Monday, January 28, 2008

Race, Class, and Organic

Tom Philpott notes, from his attendance at a California eco-farming conference:
And yet, sustainable-ag remains a passion limited largely to white, middle-class folks. Eco-Farm displayed a broad diversity of ages and sartorial styles. Ethnically, though, a kind of monoculture flourished. That fact was seldom mentioned; and only with a dose of self-flagellation. What was missing, though, was analysis. Why are so few non-whites drawn to small-scale farming? I never heard the question come up. Like the national food-justice movement, the California contingent has failed to open a broad and sustained conversation on food, class, and race. Indeed, the whole question was essentially relegated to a single informative session on urban farming. I think the vexations of food and class will have to be fully aired and addressed for the sustainable-food movement to move beyond niche status. But the lack of discussion at Eco-Farm doesn't mean there isn't plenty of powerful activism around food in low-income, minority-dominated areas in California. In the next days, I plan to visit and post about San Francisco's Alemany Farm and Oakland's People's Grocery.
Why doesn't it work for Latinos and African-Americans? Money. Eating local, eating organic is the sort of crunchy life-style choice that made by people who have it made. Not to say that it's only rich people, but it's people who aren't striving to make it, to put kids through college, to advance a rung up the ladder. In Thorsten Veblen's terms, it's another form of conspicuous consumption. It's the people who can afford to be skinny, to devote their life to art, who seem to gravitate to this.

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