Ezra has a new column (again!) at the Washington Post called “Gut Check”, on the politics of food. I’m pretty sure that by Thanksgiving, Ezra will be the ombudsman, advertising director, editor-in-chief and yet still not able to fire Charles Krauthammer. This week’s article focuses on the desire for transparency in food production, using Food, Inc. as a touch point.
One of the interesting things about Ezra’s article is that the worry about what’s in our food is treated as a worry that’s arising just now, or at least gaining a more significant cultural place because of a handful of films and books written by upper-middle class white people. There’s a strong tendency, especially with the rise of progressive-slanting documentaries, to believe that the politics of food revolve primarily around agribusiness policy and the purity (or lack thereof) of what we eat. In the black community, food has been an inherently political commodity since slavery (well, technically, since forever, but this is America, so we talk American).
From the variety of urban legends about how certain foods are targeted towards black people (for instance, brightly-colored fruit drinks), to the belief that certain additives in nearly-omnipresent fast food restaurants are addictive/mind-controlling, the paucity of good grocery options in many predominantly-black neighborhoods to the deep meaning that food holds in black churches, there’s little about food that isn’t inherently political in the black community. The same factors exist in every community, but the politics of food are not just about whether your chicken has hormones or not – it’s about the fact that you eat fried chicken rather than baked chicken because of longstanding cultural mores; that your local grocery store only has frozen chicken with preservatives rather than fresh chicken because of housing policy going back to the 1930s; that efforts to diversify one’s diet fail not just because of agricultural policy which privileges cheap meat and dairy over vegetables and fruits but also because of sociopolitical mores that create pressure to eat the former rather than the latter.
I’m looking forward to Ezra’s column, I just hope that “the politics of food” extends beyond what’s in our food to how and why we put it on our plates in the first place. And with that, Nas’ “Fried Chicken”: