book review: food movements unite!

i was very excited to pick up food movements unite! the newest book put out by food first.  i have a tremendous amount of respect for food first and it’s executive director/editor of this edition eric holt-gimenez.  i was also happy to see someone address what feels like an often disconnected series of separate movements – and asking what would unite them.

like cultivating food justice  food movements unite is an anthology of some of the best critical thinkers in the food movement – each posed with the task of trying to formulate and answer to the question of how do we go forth?  what are the next steps to build this into a united movement.

in the mission to create pathway to a unified movement, i think it misses its mark, but only because i think that’s such a difficult mission.  but i think it goes a long way toward identifying steps we need to take in order to move toward a united movement, namely delving deeper into our history, a need to connect the movement to more well established movements, and a need to lift up leadership that has been traditionally ignored.

because food movements unite is a series of essays, it can often feel a little disjointed, moving from one essay to the next, each author with their own angle, and priority.

it is a good and important read, a few highlights for me.  samir amin’s preface starts the book off on the right foot, i’m embarrassed to say i’d only head his name in passing, never having read anything he has written, but he is a thoughtful, direct and passionate writer, helping me to see that the most recent wave of neo-colonialism and land grabs is just the final stage of a long process utilized by capitalist to wrestle control of resources from local communities.  george naylor’s essay examining the nature of u.s. farmers and the reason they make the decisions they do, helped me to understand what has always been an especially difficult topic: u.s. commodity farmers and their relationship to the u.s. government, and how farmers make decisions regarding how much land to plant.

chapter 7’s analysis of the black panther party by raj patel helped me  with questions i had been wrestling with since oakland. i’m still left struggling a bit, at some point as i get to reading more about the bpp perhaps i’ll have a better understand.  josh viertel from slow food, had me hopeful for the future of slow food usa, as he works to dig deeper into slow foods slogan of “vote with your fork” asking why some folks don’t have the means for voting with their fork, why some don’t even have a damn fork.  viertel has been getting some flack for the direction he is taking slow food in, but i’m all in favor of it. brian tokar draws the connection between climate change and food justice, both in what climate change means for growing food and the roll that agriculture systems having in creating climate change – yet another layer to be added to a complex problem.  several chapters address the need for women’s role in this work to be addressed – that for the most part they are not involved in making decisions, not allowed to organize, and that they are the ones most victimized by policy and oppression.  as la via campesina has put it “food sovereignty is about an end to all forms of violence against women”. i think these sort of complex analysis are what make this movement so hard to unify, because it is hard to grasp, hard to put into a couple of talking points.

in the end i’m left feeling better informed, but full of even more questions.  maybe food movements unite! isn’t so much a road map as i had hoped it would be, but a call to action, a command to unite.  perhaps we should look at it as an analysis from which to learn, and make our own decision about how to build movement.  if that’s the intent, then i think its working.  i’ve found myself looking more deeply and critically at issues, and asking more questions and listening more.  and i’ve found that most folks are struggling with these questions too.  in the struggle though there is growth, and at least for me, i’m starting to feel momentum building.


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