat Local" revolution isn't just a reincarnation of the anti-global vision, albeit somewhat sanitized, stripped of its patches and safety pins.

For the most part, proponents of eating locally emphasize the feel-good incentives for changing the way we eat: it's better for our bodies, for animals, and for the environment, it creates a connection to growers, it supports our communities, it improves our social lives, and so on. In the reading that I've done recently, while many food activists criticize large companies and the lack of legislation regulating them, they tend to refrain from actual attacks on global capitalism and the institutions that make it run.

Yesterday, however, I picked up Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen's Guide to Community Supported Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson, and, anticipating a feel-good manual for starting your own CSA, I was surprised and excited to find a lengthy and astute assessment of the effects that the WTO and NAFTA have had on agriculture in the US. Henderson asserts, "I believe we will be successful in transforming human relations only if we think in more political terms and link our community farms with the national and international networks that oppose the forces of neoliberalism and neocolonial globalization" (Pp. 23).

And consider these words from Wendell Berry, in his latest book, Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food: "It is clear that the advocates of factory farming are not advocates of farming. They do not speak for farmers. What they support is state-sponsored colonialism--government of, by, and for the corporations" (Pp. 15). Berry elaborates, "The present agricultural economy, as designed by the agribusiness corporations (and the politcians, bureaucrats, economists, and experts who do their bidding), uses farmers as expendable "resources" in the process of production, the same way it uses the topsoil, the groundwater, and the ecological integrity of farm landscapes. From the standpoint of sustainability, either of farmland or farm people, the present agricultural economy is a failure. It is, in fact, a catastrophe. And there is no use thinking that agriculture can become sustainable by better adapting to the terms imposed by this economy" (Pp. 17).

Now, it's hard for me to imagine Elizabeth Henderson or Wendell Berry spitting on cops or throwing bricks through the quintessential Starbucks window, but I think their resurrection of radical anti-globalization principles deserves some attention. It takes some gall to bring up neocolonialism at the dinner table, and you risk not being taken seriously by your fellow eaters. But here's Wendell Berry, a writer, thinker, and farmer, who is generally taken very seriously, wielding a well-honed critique of corporate-controlled government.

Meanwhile, more and more people are climbing on the local foods bandwagon everyday, and no one's getting called a "commie" for shopping at the farmer's market. Since everybody has to do it, maybe eating is just the easiest and most obvious entry point into harder conversations about localizing all of our economies.

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