Tuesday, February 27, 2007

slow food

I went to a very interesting event yesterday, organized by Slow Food Toronto, which sought to bring together slow food practitioners in the food services industry, slow food distributors, and slow food producers. It was principally a networking event, in a city where, according to the moderator, the debate over food and locality is more strongly developed than in any other city in North America.

Several things were striking about the event. First, there was a clear recognition that economics matters. Simply put, the premium on a piece of craft-raised meat is 30 per cent, which means the ability to 'buy in'--literally--to this movement is a function of income. This was not what the participants wanted, but they recognized it as a reality--as they also realized that the bulk of the audience did not reflect the diversity of a city like Toronto. Second, the participants realized--although some did not voice it--that in promoting slow food and local food production systems, a principle opponent was corporate agriculture, whether it is the 'standardized differentiation' of modern post Fordist industrial agriculture, or 'big organic', a label that the participants were particularly eager to use. There is a clear tension in the food system, between those that promote local systems of production and provisioning, and those that seek to deepen processes of global integration and the corporate food regime. How that tension plays out, in the everyday, is far from clear, as corporate food producers are more than happy to co-opt--as the experience of big organic, many of which were, at one time, small organic, make clear. Thirdly, as Phil McMichael has noted, so well, the members of this food movement do not realize that they are part of a global movement that is trying to reclaim control over the system governing food production and provisioning, a movement that is led, currently, by Via Campesina, and which takes, as its point of entry into the global politics of resistance to corporate agriculture, 'food sovereignty'.

These are interesting times. It is striking how many of the contradictions of globalization revolve around food: poverty and inequality being expressed in not having enough to eat, in a world that produces more than enough for all; the industrialization of food demonstrating how commodification extends, even when it is at the expense of human health in the North, in the form, particularly, of the northern obesity crisis; the way in which biotechnologies are developed so as to cement further corporate control over the global food system; climate change being witnessed in food production crises in the South, with the possibility that this will deepen, massively, in the next half century; and emerging from this, the possibility of conflict and, indeed, an end to progress, if--and yes, this is a big if--if agriculture, globally, were to collapse. It has happened before, and it could happen again. In other words, how we, as individuals, position ourselves within our own systems of food provisioning expresses our relationship to many of these contradictions, our own way of trying to navigate the choppy waters of globalization.

Of course, people at the meeting yesterday did not all see this, in all its fullness. But many did. They are well aware that redefining our relationship with the dominant system of food provisioning is an act against the corporate control of the food system, and indeed, current forms of globalization. What they are not aware of, I thought, was the extent to which this is truly a global movement.

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