For related articles and more information, please visit OCA’s Fair Trade & Social Justice page.
Industry plays up the image of the food snob to keep us divided, but the stereotype hides a much more diverse and savvy movement, says best-selling author and food activist Michael Pollan.
Take a stroll through most grocery stores, and many of the products claim to be organically grown or locally sourced. The foodie movement has swept America in the last decade, thanks in no small part to the work of journalists and intellectuals who have championed the cause online, in print and on the airwaves.
Michael Pollan is inarguably one of the most influential of these figures. Pollan is most famous for his books, especially
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008) and
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006). He also contributes regularly to publications such as the New York Times Magazine, where his work has received numerous awards, and is a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
As organic, locally grown food has emerged as a cultural and economic counterforce to industrialized agriculture, critics have claimed it is elitist and accessible only to those with the resources to pay more for their nourishment. Pollan and his allies have responded, in part, by drawing the public’s attention to the low-wage workers who work in the field, behind the counter, and in the kitchen. In recent years Pollan has supported the efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization dedicated to improving working conditions and wages for tomato pickers’ in Florida; in December 2013 he sided with fast food strikers and their demand for a $15 dollar per hour wage. In an email missive for MoveOn.org (received by 8 million subscribers), Pollan wrote: “If we are ever to . . . produce food sustainably and justly and sell it at an honest price, we will first have to pay people a living wage so that they can afford to buy it.” In his words, fair wages must be part of the push to democratize food.
I recently connected with Pollan to discuss equitable food pricing, farm worker rights, and industrial agriculture’s role in casting the food movement as elitist. (What follows is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.) I began by asking Pollan about his evolving personal interest in the plight of food workers.